The recovery process is not a straight line but a journey of ups and downs. Sometimes, everything will be going great, then begin to fall apart again. It can be challenging to pinpoint what event or situation led to this downfall.
Understanding what your relapse triggers are and developing the skills to recognize them can help you manage these negative emotions and get back on track to success.
What Is a Trigger?
A trigger is defined as “a stimulus that elicits a reaction” by the APA Dictionary. These stimuli are associated with a context or internal memory that elicits a specific response.
For example, smelling a certain food might make you sad because it reminds you of a meal shared with a lost loved one. Similarly, an argument with your partner might make you react strongly because it reminds you of how you were mistreated in your family. These are broad examples, but they show how sensory and relational stimuli can lead to an emotional outcome.
In the context of addiction recovery, certain triggers might remind you of positive experiences associated with substance use and make you more likely to relapse. When you encounter a trigger, you can use the coping skills you have learned to avoid relapsing. You might also avoid going to places that have too many triggers for you, especially if you have no necessary reason to be there.
How to Identify Triggers
Many individuals understand obvious triggers, such as being within proximity of others using substances. However, other triggers are difficult to recognize. The following techniques can help you identify your triggers.
#1 Look at the Past
To begin learning your triggers, consider your past. Think about the initial factors that led to your substance use. Are any of those factors still in play? Is there anything you can do to address those things so that they are no longer an issue?
Take a step into the past and review the potential situations that you associate with your addiction and how the same situation may affect you in your current state. Environmental factors often play a large role in your emotional state. What habits were tied to your substance use? If you used to binge drink and then go to the movies, sitting in a movie theater may be a trigger for you.
#2 Be Aware of Your Emotions
Triggers are often tied to experiences with strong emotions. Many individuals fell into the use of substances as a coping mechanism to manage high levels of emotion. If, for example, substance use was a way for you to avoid feeling depressed or angry, your desire to continue will likely arise when these feelings occur.
We cannot avoid negative emotions. Fortunately, we can learn how to cope with them in healthy ways. Being aware of your emotional state can help you recognize the onset of cravings and manage emotional triggers before they get out of hand.
#3 Watch for Patterns
Often, there is an action tied to the use of substances. This may be talking on the phone, watching TV, or getting ready for bed. Consistently engaging in substance use during these times can create a habit out of the action.
Consider your lifestyle before treatment and determine if substance use became habitual during any action or activity. If you notice any patterns, try to implement an alternative practice to establish new habits in place of substance use. Staying busy is a great way to interrupt the pattern from continuing.
#4 Observe Your Social Circle
Another key factor to examine is your current social circle. Do your friends go out to bars every weekend? Is substance use a problem within your friend group? Have your friends enabled your addiction?
If any of these resonate with you, spending time with your friends may open you up to potential triggers and environments that encourage relapse. It is important to establish friendships that support your sobriety and are mindful of the environments you are in, not pressuring you to step back into the party lifestyle.
Managing Trigger Responses
When moments of emotional highs are encountered, it is easy to forget about what you learned in treatment and fall back into old habits. Taking a moment to think about the situation often clears up a great deal of anxiety and confusion within any situation.
Think of the following example:
You are with your friends for the evening, and they decide to stop by a house party. You don’t want to go. However, you feel it would be fine to step in for just a few minutes. After arriving at the party, a girl offers you a drink. You subconsciously say yes. She hands you a drink and walks away. Your friends are all drinking and decide they want to stay longer. What do you do?
This situation can be challenging because everything is lining up to evoke a relapse. As you look at this situation, you can see that your social circle was enabling the consumption of alcohol and lacking respect for your boundaries. While you said yes to a drink without realization, you quickly regret the words that came out of your mouth.
Ending up in situations like this and allowing triggers to stack upon each other often increases the potential for relapse to occur. By recognizing the initial triggers, such as stopping at the party to begin with, you can avoid those situations and your responses to the emotions that arise. Awareness is the key to recognizing and managing the triggers that arise through your recovery journey.
It is important to understand the triggers, both emotional and situational, that increase the likelihood of relapse. Being able to recognize these triggers can help you effectively manage the emotions that arise from the stimulus and appropriately respond. Sometimes you can even avoid experiencing these triggers by avoiding situations, people, or habits that you associate with substance use. Over time, you can build better associations and habits. There are many factors involved in recognizing triggers, as they can arise through a variety of sensory, emotional, and contextual stimuli. Looking at the past actions that corresponded with your substance use is a great way to pinpoint the potential triggers that may have an impact on your recovery future. Responding to triggers is not always an easy task, but it is essential for maintaining sobriety. To learn how to recognize your triggers and manage them, call Dream Recovery at (949) 732-1960.