How the Trigger Process Works

As you start your recovery, you still have fresh memories from when you would drink or use drugs. Because of this, you will be tempted by different reminders to slide back into old habits. This is very common. Know it is only a matter of time before you face a trigger. These triggers work by altering how one’s mind processes and reacts to what it sees, hears, smells, feels, and remembers.

Triggers can be categorized into three main categories: environmental triggers, re-exposure triggers and stress triggers. For example, let’s say you are out of rehab and now you are living a sober life. When you drive down the road and see the bar you used to visit often, this is an environmental trigger. Just seeing the facility reminds you to drink again; if you were to step inside the smells, sounds and things you see would likely be other triggers. Seeing a commercial for the variety of beer you used to drink would likely be a re-exposure trigger.

A stress-based trigger could be drinking after a bad encounter with your boss or as a way to cope with financial stress.

It is important to consider that according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, there is a time-limited nature to drug cravings, that is, conditioned craving usually peaks and dissipates in less than an hour, if not followed by drug use. So the most effective thing to do is find a way to ride out the craving until it passes.

So how can you deal with these different triggers? Here are some steps you can take.

Admit That You Are Tempted to Use

By becoming more self-aware about when and where cravings strike, you can learn how to better avoid and overcome them. Some forms of therapy suggest that you talk out loud about this as a way of openly admitting the craving exists. If you try to ignore the beer advertisement or pretend the local bar does not exist, you will set yourself up to fail. This is because the amount of self-discipline you have is finite. Each time you face temptation a portion of your mental energy supply is exerted. When you call it out directly, you avoid going into denial about the temptation you face. Know some of the common triggers include the following: fear, depression, anxiety, frustration and stress. In many cases, these triggers can pile up inside your mind, especially when facing triggers based on emotions.

Immediately Contact Your Support Network

After admitting you are currently facing a trigger, call up a member of your support network such as a friend, family member, sponsor or therapist. Do not try to battle the cravings on your own, especially if you are early in your recovery. Instead, just get help. Do not hesitate. When you get help, you again show the intentionality needed to live a healthy life.

Reduce Risks and Triggers

When you are addicted to alcohol, you know you cannot safely watch or attend most sporting events without facing temptation to drink, as there will be countless ads for beer and other alcoholic beverages as well as many people drinking. Even the smell of beer may trigger you to drink again. Watching the event on TV may even contain live shots of tailgating with fans drinking as well. So in most cases, just not watching many sporting events is the best idea for an individual in recovery. You can always listen to the radio or catch the highlights on the news. But if football is a serious passion and interest for you, invite a friend over for accountability and turn the channel when the commercials come on. Another great option is to record the game and fast-forward through all of the commercials. Also, you may enjoy going to an alcohol-free sporting event like a little league game for your kids or a high school football game.

It is very wise to avoid going to bars or even restaurants with a bar. Be aware of gas station convenience stores with many ads and also very easy access to alcohol—often displaying beer next to the cash register. Instead, pay at the gas pump or only fill up the tank when your friend or family member is with you.

Move Forward One Decision at a Time

One quick decision can cost your sobriety. According to research from Harvard University, if you stay sober for five years, relapse is very rare. Keep moving forward each day, there is momentum that builds when you develop good habits.

Please realize no matter how much you plan ahead, triggers are unavoidable. Make a plan for what you will do when you are tempted. Do not come up with a plan when you are facing temptation head on; you will not be thinking rationally. Instead, have a plan in place. Know without a doubt whom specifically you will call and whom you will contact if that individual is not available. Meet with that person face-to-face if possible. Text messages and phone calls are better than nothing, but when you meet with someone the personal connection and bond that is formed is very important.