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Individuals recovering from substance use disorder (SUD) experience triggers that cause compulsions, cravings, intrusive thoughts, and impulsive behaviors. Everyone has triggers unique to their specific history and circumstance. According to Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, “Even when total abstinence is achieved, substance-related cues and negative emotional states can continue to trigger relapse.” West Coast Recovery Centers uses evidence-based and holistic methods to help clients learn to manage and cope with triggers related to substance abuse. Treatment helps clients identify triggers more easily. 

What Are Triggers and How Do They Affect Recovery?

Triggers can be nearly anything, including people, places, things, thoughts, memories, or beliefs. Most triggers are related to past events with strong emotional significance. Trauma-related triggers are especially powerful. According to a publication by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “If an individual experiences a trigger, he or she may have an increase in intrusive thoughts and memories for a while.” 

Moreover, triggers affect recovery from SUD by:

  • Increasing the risk of relapse  
  • Reducing feelings of safety
  • Increasing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders
  • Causing re-traumatization 

Many people don’t know how to identify their own triggers. Clinicians help clients discover and address triggers during treatment. Psychotherapy is the most common method for finding ways to recognize and cope with triggers in preparation for long-term recovery. 

How to Identify Triggers

Triggers are highly personal and can be linked to anything, making it difficult to anticipate what might be a trigger. Learning to identify triggers is a significant focus of therapy for individuals in early recovery. According to Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, “[T]he trigger is considered a key element in the craving response showed by addicts.” Clients in recovery benefit from using mood-tracking journals and other tools to identify when certain situations, people, or things trigger an emotional response.

Common Types of Triggers

Every person has different triggers, and they fall within distinct categories. The number of triggers and their severity vary considerably depending on multiple factors, including what type of trauma is linked to the trigger.

A few common types of triggers include: 

  • Thoughts 
  • Smells
  • Items
  • People
  • Places
  • Feelings 
  • Textures 
  • Physical sensations
  • Activities 
  • Memories 

Physical sensations, moods, and emotions cause some triggers. Some people may need to adjust certain aspects of their lives, including diet, to reduce the severity of triggers. For example, according to the publication titled Generalized Anxiety Disorder by authors Munir and Takov, “The triggers for anxiety should be managed by avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and stress) and improving sleep.” Limiting exposure to things that increase stress on the mind or body reduces the severity of triggers. 

Identify Triggers Hidden in Plain Sight

Some triggers are hidden in plain sight and may take people off guard. For example, individuals recovering from alcohol use disorder (AUD) may walk past the alcohol aisle in the grocery store and find themselves unprepared for the flashbacks caused by seeing or thinking about the items in that aisle. Journaling or using other methods to track triggers is one of the best ways to notice if there is a pattern to what everyday things may trigger emotional or physical responses. 

Often, some of the most unpredictable triggers include mood triggers. People may feel triggered if they experience a positive mood or emotion that reminds them of the euphoria caused by addictive substances. 

Navigating Personal Relationships During Recovery

For many people in recovery, personal relationships are a minefield of potential triggers. Interacting with friend groups, acquaintances, co-workers, and family members may cause some people to experience cravings or intrusive thoughts. For example, if a family member used to enable alcohol or drug abuse, spending time with them may be triggering. However, often, there is no easy way to avoid close friends and family. 

Some of the most common ways to address relationship issues in recovery include: 

  • Family therapy and support services
  • Community-based self-help groups for individuals in recovery and their families
  • Improving communication and setting clear boundaries
  • Being honest, open, and empathetic 
  • Active listening 
  • Utilizing conflict resolution strategies learned in treatment

Family dynamics play an essential role in a person’s mental health. Finding healthy ways to repair or strengthen close relationships improves mental health and reduces the risk of severe triggers. 

How to Cope With Triggers

Finding positive ways to cope with triggers and the reactions they cause significantly lowers the risk of relapse. According to SAMHSA, “Healing isn’t a straight line—there will be ups and downs along the way.” Preparing for triggers before they are encountered often reduces the effects they have. 

A few of the best ways to cope with triggers include: 

  • Identifying specific triggers 
  • Avoiding high-risk situations and known triggers 
  • Relying on a support system 
  • Practicing mindfulness to reduce the effects of triggers
  • Maintaining self-accountability
  • Using positive self-talk to combat cravings and intrusive thoughts 

Substance abuse may cause changes to how people think about themselves and others, making it more difficult for them to ask for help or build coping skills. West Coast Recovery Centers personalized treatment plans to ensure all clients have the necessary tools to cope with challenges during recovery. The care team guides clients through identifying potential triggers and developing strategies for dealing with them during and after treatment. 

Individuals recovering from substance use disorder will encounter situations that trigger cravings, intrusive thoughts, and compulsions. Finding healthy ways to cope with, manage, or avoid triggers helps clients move forward in their recovery and reduces the risk of relapse. However, triggers are not always easy to recognize or anticipate. Everyone has different triggers and responses. Treatment provides clients with the skills to help them manage triggers. West Coast Recovery Centers uses evidence-based and alternative holistic therapies to help clients establish strategies to prepare for coping with triggers after returning home. Alumni services also provide additional support if clients feel overwhelmed by triggers in early recovery. To learn more about our programs and services, call our office today at (760) 492-6509.

West Coast Recovery Centers ( 370135CP), Valid through July 31, 2025
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