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Understanding Triggers and How to Deal With Them in Recovery


The journey from addiction to recovery is full of many ups and downs. If you have managed to acquire some sober time, you know that the journey is full of productive, easy-sailing days and days when you can barely make it through. During the hills and valleys of your sobriety, the uncertainty and lack of focus on your recovery may be attributed to a sudden influx of triggers. In addiction and recovery, a trigger refers to a person, place, or event that may cause your brain to flash back to the days you were using. Identifying triggers in recovery can help you plan for how to cope with them.

Triggers are the most common obstacles that can deter an individual from recovery and sometimes lead to relapse. To maintain a solid foundation for your recovery, it’s important to understand your triggers. In addition, it’s essential to learn how to cope with them when they arise.

What is a Trigger?

In addiction recovery, a trigger is any person, place, or event that surfaces the urge for someone to use in recovery. Triggers often vary in severity from intrusive thoughts to an overwhelming anxious need to escape. For any addict, the feeling of needing to escape from anything and everything often triggers the individual to act out on his/her addiction. In regards to triggers in addiction recovery, there are internal and external triggers.

Internal Triggers

Internal triggers are sparked within the addict to fill a void, feel whole, and feel accepted. The internal process within an addict can be a huge trigger. These intrusive thoughts and feelings can lead to relapse if not addressed healthily. Here are a few examples of internal triggers.


One of the most common and detrimental internal triggers is emotions. Initially, many addicts first use drugs and alcohol to avoid unwanted emotions. Sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed often engage the feeling of not being in control. Rejection and abandonment are also major triggers for recovering addicts because it typically brings up feelings from their childhood. Feelings of inadequacy can lead a recovering addict to seek validation desperately, and when the attempts fail, this can also be a trigger. 


Triggers that intrude in the form of thoughts can be insidious as they tend to trigger more emotions. As a result, this creates a complex situation to navigate. Triggers derived from the thoughts of a recovering addict can range from negative self-talk to random thoughts of “a cold beer on this sunny, hot day would be nice” to thoughts of anger, boredom, or even thoughts of celebrating a major accomplishment. Random thoughts come and go. However, it’s important for the addict to utilize the tools he or she learns in substance abuse treatment to deal with the thoughts. Then, they can stop the thoughts from going in a negative direction.


Painful memories of the past can be some of the most difficult triggers to overcome. Memories have a tendency to trigger thoughts and emotions associated with that memory. Individuals may find that memories can trigger a complex array of emotions and thoughts, making it difficult to cope with the trigger. Furthermore, many addicts have experienced some form of trauma that may be reignited in recovery. Past trauma may trigger the addict to blot out those memories with substances. 

External Triggers

External triggers generally refer to outside, physical triggers. These specific types of triggers often trigger internal triggers as well. Here are some specific types of external triggers:

  • Smells
  • Sounds
  • Tastes
  • Music
  • People
  • Movies
  • Places
  • Seasons
  • The sound of someone’s voice
  • A specific time of year
  • Paraphernalia
  • Cash
  • Trauma
  • Credit Cards
  • Events

Fortunately, there are many ways to cope with triggers in recovery.

Coping with Triggers in Recovery

When dealing with triggers, addicts must remain vigilant in identifying each trigger, preparing a plan to cope with them, and utilizing tools and resources provided during their drug and alcohol rehab program to move forward. Here are a few ways you can deal with triggers as they come up:

  • Notice where your feet are and be present at the moment
  • Replace negative thoughts with gratitude or positive thoughts
  • Sit on your hands until you can do something else
  • Move your feet, change your thoughts
  • Journaling
  • Go for a walk
  • Pick up the phone and call your sponsor or other sober support
  • Meditate
  • Positive affirmations
  • Put on music that you know will shift your mindset
  • Remember that your trigger is temporary, don’t obsess or act out impulsively
  • Get up and help another addict/alcoholic

Seeking help from a substance abuse treatment program that develops relapse prevention plans can help you cope with triggers.

Relapse Prevention with Agape Treatment Center

At Agape Treatment Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, our focus on relapse prevention involves developing healthy coping skills for our clients to integrate into everyday life. On the personal journey to long-term recovery, cravings to use drugs or alcohol are often part of the healing process. With our solution-focused therapies, our clients can overcome their cravings and avoid the triggers that lead to relapse. There is light at the end of the tunnel: you never have to use drugs again. Let’s develop a strong relapse prevention plan individualized to your unique needs.

Call the Agape Treatment Center admissions team at 888-614-0077 to learn more about what our addiction and mental health facilities can do for you or your loved one.

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