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Social media and other online sites have the potential to trigger intrusive thoughts, cravings, and symptoms related to substance use disorder (SUD). Managing triggers while scrolling online is important to reduce stress and the risk of relapse. Some individuals with SUD transition to seemingly benign forms of addictive behaviors during recovery, including social media posting or doom scrolling. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Despite the many advantages of the smartphone . . . problematic usage of the smartphone could have detrimental effects on our mental health.” West Coast Recovery Centers helps people find ways of managing triggers and avoiding addictive behaviors related to social media and other apps. 

How Does Managing Triggers Reduce the Risk of Relapse?

Many people experience a “cycle” of addiction in which they participate in treatment, achieve sobriety, experience stressors, revert to maladaptive coping behaviors, relapse, and transition back into treatment. Some people spend years going through the cycle before finally achieving long-term sobriety. West Coast Recovery Centers helps clients avoid falling into this destructive cycle by providing them with the tools and resources to avoid relapse triggers and manage stress successfully. 

Finding ways to reduce the effects of triggers does the following: 

  • Decreases overall stress
  • Increases self-confidence and self-efficacy
  • Builds resilience
  • Improves mental health and overall well-being

Avoiding or reducing exposure to triggers in the real world and online may decrease the severity of symptoms related to SUD. Learning healthy coping skills and developing tools for managing sobriety is easier when people have fewer unexpected encounters with triggering content or situations. Unfortunately, predicting what may trigger someone when browsing or posting online can be difficult. 

4 Ways to Reduce Exposure to Triggers Online

People cannot avoid all triggering content. However, clients in treatment can take steps to reduce exposure and limit the effects of triggers. Safety features and notification settings can control ads, social media posts, or other online content. Clients in treatment gain insights into how to avoid online triggers by discussing their concerns with a therapist, family member, or peer group. Below are four ways people can limit exposure to triggers online:

#1. Managing Triggers With Ad-Blockers

Ads are everywhere online and often load without warning across websites. Some ads feature alcohol, prescription medications, or drug paraphernalia, which may trigger cravings or intrusive thoughts. The content of ads depends on a variety of factors, including past internet searches. People avoid these triggers by using free or paid ad-blockers to reduce the amount of intrusive ads featured on social media apps and websites. 

#2. Avoiding Problematic Sites

Bypassing specific sites or reducing how much time is spent on them can help some people decrease exposure to triggering content. Some sites are problematic due to a wide range of factors, including: 

  • Triggering imagery (e.g., alcoholic drinks on food sites)
  • Stigmatizing or demeaning language 
  • Enabling maladaptive behaviors, including substance abuse

Avoiding problematic sites is not always easy. Some people may have a large social group on sites featuring troubling imagery, language, or interests. Limiting the time spent on these apps and sites reduces potential emotional distress. Many apps are available to regulate how often people spend on specific web pages or apps.

#3. Blocking Specific Hashtags, Topics, and Channels

Social media is a space where almost anyone can say or post almost anything. Unfortunately, this also means plenty of problematic content for individuals recovering from substance abuse. Some people intentionally try to trigger others and seek out individuals with easily-exploited traumas. Limiting the channels, hashtags, and topics visible on social media can protect most users from being subjected to harassment or other triggering content. 

#4. Regulating Time Spent Online During Early Recovery

Setting limits for how often a person spends on social media or other sites improves mental health and focus. Multiple apps and site features can limit how often, how long, and when people use specific sites. For example, someone who has difficulty controlling the amount of time they spend on Instagram can set a one-hour limit per day. After an hour, a time management app will automatically shut down Instagram. 

Time regulation software can be added to desktop computers, tablets, laptops, phones, and other smart devices. In some cases, newer phones have app time management built directly into the device to help people balance how much time they spend on distracting sites or games.

West Coast Recovery Centers Make Managing Triggers Easier

The clinical team at West Coast Recovery Centers helps clients safely navigate recovery by preparing them to cope with triggers in everyday situations. Clinicians can help clients anticipate where they may encounter problematic content online, making it easier to avoid or manage triggers related to online ads or other content. The care team ensures all clients have safety plans for managing the side effects of triggers during unexpected or stressful situations. Friends and family also help people in recovery avoid problematic online content by offering to filter content manually or providing reminders to avoid problematic sites. 

Millions of people rely on their smartphones, computers, and other devices to stay updated on news about friends, family, and the world. However, the internet is full of unexpected and sometimes harmful content. For example, holiday ads featuring alcohol may appear at the edge of popular web pages or in the middle of a social media feed. Ads and other potential triggers may cause some people to experience intrusive thoughts or cravings, endangering their sobriety. West Coast Recovery Centers provides clients with the skills they need to identify and avoid triggering online content. To learn more about our treatment programs and services, contact our office today by calling (760) 492-6509.