Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.
Once a person moves from casual use of a substance to addiction, the brain rewires itself to compulsively seek more of the addictive substance. Because of these changes to the brain, a recovering addict must always remain aware of and sensitive to triggers that have been previously associated with prior substance abuse. Even though addiction never truly goes away, through therapy, education, and support, a recovering addict can live a healthy, clean lifestyle.
Keeping a handle on those pesky triggers
A trigger is something that, in the past, has made an addict turn to drugs or alcohol. Triggers can be physical, mental, or emotional and may send a recovering addict back to addiction. Avoiding relapse means identifying and controlling triggers.
Common triggers include:
- Stress and negative emotions. Stress is believed to be the most common trigger of relapse, as it can cause anger, anxiety, and despair, which can lead to a desperate desire to “feel better” at any cost. Feeling exhausted or lonely can also intensify cravings and lead to relapse.
- Feelings of inadequacy, shame, or unworthiness.
- A person or group of people. This could include people the addict used with or people that elicit negative emotions within the addict.
- Positive emotions or events. Excitement can trigger the desire to celebrate and can link to memories of previous celebrations when substance abuse occurred.
- Physical locations, such as a favorite bar, hostile home situation, or the site of a traumatic event can trigger relapse and may need to be avoided.
- Memories and the associated sensory cues.
How can a recovering addict handle or avoid triggers?
Through counseling and education, recovering addicts acquire tools and techniques to help them stay clean and sober when confronted with a trigger. These tools and techniques may include:
- Learning how to identify triggers and avoid risky situations.
- Life skills training to boost confidence and feelings of control to more successfully manage their lives.
- Coping skills to use when confronted with a trigger.
- Mindfulness and stress reduction education.
- Counseling to identify and manage relationship issues that have been problematic in the past.
While addiction never goes away, with aftercare and a support network, a recovering addict can thrive in a life free of substance abuse.