How to cope with triggers?

Recent studies suggest that 40 to 60 percent of people who seek help with an addiction end up relapsing. After five years of sobriety, that number falls to around 15 percent. These odds seem dismal, but they are not a death sentence. As long as you are still sober, you can utilize practices and make lifestyle changes in order to prevent relapse. You choose your own path.

What is a trigger?

A trigger is any event, situation, person, or pattern of thoughts that increases your risk of relapsing into your addiction. It is a stimulus that incites a desire to resume or continue your habit.

Common emotional triggers include negative emotions such as stress, depression, anxiety, anger, frustration, or even positive emotions like having fun and happiness and wanting to gain even more elation. Drugs, alcohol, and other types of addiction are resorted to as coping mechanisms — we become much more dependent on a substance or behavior when we need a way to escape negative emotions or situations.

Other triggers include people who provide us with drugs, substances or enable other addictive behaviors. Seeing or smelling drugs or alcohol could tempt a recovering user into using them again. A trigger could be a location, for example, a friend’s house or a field where the person has fond memories of frequenting and using drugs. A trigger could even be a certain date, such as the day when a loved one passed away.

Sometimes it is possible to reduce the stress in our lives by eliminating or avoiding certain situations. Other times, when it is not possible to avoid them, we need alternative methods of coping with our problems other than resorting to an illicit substance or self-destructive behavior.

Establish a support system

Family and friends — as long as they are not the people who pressure you into substance abuse in the first place — should always be there to give you love and support. Honesty is needed in all relationships, as it is important that you have people with whom you can confide your feelings or frustrations in their entirety.

Go to support meetings

Meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous are a great way to give you a place where you can meet others going through the same struggles as you. You are not alone in dealing with addiction triggers, and everyone at support groups will be going through them with you together. If you have a sponsor, they can help you sort through your feelings and gain a better understanding of your compulsions and how to avoid them.

Stay distracted

The goal of the recovering addict should be to replace the old, self-destructive compulsion of drugs and alcohol, with a fresh, positive and constructive compulsion. Examples of this include getting out and staying physically active (there is a good reason why they call a post-jog exhilaration “runner’s high). Exercise will also improve your physical well-being, your health, and keep you feeling even better than if you relapsed. Any time that you would spend getting drunk or high, replace it with a hobby or an activity that is constructive.



Practicing mindfulness and meditation could be your most powerful tools on the path of sobriety. Meditation is a process of quieting your mind and diverting your attention from external stimuli to awareness of what goes on inside the mind. By practicing meditation, you are gaining the ability to become less attached to sensations outside that give you pleasure — mainly the high of a drug, alcohol, or that of an addictive behavior — and instead discovering where to find that pleasure from within your mind.

Don’t go back to your “normal” life

After recovering from addiction at a treatment center, many people try to go back their old routine, the way things had always been. Then they end up relapsing. It rarely occurs to them that the reason they became an alcoholic or a drug user was because of the way they were living when they turned to substance abuse. You need to change your life, in many ways seemingly unrelated to the problems that gave rise to your addiction in the first place.

Stop watching TV

TV is largely an inactive activity. Staying sober requires that the person remains mindful and aware all of the time. The moment that you become mindless, for example by crashing on the couch and flipping the channels, you become vulnerable to involuntary thoughts that might tempt you into using a drug or alcohol.

Stay humble

Sometimes a recovered addict can become too comfortable and too confident, and they expose themselves to risky people and situations. When a recovered addict is having fun, they may want to use their old substance or habit to make themselves even happier. Positive changes, such as getting married or getting a new job, can also be stressful. Any stress may lead one to use their drug or substance of choice as a coping mechanism.

Get enough sleep

According to a study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, people in the early stages of alcohol recovery who were treated for insomnia had a less chance of relapse. Sleep disturbances are five times more likely for those in early recovery. Poor sleep, the physical ailment and the stress that comes with it, can trigger someone into using drugs or alcohol. When you are not giving yourself the right amount of sleep, it is impossible to stay focused and mindful on your recovery.

Once you have identified your triggers, you need to create a plan in order to confront them and deal with them whenever they turn up. If you know that coming across someone or walking down a certain street will get you thinking about your old days again, you should avoid that person and choose to walk another way. The risk of relapse may very well haunt you for the rest of your life — you need to remain accountable with your family and support systems, and confide in people you trust whenever the urge to use strikes again.