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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

05-21-19 | By

Triggers: What They Mean, And How We Can Deal With Them

To fully understand triggers, we must have an understanding of why we used, and how our addictions were born.

Why Us?

Like most kids, we experimented with a little of this and a little of that. It all started out fun and games. A way to socialize and fit in with our peers. This lasted through high school, for some, college. Then as we got older, this phase faded away. For most. As for the rest of us, upon that very first time, the pleasure centers in our brains reacted in a completely different way. Aside from the feelings of euphoria that we experienced, something else happened. We felt whole. We felt accepted. All of the hurt went away. We. Felt. Normal. Like we could conquer anything life brought our way. From that moment on, maybe for many years to come, we chased that ever-elusive feeling, feeding our addiction like fodder the entire time, thus beginning the journey into the seemingly never-ending abyss that is our addiction.

What is A Trigger?

A trigger is anything that brings up the urge to use for someone in recovery. Triggers can range in severity from a thought that floats away on the wind, to an all-out, almost uncontrollable need to escape. From what? You might ask. Well, from anything and everything at this point. This need that was triggered, in turn, triggers the urge to act on our addiction, whatever form it takes. There are two types of triggers: Internal and External triggers.

Internal Triggers

Internal triggers are triggers that come from within us that elicit the need I wrote of earlier – to fill a void, to be whole and accepted. Our internal process can be a huge trigger for most addicts.


Emotions are the number one internal trigger that we as addicts face because they are the reason we continued using in the first place. Sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed are all huge emotional triggers because they bring up the unconscious feeling of not being in control. Rejection can also be a huge trigger because it subconsciously brings back the feelings that we felt as children and young adults: inadequacy, being unloveable, not being good enough, etc. As people in recovery, we need to be extra cautious when it comes to emotional triggers. If we fail to gain insight, one emotion can trigger other emotions and compound the strength, or severity of the trigger. This is why it is so important in recovery to learn how to identify our feelings and also identify where they are coming from, in an effort to thwart the desire before it is able to take hold.


Triggers that come in the form of thoughts are a tricky thing because thoughts trigger emotions, which can trigger more emotions and that is a tight spot to get out of. These types of triggers can be anything from negative self talk to thinking “a cold beer would be nice” on a hot day, to thoughts of anger, even thoughts of celebration for some major accomplishment. Random thoughts run through our heads all of the time. We have the choice after that how we go about dealing with them, and a choice in our actions thereafter. In my experience, my first thought is usually wrong, and remembering this aids me in halting it from going any further.


For me, memories are the hardest type of internal trigger because the memory then triggers the thoughts and emotions associated with that memory, being left with a triple compounded trigger that is super difficult to overcome. Difficult but not impossible.

External Triggers

These types of triggers can be tricky because they may trigger internal triggers as well. Some of these types of triggers are:

  • Music
  • Movies
  • Smells
  • Sounds
  • Tastes
  • The sound of someone’s voice
  • A word or phrase
  • People
  • Places

As addicts, we must be vigilant in getting to know ourselves so that when we experience any of these, we can deal with them in a healthy way and move through them. Remember, there is always “the other side” and the only way to get there is by dealing with things as they come, not running from them.

Making it to The Other Side

I know that this sounds like an almost impossible task when in early recovery, but believe me, it is entirely possible. It takes time and dedication. Here are some ideas that may help.

  • Immediately replace any negative thought with a positive
  • Sit on my hands for a moment until I can safely do something else
  • Journaling when the trigger is present
  • Take a walk
  • Remember that a trigger only lasts 60 seconds, anything after that is my own doing
  • Call my sponsor or someone else in my support network
  • Talk to my higher self for guidance
  • Put on music that I know will change my mindset to motivated or happy
  • Positive self talk
  • Repeatedly tell myself that I am not there anymore and that I never have to be again

Remember, these are things that work for me. Everyone gets into their own groove and develops their own strategies to cope. I hope that these will help get you started.


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