I must not use no matter what… to try to switch my thoughts to try to feel better. Early on I had to say that over and over. At that time I wanted to use and I didn’t know what to do…I wrote a lot too. I also stayed still. I had to learn to talk to other people about my feelings.
Recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction is difficult. The process is even harder when the things around you make you want to use. You could be visiting family and get an urge to use drugs because you feel isolated. You could be at a party and want to drink to “fit in.” Situations like these serve as triggers that can push you to use drugs or alcohol and make the road to recovery difficult.
What is a trigger?
Triggers are things that remind us of the rituals, habits, or experiences we had when we used. It can be tied to past experiences or trauma and can make us feel uncomfortable. There are different levels and different types of triggers, which can be caused by:
- The senses (sights, smells, etc.)
- Other people
- Social situations (parties, holidays, etc.)
- Media (movies, tv shows, social media)
- Strong emotions (sadness, anxiety, excitement)
- Mental health conditions
Triggers can make you feel anxious, sad or even excited. You can also have physical reactions to triggers, such as shortness of breath. Triggers can make us lose focus by affecting how we think, feel, and act. When you feel these emotions, you may be overwhelmed and desire to have those feelings go away. Because of this, you may feel a strong urge to use drugs or alcohol to cope.
Triggers can also be tough to identify because they can pop up when we least expect them to. But they can also help us learn how to navigate dangerous situations. In order to know what triggers us, we have to learn what they are and what effects they have on us. Though they can be scary and isolating, everyone can have triggers, and anyone is capable of managing them.
How do I identify my own triggers?
Triggers are real and can be caused by a variety of things, especially for drugs and alcohol. It can be hard to avoid things that make us want to use, but when we can identify our triggers, it’s easier to stay away from them.
Think about your emotional and physical reactions
Think about what you are feeling before, during and after a trigger. You might feel a sudden rush of sadness, discomfort, anxiety or eagerness to use. You may also have chest pain or react violently. Knowing how you react to a trigger can help you identify when a one is present.
Find the cause
The last time you felt a strong urge to use, what events happened before? Perhaps you were hanging out with a friend who you used to drink with. Maybe you were alone on a holiday and wanted to use drugs to not feel so lonely. When we know what is bothering us, we can figure out the best ways to deal with our triggers.
For some people, drugs can also have a purpose. It can be tempting to use drugs when you’re having a bad day, need to relax, or when hanging with friends. Being able to find out what purpose drugs and alcohol have in your life can help you figure out better ways to serve that purpose.
Write down your triggers
Once you have figured out what caused a trigger and how you react to it, keep a log of your triggers to help you remember them. This makes it easier for us to navigate and avoid situations that make us feel uncomfortable. Writing can also help you process your feelings and experiences which can help you better manage your triggers in the future.
What should I do when I feel triggered to use?
Just because triggers can appear out of nowhere doesn’t mean you don’t have any control over them. When you have an urge to use drugs or alcohol, you have a choice on how to react. It starts with accepting what your triggers are and learning how to manage them by:
- Talking with others (e.g. friends, peers recovery specialists)
- Making a list of things you can do for self care, like exercising
- Staying away from situations that cause triggers (taking walks, sitting out of events)
- Practice grounding exercises by taking a pause before you react
- Treating mental health conditions that may be causing triggers
Quitting using or drinking is tough, especially when triggers are all around you. But managing your emotional and physical reactions to them can help you on the road to recovery. You can explore our site to learn more about healthy ways to deal with emotions.