Triggers

To be triggered is to experience an emotional reaction to something based on the previous history. Triggers can be people, scents, places, harmful substances, or anything else that serves as reminders for intense or distracting emotions. Oftentimes, triggers are reminders that put people in a mental and emotional place of distress, pain, anger, frustration, and other strong emotions. In the case of addiction and recovery, triggers are often some sort of internal or external stimulus that causes the former addict to desire to use drugs or alcohol again. Triggers are easily identifiable by the way someone reacts to something. For instance, triggers may occur when someone remembers an event, or when an uncomfortable experience happens.

The experience may cause someone to lash out, break down, or cope in unhealthy ways. As a result, individuals with unchecked triggers can cope in harmful ways, foster unhealthy relationships, and endure much suffering. Triggers can be broken down into 2 categories: internal and external. Both can strongly impact the individual feeling as the result of the trigger. 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 ultimately lead to relapse if not addressed in a healthy way. External triggers generally refer to outside, physical triggers. These specific types of triggers often trigger internal triggers as well. External and internal triggers include shame, guilt, anger, regret, depression, anxiety, inconsistency, a loss of control, heartbreak, job loss, grief, stress, fear, feeling unsafe, feeling misunderstood, and specific places (home, streets, cities, countries), trauma, PTSD, abuse, feeling judged, feeling attacked, and feeling invalidated.

During the course of the treatment program, addiction recovery counselors help patients examine the triggers in their lives that have led to addiction, and come up with steps post-discharge to manage or avoid these potential triggers. Specific triggers are unique to each person, but some are fairly universal. They are continuing friendships with users. Nothing threatens sobriety more than returning to social situations where drug and alcohol use are common. Extreme emotional states.

Depression, stress, frustration, and anxiety provoke a reflexive desire to use substances in order to relieve the discomfort of these emotional conditions. Living conditions. Returning to the same dysfunctional or isolated living situation will reactivate the addiction memory, the behaviors that led to substance use in the living environment and/or the people in it. Social settings. Parties or events where alcohol or drugs are common can quickly trigger a relapse. Someone in the early phase of recovery should avoid all social scenes where substance use is abundant. Deep-seated childhood traumas. Dysfunctional family dynamics, childhood abuse, or trauma can set into motion coping mechanisms that later develop into substance abuse. Careful and thorough coaching by a professional addiction counselor is key to helping an individual with an addiction identify their specific triggers, and make a plan to manage them. In recovery, triggers are people, places, emotions, circumstances, or anything else that reminds you of your substance use. For instance, walking past a bar at which you used to drink might be a trigger.

Addiction imprints a powerful memory of pleasure into your brain so that anything related to your drinking or using days might lead to nostalgia and cravings. In recovery, you learn to identify your triggers so that you can minimize them. You also learn healthy ways of coping if you come across a trigger. This can be going for a walk, meditating, calling a supportive friend, or any number of other things. Over time in recovery, you will likely develop a long list of healthy coping skills to which you can turn.

In discussions of triggers, people, places, and things are often mentioned. However, emotions are also a very common trigger. Stress, grief, sadness, or other difficult feelings can make people crave drugs or alcohol in the hopes of numbing out. However, drinking and using drugs only blunts these emotions for so long—ultimately causing them to come back stronger. Chronically drinking and using drugs make strong feelings unmanageable. In recovery, you learn tools to manage your emotions without using substances. In the case of addiction and recovery, triggers are often some sort of internal or external stimulus that causes the former addict to desire to use drugs or alcohol again. Triggers are easily identifiable by the way someone reacts to something. For instance, triggers may occur when someone remembers an event, or when an uncomfortable experience happens. The experience may cause someone to lash out, break down, or cope in unhealthy ways. As a result, individuals with unchecked triggers can cope in harmful ways, foster unhealthy relationships, and endure much suffering. Triggers can either be positive or negative, although negative triggers can have the most damaging effects. There are common triggers that can lead to frustration, broken relationships, depression, isolation, and in some cases, suicide.

Triggers can become a problem if they are frequent and if one is having difficulty coping because of them. Emotions like anger, guilt, irritability and low self-esteem can surface when individuals are triggered, spiraling into various behaviors and compulsions. Unfortunately, the nature of emotional or mental triggers can run very deep and can be traumatizing. Some can push individuals to adopt unhealthy ways of coping, such as self-harm, harm to others, and substance abuse.

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