Triggers and Cravings
How To Identify and Overcome Addiction Triggers In Recovery
One of the long-standing obstacles to recovery is the emotional and physical cues that we experience, which can make us feel like using the substances we have put down for good. These cues are most commonly referred to as triggers, and they can manifest differently for different people. For some, seeing old friends and loved ones is enough to trigger wanting a drink; for others, the stress of performing well at work or school elicits the old feelings of using performance enhancing substances. Whatever the cause, triggers should be expected—and like many other facets of recovery, expecting and planning for them is the best course of action for success.
How do you identify triggers?
Identifying a trigger is not always easy as they can sometimes have no direct somatic effect (a physical effect on your body). However, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has driven considerable work into the trigger concept and provides the most common types of symptoms brought on by an addiction trigger. NIH breaks these down into categories—physical and psychological symptoms—and knowing about both can help you protect your recovery.
What kind of triggers are there?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug use (alcohol, illicit, or other legal substances) triggers are most commonly placed in two categories: stress cues linked in some way to previous drug experience and actual exposure to drugs in our life. For example, putting yourself in situations where drug use is prominent—for instance, a bar—is likely to lead to exposure triggers.
Similarly, seeing old friends or using acquaintances out in the world is likely to bring on an experience trigger. With today’s modern technology, it is also common for social media usage to result in both types of triggers depending on the friends and pages you engage with on a regular basis. The National Institutes of Health has curated the most common types of triggers as well, in hopes that it can prepare you for their appearance:
How do you manage and prevent triggers?
The easiest way to manage and prevent triggers is to avoid them in the first place. However, this is not always realistic in practical life, and having a set of skills to effectively manage your triggers will help you. First and foremost, do your best to avoid the triggers which happen most often—get rid of any substances still in your house, delete friends and old using partners off social media, do not plan to go to bars or parties, etc. These easy tasks are the easiest way to prevent triggers from popping up—but they will not always be successful. When triggers do occur, there are some proven strategies for managing and overcoming them.
Engage in some form of distracting activity
This may be reading a book, cleaning the house, going for a walk, playing a video game; whatever you can do to distract yourself completely for a short amount of time is often enough to overcome a trigger.
Talk it through
As is often encouraged in recovery, talking through your triggering experience with a mentor, sponsor, loved one, or friend can help you process, overcome, and prevent the same trigger from occurring in the future.
Challenge and change your thoughts
Often when a trigger occurs, we find ourselves only remembering the good things about our previous use; changing the way we think about this use (actually remembering the awful things that usually happened) can help us change our thoughts which can help overcome a trigger.
No one strategy or set of practices can prevent or manage every trigger you might experience in your recovery. Developing a set of these strategies is advisable as you will have a myriad of tools available to you to overcome triggers and prevent relapse.
Are there medications to help with preventing triggers?
If employing the strategies above have provided you no relief, or on the recommendation of a medical professional, various medications have been developed to disrupt cravings and triggers in your life. These medications should only be used if prescribed, and you should always use a non-medication strategy in collaborative with these medications as well.
Alcohol and Other Drug Addiction
What to do if triggers result in a relapse?
Understanding triggers and how they can impact your recovery can often prevent relapse from occurring. However, addiction and the process of recovery is non-linear and sometimes strategies for overcoming triggers may prove unsuccessful. If this happens, our team is here to help you learn more about how our individualized treatment plans can help get you back on the road to recovery and provide you with the necessary tools to stay there.
National Institute of Drug Abuse. “Drug, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction”. NIDA/NIH. 1 July 2014. 14 September 2016. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recoveryNational Institutes of Health. “Introduction to Coping Skills Training”. NIH/NIAA. 1 February 2006. 14 September 2016. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/MATCHSeries3/core.htm#2
National Institutes of Health. “Introduction to Coping Skills Training”. NIH/NIAA. 1 February 2006. 14 September 2016. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/MATCHSeries3/core.htm#2
Anyone who’s engaged in addictive behavior knows something about cravings: that powerful desire that yearns to be satisfied by going back to your addiction. If you give in and indulge, it’s commonly referred to as relapse. But becoming aware of your cravings and learning how to manage them is a way to avoid relapse and stay on track with your recovery.
First, it’s important to understand that cravings are normal. Too many people recovering from addiction think that cravings are a sign that they’re relapsing. You only relapse when you revert to using the substance to cope with life stress and demands. You can and should expect to feel that strong desire to revert back to the old life from time to time. The goal isn’t to eliminate cravings, but to recognize when a craving cycle begins and then intervene before it pulls you into a downward spiral.
What Is a Craving Cycle?
Craving types and intensity differ by the person, but there’s a familiar pattern that’s common to most people. Here’s how the typical craving cycle progresses:
Trigger response. A person, event or sensory experience (smells, music or familiar surroundings, for example) trigger a thought or emotion that puts you in touch with the old addictive behavior. It could be as simple as walking by a bar and smelling alcohol or driving through a section of town where you used to meet up with drug-using friends. The trigger puts the craving cycle in motion.
Obsessive thinking. Once you’re in touch with the old addictive behavior, your mind tends to lock onto those familiar ways. It then becomes difficult to let go of these thoughts. You toss them around in your head, weighing the pros and cons. But the more you think about it, the stronger the urge to act it out becomes.
Full-blown craving. Craving is both emotional and physical. The emotional part is a compulsive need to get your “fix.” You can hardly think of anything else. The physical part of craving activates the stress response where you might experience increased heart rate, shortness of breath and perspiration. Once you get to the full-blown craving stage, the pull toward the addictive behavior is very strong and it’s difficult to resist the urge to act on your craving.
As powerful as the craving cycle can be, it’s not beyond your control. You can’t control the reality that cravings will come, but you can control how you respond to them. The key is learning to intervene in the trigger response stage. If you learn to do this, you’ll be able to avoid relapse, feel more in control of your life, and continue the growth and healing of recovery that you’ve worked so hard to realize.
How to Resist Cravings
Here are 8 ways to help you resist addiction cravings:
Disputing these thoughts and feelings involves asking yourself some penetrating questions, such as:
What positive action can I take in this situation?
What is likely to happen if I continue thinking like this?
What will be the consequences if I give in?
What resources do I have to resist these urges?
These are just a few examples of choices that can help redirect your attention from the addictive behavior to healthier alternatives. With a little thought you can undoubtedly come up with many more.
Triggers ans Cravings Worksheets
Triggers and Cravings Video Resources