Addiction Triggers

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Victory is sweet. Achieving victory over an addiction is an indescribable feeling.  It’s nearly impossible, though, to just turn a page in the recovery journal without looking back. Knowing what caused the addiction to happen in the first place, and understanding how to prevent it from happening again, is a necessary part of moving forward.

People do not exist in a vacuum. Our personality, attitude, decisions, and actions are dependent on countless factors.  No one wakes up one morning suddenly craving drugs or alcohol; an addiction doesn’t develop overnight. It starts with a series of small, unhealthy behaviors, and eventually leads up to a state of addiction to the behavior.

Every patient in recovery can tell you what circumstances triggered their addiction and what pulled them to substance use. For some, it was an escape from toxic environments, and for others it began as a social pressure. Knowing your addiction triggers is key to successful and sustained sober living.

Join Avenues Recovery, experienced leaders in addiction rehabilitation, as we explore addiction triggers. What are triggers in addiction and how can they be dealt with?

The Two Categories of Addiction Triggers 

1)  External Triggers

Unless you are a hermit living deep in the woods with just the company of owls, all individuals exist within a society of sorts. The people around us affect so many parts of our lives. Without us even realizing it, our decision-making is influenced by the people we surround ourselves with. If a person’s environment is one in which drugs or alcohol are widely accepted, it’s only natural that he will choose the same, while viewing it as normal, standard behavior.

2)  Internal Triggers

Triggers are often internal. If one experiences strong emotions like anger, fear, or sadness, comfort and solace is needed to relieve the emotional turmoil they are going through. Not everyone has a strong support system available that they can turn to. Drugs or alcohol provide an escape, albeit temporary, from the difficult feelings they are experiencing.

Triggers in Recovery

The battle against addiction doesn’t end after day one of abstinence. Recovery is more complicated than just tossing that cigarette in the wastebasket.

Recovering addicts must recognize and identify what caused them to start using the harmful substances in the first place, and in which situations they feel the greatest urge to continue to do so.

Identifying the enemy is a crucial step for any victory. In addiction recovery, it’s especially necessary.  For many people, maintaining sobriety is the most challenging aspect of recovery. There are constant battles and strong temptations that the recovered addict will struggle with regularly. When addiction stands as a force against your recovery, you must recognize the substance abuse triggers that might lead to a relapse in addiction.

Triggers in recovery can root back to the same circumstances that triggered their addiction in the first place: environmental, emotional, and psychological.

Environmental Triggers

The famous question of nurture vs. nature [1] explores the influence of the environment on people. The location that we live in and the people that we spend time with, all affect the type of person one will become. If someone leaves rehab to enter an environment of people who actively use drugs or alcohol, it’s usually a matter of time before he’ll succumb to peer pressure and return back to drug use.

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The most effective way to avoid environmental triggers is by being very aware of your surroundings. Old habits come out around certain individuals; habits that you may have thought you eradicated. Setting boundaries and limiting your contact with people that you know might lead you to relapse is crucial.

It’s especially important for a recovered addict to spend time with like-minded individuals. There is nothing like having a strong support group [2] of people who have gone through similar experiences, who are working to overcome the same challenges, and who can share their stories of triumph over recovery obstacles, such as with alumni in recovery. When you know you’re not fighting the battle alone, it’s half the battle conquered!

In addition, having a mentor or counselor whom you respect is strongly advisable for any recovering addict. When you find yourself in an environment that is so conducive to relapse, a mentor who understands your strengths as well as your weak points can be invaluable in helping you to navigate the tough setting you find yourself in.

Another aspect of remaining aware to avoid triggers is monitoring the locations you situate yourself in. Places that are associated with your history of substance use can stir up those old feelings again, and you might feel the urge to repeat those past behaviors. Merely passing a bar that you used to frequent could act as an addictive trigger and bring up memories of your former pastime, and the highs that you have experienced within those walls. Again, be aware. Know which places to circumvent and which areas to completely avoid, to prevent those feelings from reoccurring.

Emotional Triggers

Recovered addicts can experience so many emotions throughout the recovery process, with very intense and overwhelming feelings. Most addicts display symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression at some point during their journey, which can lead them to seek out relief as a means to banish these feelings. The danger is when they are triggered to turn back to their addiction as a way to numb the intense emotions.

Loneliness is something that plagues many addicts. They faced rejection from loved ones and likely received harsh criticism for the choices they made. When an addict admits his mistakes and seeks help, the feeling that they let others down can remain with them for a long time. The feelings of loneliness coupled with the anger directed toward themselves can lead to a relapse in prior addictions.


The importance of taking care of emotional well-being cannot be overemphasized. Engaging in activities that promote general good feelings will greatly reduce the risk of relapse due to emotional triggers. Exercising and practicing favorite hobbies are great methods of increasing those happy hormones and endorphins. It’s quite simple; if you’re feeling genuinely good about yourself- there’s no need to turn to alternative ways to simulate feeling good.

When strong emotions threaten to engulf you, and caving into substance use feels inevitable, practicing meditation will help you to relax and to re-approach the situation with a clear head. This mindfulness brings the realization that you can deal with strong emotions; you can overcome this!

Acquiring emotional coping skills is fundamental in preventing relapse.

Psychological Triggers

One of the most common types of triggers in addiction are psychological triggers. These can be similar to emotional triggers in the sense that they both stem from negative thoughts and feelings. Individuals in recovery should be aware of which thoughts commonly come up, in order to have the skills to manage them appropriately when the need arises.

Negative thoughts that can threaten a relapse:

  •   Feeling the need to escape from the current reality
  •   Believing that you’ll never be good enough
  •   Hating yourself for past failings and mistakes
  •   Blaming yourself for bad outcomes without considering other factors


These triggers can only be prevented when the root of the problem is solved. What is causing these negative thoughts and beliefs? Perhaps because of a childhood trauma where you were never treated as an equal? The underlying stress has to be addressed in order to prevent these negative feelings from occurring. A social worker can help get to the root of mental health issues and guide you towards positive thinking.

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Dealing with Triggers in Recovery

Recovered addicts all develop and possess a strong self-awareness. It takes a great measure of strength to look inside yourself and admit your weaknesses. Recognizing what might trigger a relapse in addiction, and taking concrete steps to prevent the relapse from happening, is one of the most challenging aspects of recovery.

Whether you’re struggling with triggers for substance use or managing your triggers for relapse, Avenues Recovery is here to support you all the way through. Contact us 24/7 to speak with one of our experienced reps. You deserve better than a life of addiction!

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