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When you commit to recovery from substance use or addiction, you are bound to endure intense challenges on your healing journey. Many of those challenges may surface as cravings or triggers. 

What Are Triggers?

Triggers are subjective. When a person is triggered, they are emotionally charged in a negative way. Triggers typically develop from the repetition of negative experiences, as they serve as a harmful reminder for intense or intrusive emotions. 

In recovery, triggers remind a person of their past distress or past substance use. They can stem from either internal or external cues. Internal cues are experienced as memories, thoughts, or withdrawal symptoms. In contrast, the latter type appears because of the presence of external stimuli such as a person, place, or thing that urge substance use. 

Triggers can cause unhealthy, emotional distress. They can surface feelings of pain, anger, sadness, frustration, or hopelessness. Triggers are identifiable by recognizing how a person responds and reacts to a specific situation, person, or experience.

What Are Cravings?

Cravings are an overwhelming physical and emotional experience that motivates the mind and body to behave a certain way. In recovery, cravings are connected to our mind and body’s memory of the positive effects of substance use. The brain has a significant ability to remember the feelings produced by the drugs it learned to love. 

Cravings, like triggers, surface several concerns that put one’s ability to recover at high risk. Every person experiences addiction differently, which means that everyone will perceive the rewards of drug use differently. All drug users have in common the desire to use drugs for the temporary yet satisfying effect that they cause. 

When a recovering person is trying to abstain from drug use and starts to experience cravings, long-lasting recovery can seem unmanageable. Relapse is not a part of everyone’s recovery journey, and it can be avoided with some helpful coping tips. 

Identify Triggers Before Cravings Start

No matter where you stand in your recovery journey, it is necessary to reflect and identify potential relapse triggers. To determine your triggers, you must be willing to dive into self-reflection and be aware of the symptoms accompanying these particular feelings and situations. 

Since triggers are subjective, it is crucial to recognize what people, places, and situations might spark some feelings of distress. Consider the following things as common triggers for those in addiction recovery:

  • Special occasions
  • Holidays
  • Sporting events
  • Bars
  • People you use to use substances with
  • Environments where you use to use substances
  • Offering of substances
  • Stress
  • Isolation or boredom

Once you can identify your triggers, you can start to set boundaries for yourself as they are necessary for all stages of recovery. You might find that you hold firm to many boundaries at the beginning of your recovery, such as limited exposure to bars or sporting events. Remain patient with your healing. 

As you work through each of your triggers, you can slowly challenge each of your boundaries if you feel that you are ready to do so. Always have an exit plan before you encounter a trigger. Otherwise, understand that boundaries are essential in keeping you from relapse. 

How to Respond to Cravings

The first thing to note about cravings is that all are temporary. If you choose to avoid them, they will go away on their own. 

The reality is that cravings seem impossible to avoid, especially on a chemical level. Understand that your brain is attempting to get your body to feel the rewards of your drug use. 

First, you’ll need to create a recovery plan that includes details about handling your cravings. Make a list of your common triggers and develop a healthy solution. 

For example, maybe one of your current triggers is being asked about your recovery journey. When you are at your family’s next holiday gathering, and Aunt Pam asks about your recovery, have a quick and effective response ready to reply to her. It could be something simple, such as, “This is not something I would like to discuss at this time.” If Aunt Pam continues to ask, then have an exit plan readily available. 

Here are some other options for how to handle urges and cravings for relapse:

  • Know what circumstances to avoid. Some triggers cannot be avoided, but for the ones that can, distance yourself for some time. 
  • Stay busy with proactive recovery behaviors. For example, dive into mindfulness practices when you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or need clarity. 
  • Find a calming or motivating playlist and play it when you feel down. 
  • Regularly attend support group meetings, especially when you want to isolate yourself from the world. 
  • Engage in therapies that help you to challenge intrusive or unwanted thought patterns. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectal behavioral therapy are just two examples of helpful therapies available. 
  • Identify, reflect, and develop new goals for your recovery and life.

Urging feelings of relapse may surface as cravings and triggers. Cravings and triggers are widely understood in the recovery community, as nearly everyone struggling with substance use and addiction experiences these circumstances after they fully commit to sobriety. It is essential to identify your triggers before cravings ever start, and if they do, to have a thought-out exit plan when you encounter a craving. Focus on learning your triggers and cravings so you can better address and work through them when they surface. West Coast Recovery Centers is a mental health, substance use, and addiction treatment center. We aim to provide mental clarity and relief for those struggling as they heal from their past substance use. When cravings arise, it is essential that you have reliable resources to help you avoid relapse. For more information about our facility or the therapy options we offer, please call us at (760) 492-6509 today.