addiction triggers

Addiction and Triggers: Your Strategy for Avoiding Relapse

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

A trigger is a stimulus. It’s a person, place, situation, or thing that contributes to an emotional or behavioral response. Here are a couple of examples:

Trigger: Seeing the picture of your ex on a vacation with their new significant other.
Response: Anger or sadness.

Trigger: Driving by In-N-Out.
Response: Suddenly you have a strong desire for animal style French fries.

Trigger: Your boss screaming at you at work.
Response: You’re going to stop at the liquor store on your way home.

For a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, identifying triggers and cultivating tools to disarm them is an essential skill. And just like any skill, you have to work at it. The last thing you want is to find yourself dealing with a trigger without a plan in place.

Explore Yourself

Triggers could really be anything, but each person is going to have their own individual ones. It’s a good idea to explore what you think is going to push you toward justifying a return to using drugs or alcohol.

The difficulty is that every emotion could act as a trigger. Bad news or good news. Stressful situations or the fact that you are feeling relaxed. To a person with an addiction, everything is a reason to get high. So the recovering addict has to be vigilant.

Think about some of the things in your life that might push you towards your past lifestyle. What activities were connected to your substance abuse? Concerts? Parties? What thoughts? Or objects? Hopefully you have already gotten rid of your pipe or your shot glasses. What about places? Or the people? Maybe your old friends, your boyfriend or girlfriend—anyone significant in your addictive former life. You are going to have to take a good look at whom you allow into your life. This is life or death. There is no place in your world for anyone who is actively trying to get you to return to a behavior that will kill you.

These are all aspects of our lives that require a close inspection. The best way to deal with a trigger is to make changes to your lifestyle and daily routine.


Your activities, too, need an audit. There is so much in this world that does not require substances to be enjoyed. You are in a stage of transformation, so your approach to fun and daily activity will have to change. Connect with healthy friends and find out what they do for enjoyment. Explore old hobbies you had before your addiction. Or get outside your box and try something new.

Special Occasions

You are going to want to evaluate your rituals, as well. Holidays, opening weekend of NFL, certain anniversaries. Take a close look at those things before they sneak up on you and plan new ways to find a deeper enjoyment from your life’s moments.

What if I miss a trigger and start to crave?

Wait it out. Cravings fade. Meditate. Go to your closet and close the door. Get present with the moment. Breathe. If you come across a trigger that gets you craving, your first action is to wait. If you get through 30 minutes, you will find that the craving has lessened in intensity. Remember, cravings will pass. Call your support and get yourself in a new location.

Homework: 3-part strategy

Now that you have a bit of an idea of your individual triggers, it’s a good idea to come up with a plan for their negation. Don’t wait until you are being confronted. Get your plan together while you are comfortable and out of harm’s way. Pull out a pen and paper. Or at the very least do this in your mind.

  1. Name your three biggest triggers.
  2. Come up with a strategy for avoiding or keeping these triggers out of your life.
  3. Describe how you will handle these triggers when you come in contact with them. (Because it will happen.)

Don’t give up. Even if you do have a relapse, do not let it be the end for you and your recovery. And remember, no matter where you are on your journey, we are here to help. Feel free to call if you need resources or advice or if you need to get help today. Call, 844-489-0836.

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