Understanding And Managing Triggers

Triggers can be both external (people, places, social events, financial troubles) and internal  (stress, upsetting emotions, boredom) Although triggers can be different for each person, and individuals should identify their own personal triggers in order to manage them, certain situations are almost guaranteed to prove challenging. No matter how committed you are to your treatment, relapse is often an unavoidable part of the recovery process. However, understanding the triggers that cause relapse is vital to long-term sobriety. 

substance misuse


Stress is one of the primary causes of relapse and many people who struggle with addiction use their chosen substance to self-medicate as a coping mechanism. In order to reduce the likelihood of a stress-induced relapse, it’s important to not only find healthier ways of dealing with stress in general but to be able to recognise when you are being triggered by a stressful situation.


Boredom is frustrating for most people, but it is downright dangerous for those in recovery – who could seek out substances as a “cure.” Also, substance abuse exposes the brain to abnormal amounts of dopamine. When drug use ends, everyday activities feel less rewarding due to lower levels of this brain chemical and people often find themselves feeling bored. 

People and places:

There is a saying in recovery circles: Stay out of moist places. Bars, nightclubs and places where you would drink or use are sure to remind you of your addiction and can be very triggering. The same can be said for people who may have participated in your addictive behaviour.


The first stage of relapse is known as “emotional relapse” and begins before one even realises that they are heading into the danger zone. People who struggle with addiction often have trouble managing negative emotions, thus using substances to provide relief from those feelings. This is why learning to deal with emotional upheavals is an important part of recovery.

Re stimulation

Seeing or sensing the object of your addiction, for example smelling cigarette smoke or watching people use drugs in a movie are reminders that could easily trigger the desire to use again. This is where it can be useful to remember that recovery isn’t simply about quitting the substance. It is about building a life in which you no longer want to use.


Positive times such as birthdays and holidays can be a minefield for those with substance misuse issues. Especially during times of celebration, one can easily be lulled into a false sense of security, no longer feeling threatened by addiction and believing that you are strong enough to deal with the inevitable triggers. Alternatively, it’s easy to feel left out when everyone else is enjoying themselves and the temptation to “just have one” can easily lead down the wrong path. 

Tips For Dealing with Triggers:

Sometimes it may take several relapses to understand the importance of professional treatment, and a counsellor or sponsor is your greatest ally when learning how to manage your triggers.

Have a plan in place:

Having a strategy in place for how you’ll respond to triggers can help you prepare for them in the future. For example, if you’re struggling with alcohol and a group of drinking buddies ask you to go out, it will help to have a specific response ready. Mindfulness techniques such as breathwork and meditation are also effective solutions to trigger management.

Dial before you drink or use:

It is important to have a support system, especially in the early stages of recovery. Identify a few people that you can reach out to in moments of weakness, and make that call before you use. 

Try to delay:

When dealing with triggers, delaying the actual act of drinking or using can be an effective way to give yourself a chance to reassess the situation with a clearer mind. Not using “just for today” may buy you time to let fixation pass. A delay can also open the space for an interruption (a phone call, good news) that may distract you from the trigger.

The key is to first identify your specific triggers, then employ a combination of immediate coping techniques as well as longer-term strategies to diminish their power. Keeping a journal, challenging intrusive thoughts, setting healthy boundaries, and seeking guidance from recovery mentors can also be helpful. Recognizing that triggers and cravings are temporary, and maintaining focus on your long-term recovery goals, can provide the resilience needed to work through difficult moments. With self-awareness, a strong support system, and consistent practice, it is possible for recovering addicts to effectively manage emotional triggers and sustain their sobriety.