Feeling Triggered: How to Identify Substance Abuse Triggers

What is holding you back in your recovery from drug or alcohol abuse?

Your detox from drug or alcohol addiction is an opportunity for a new lease of life and to make positive changes for the present and future. Your recovery may be a lifelong journey, and it’s common during recovery to experience intense cravings and urges to use. This is especially true in the early days of withdrawal and adjusting to sobriety.

Relapse can be a reality of recovery. It can also a valuable learning process and an opportunity to identify which things trigger your usage. If you can identify which substance abuse triggers you are sensitive to, and may draw you back into using, you can prevent further relapses.

One of the biggest obstacles in recovery from substance abuse is being exposed to things which make you feel like using.

Being able to identify your triggers is an essential tool in your recovery from alcohol or substance abuse. Knowing that you have the ability will bring peace of mind in your daily life.

If you are prepared and aware, you can manage or even avoid triggers altogether. Read on for an explanation of different types of triggers, and how we can start to recognize them in ourselves.

What Are Triggers?

To start identifying your own triggers, first of all you need to know what a trigger is.

A trigger is essentially a cue which we experience, telling our brain that we need a particular substance. A trigger creates a feeling of craving in the brain, which activates feelings of desire around that particular substance. 

Triggers for alcohol or substance abuse usually fall within 3 categories. Social, environmental and emotional. That’s right - we can come across them pretty much anywhere. It will require some work from you to manage these. But, the efforts to protect your recovery will be well worth it in the long run.

Internal V External

We usually experience addiction triggers in two distinct ways - Internal or External cues. It’s important to recognize the difference so that you can start to identify your personal triggers.

Internal triggers are things that we feel or think, which make us want to use. Any sensation or feeling that comes from within is an internal trigger.

This may be memories of experience with drugs and alcohol. It could be a physical pain in the body which we want to numb. It could be experiencing strong emotions - positive or negative - which we feel we need help to manage.

External triggers are things in our environment which we associate with previous substance use. Or, it could be exposure to the substance itself.

An external trigger can mentally transport you to a time when you were dependent upon the substance which you are now avoiding. It may arise when in the company of friends who are using, or being in a place that you associate with it. You may see someone using on the TV, and this may manifest as a trigger for you.

With both internal and external triggers, your brain will associate the trigger with the ways in which your substance use made you feel good. Rather than reminding you of the ways in which it caused harm to you.

Identifying your personal triggers will enable you to rewire your brain. This will prevent this connection from forming.

How to Identify Your Substance Abuse Triggers

Your personal substance abuse triggers will be unique to you as a result of your own experiences with drugs or alcohol abuse. Your triggers will be formed based on the things that started you using in the first place. And also what made you feel unable to stop.

As described, our personal triggers may be experienced physically, mentally or emotionally. We can identify our triggers by noticing how we are feeling in these areas when we want to use.

Physical triggers may be experienced as feelings of physical tension, a tight chest or nervous sensations in your body.

Mental triggers may arise as thoughts such as ‘I can’t get through the day without using’. Or perhaps remembering times in which you used in the past.

Emotional triggers may be negative feelings of sadness, fear or loneliness. They can also be positive emotions such as joy and excitement.

By observing our minds and bodies when we get the feeling that we need to use, we can start to notice patterns. We can then use this information in our relapse prevention plan.

Common Triggers

As a starting point in helping you to identify your triggers, below are some common examples. Start to ask yourself which of these you think may be triggering you.

  • Stress - losing your job, money issues, relationship breakdowns.

  • Locations - areas or neighborhoods which you associate with using.

  • Moods - feeling sad, lonely or excited.

  • Senses - sounds, smells or tastes which remind you of using.

  • People - being in the company of friends which you associate with substance abuse.

  • Dates - holidays or the anniversary of the death of a loved one.

Getting Help

When exploring each of these potential triggers, it’s important to ask yourself how you were feeling when you last wanted to use drugs or alcohol. This can be difficult to understand on your own.

Receiving support from a substance misuse therapist or an addiction network can really help. These relationships can help you to recognize substance abuse triggers which you may not have been aware of.

Working together, you can strategies to guard against triggers and prevent relapse. If you’re ready to take a step towards your sober recovery, contact us today.