addiction triggers

Everything You Need to Know About Addiction Triggers

Sobriety and ongoing recovery involves a lot of hard work and effort on the part of the addict. With the passage of more and more time having remained abstinent, you would expect that recovery would get easier the further from the period of addiction that the individual gets. For the most part that’s true; though it begins as an uphill battle, recovery gets somewhat easier over time. However, if you’ve ever been close with a recovered addict, you might have experienced firsthand just how suddenly and abruptly a recovered addict can relapse, falling right back into his or her addiction like it was never gone to begin with. Addiction triggers are an unfortunate portion of being an addict and can incite relapse at any point.

Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence among recovered addicts. The cynical among us might take the tendency for recovered addicts to sometimes fall off the wagon as a sign that recovery from addiction is impossible or that relapse is inevitable. Fortunately, that’s not necessarily the case as many relapses are a temporary lapse of judgment after which the individual continues with their recovery. In fact, relapse is often considered a normal and expected part of the recovery process.

What are Addiction Triggers?

By definition, addiction triggers—also sometimes called a cue—is any sort of stimulus that initiates an individual’s desire to engage in the abuse of alcohol, drugs, or some other addictive behavior. Much like Pavlov conditioned his dog to salivate each time he rang a bell, addicts associate their alcohol and drug abuse with environmental or social settings such as certain people, places, situations, and so on. As such, when a recovered addict is confronted with a social or environmental cue that had previously been associated with substance abuse, the individual will often feel an extremely strong compulsion to use again, which puts him or her in exceptional danger of relapsing.

Common Triggers of Relapse

Each addict experiences addiction differently; from the circumstances that led to the addiction to the experience of recovery, every aspect is different from one individual to the next. As such, each addict will have his or her own individual addiction triggers that markedly increase susceptibility to relapse and substance abuse, which will usually be related to the people with whom the addict has had shared drug experiences and the settings as which he or she frequently abused drugs. However, there are also a number of triggers that tend to be very common among addicts.

According to most experts, addiction triggers are typically broken down into three general categories: environmental triggers, re-exposure triggers, and stress triggers. Environmental triggers are one of the easiest types of triggers to avoid as they include places and events that can activate intense cravings and the desire to use. These types of triggers typically include places like bars, public parks, street corners, certain houses, and other places in which substance abuse has occurred on a regular basis. Re-exposure triggers indicate circumstances or situations in which a recovering person is put into an uncomfortably close proximity to alcohol or drugs; the individual being within reach of the substance is considered one of the strongest triggers and one of the most difficult to resist. Finally, stress triggers pertain to cues that are associated with the recovery addicts reintegration into society after completion of an addiction treatment program. There are a number of stresses involved in re-entry into the local community, including but not limited to having insufficient skills for handling interpersonal conflict and negative emotions, which can make a recovering addict susceptible to relapse since one of the most common reasons individuals abuse substances is as a coping mechanism for stress and unpleasant emotions.

Dealing with Triggers

There are a number of ways to deal with triggers, which is a major focus while individuals are in an inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment. Since recovering addicts will often begin confronting addiction triggers immediately upon graduating a treatment program and returning home, it’s crucial that these individuals have the tools required to prevent triggers from causing a relapse. Obviously, one of the most common strategies is to avoid the main places and people associated with prior substance abuse; this includes places like the bars where individuals previous got intoxicated and avoiding drug deals or the friends with whom recovering addicts used to do drugs. Additionally, it’s important to understand these urges and why these triggers cause such a powerful response, which can help individuals in recovery to be proactive about avoiding triggers and, if necessary, making alternative plans to avoid triggers.

Another crucial strategy for preventing triggers from causing a relapse is referred to as urge surfing. This strategy involves the recovering addict visualizing the craving for alcohol or drugs as a large wave that must be ridden from beginning to end, from the top until it finally crests. Using the strategy, the individual recognizes the strength and severity of the craving that he or she feels, but is also aware that they need to remain calm, collected, and simply “ride it out” as it continues to get weaker and weaker. It’s also recommended that recovering addicts get involved with productive new hobbies; they’re often encouraged to enroll in a two-year degree program, learn a language or new skill, create art or learn an instrument, or other such activities that involve focus, dedication of time, and are also enjoyable.

Moving On After a Relapse

Recovering addicts should try to remember that, although relapse should be prevented as much as possible, relapse is also an expected, natural part of the recovery process. If an individual relapses, he or she should refrain from getting so discouraged that they totally abandon their recovery plan and sink back into the depths of addiction. Consider relapse a learning experience; identify the causes of the relapse, how or why it happened, and take steps toward ensuring that the trigger doesn’t cause a relapse again in the future.

Addiction is a dark, lonely journey that will result in death if left untreated. If you or someone you love is suffering from the disease of addiction, don’t let the disease claim another life. Call Drug Treatment Center Finder so one of our recovery specialists can find you or your loved one an addiction treatment facility today.


  1. One thing I do not agree with is that you seem to EXPECT a relapse. I never expected one and never had one from alcohol. I learned right quick that I cannot have just one!!! I think the thought of a relapse being normal is not right it gives the addict a quick way out saying oh well that is just normal I can start over. Never mind who gets hurt in the end I also stopped smoking with the same mind set I can never never have just one.

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