How Do I Handle Substance Abuse Triggers?

How Do I Handle Substance Abuse Triggers?

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Fighting substance abuse is challenging, and most people can’t recover without help. At Rock Recovery Center, we understand how difficult it can be to handle substance abuse triggers. If you’re trying to gain long-term sobriety, you must learn coping skills for substance abuse.

What is a Relapse Trigger?

A relapse trigger is an experience that causes an emotional reaction based on something from the past. Basically, a trigger can be a person, place, smell, substance, or any item that stirs intense feelings. When associated with addiction, a relapse trigger is internal or external stimuli that may lead an individual to use alcohol or drugs again.

Usually, a trigger is easy to identify when watching how a person reacts. For example, a relapse trigger may result when you remember a certain event. Also, it may occur when something uncomfortable happens to you. This will cause you to lash out or do something unhealthy.

What Causes Substance Abuse Triggers?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that there are three basic kinds of substance abuse triggers. Although these circumstances don’t force you to return to old habits, they definitely increase the likelihood of relapse.


A social trigger is spending time with a person who reminds you of old habits. For instance, visiting a friend who had used drugs with you can cause a cue in your mind.


Your moods and emotions impact your behavior. When you experience intense feelings of sadness or anger, you may relapse. On the other hand, intense happy emotions can trigger you as well.


Besides social and emotional triggers, you may receive a negative cue from being at a particular location. For instance, if you visit a store that has shot glasses on display, you may have memories of attending a party where you have participated in poor behavior with alcohol and drugs.

The Importance of Identifying Substance Abuse Triggers

Although it’s common to experience substance abuse triggers during recovery, you must identify the particular things that may cause relapse. This is the best way to maintain long-term sobriety. After you identify the things that are most likely to cause negative triggers, you can develop ways to cope and to deal with them without reverting back to dangerous behavior. It may be difficult to pinpoint triggers on your own. Therefore, it’s essential to discuss things in a group therapy session. Support groups may help you identify triggers so that you can form strategies to fight them.

Internal and External Substance Abuse Triggers that Lead to Relapse

There are both internal and external substance abuse triggers that can affect your recovery.


Stress is one of the most obvious causes of relapse. Like many others, you may use substance abuse as a way to cope with your stress. You may use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Depression and Anxiety

If you have an anxiety disorder, you may use alcohol or drugs to eliminate your symptoms. It’s common to suffer from a drug use disorder and a social anxiety disorder at the same time. However, alcohol usually makes matters worse. Also, conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) commonly occur with substance abuse. Once again, drugs and alcohol are used to ease anxiety. Unfortunately, symptoms are made worse.


Although many people link substance abuse to negative feelings, excitement can be a trigger. Oftentimes, people use drugs or alcohol to celebrate at a party or during special events in life.

Loneliness. If you feel alone, you may turn to drugs or alcohol for comfort. The substance is used to numb your pain, especially if you feel unloved or rejected.


Any place that reminds you of past drug use can trigger relapse. For instance, hotels, bars, or even a friend’s house can be triggers. Certain places in your home where you have kept your drugs can also stir triggers.

Odors, Tastes, and Sounds

If you have used drugs in a certain club, you may be triggered by the smell of a certain food or the sound of certain music. Both of these items can cause you to crave drugs or alcohol.


Certainly, there have been people in your life who have fed your habit. Your spouse, best friend, or coworker may trigger relapse after you’ve left rehab.

Holidays or Special Events

Although birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays are supposedly considered happy events, they can trigger negative behavior. Generally, you may feel in control and think that you can handle one drink. Unfortunately, people in recovery often lose the ability to know when to stop. Therefore, one drink can lead to a complete relapse.

Obviously, these are just a few examples of substance abuse triggers. You must identify the things that may cause you harm. It is key to work through relapse triggers that may cause you to veer from the path of sobriety.

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Healthy and Unhealthy Ways to Handle Relapse Triggers

There are both good and bad ways to deal with relapse triggers. Since triggers and cravings are not permanent, they will go away if you do not give into them.

Unhealthy Coping Skills for Substance Abuse

  • Falling back into old crowds. When you’re going through early recovery, you must keep your distance from old friends and acquaintances who you frequently spent time with while you were using. Not every person from your past is bad, but you should take time and reflect on who supports you and who encourages your transition back to a life of sobriety. It’s imperative to set boundaries, especially when meeting friends at an old hangout. If you can’t handle a bar atmosphere, go to a different location. A coffee shop or juice bar is a better alternative.
  • Bottling up emotions. Unchecked feelings can develop into poor behavior. Also, they can cause mental health problems.

Positive Coping Skills for Substance Abuse

Relax Your Mind and Body

To begin, one of the best and most helpful coping skills for substance abuse is relaxation. Meditation is a great way to ease your mind. You can learn deep breathing techniques to help calm you down. When stress is eliminated, you are less likely to relapse. Yoga is a great exercise to relax the body as well. Also, massage can loosen your muscles and erase tension that can hamper recovery.

Find Alternative Activities

You realize that you are tempted by certain places and people. When you are invited to a bar for drinks, you need an alternative form of recreational socialization. For instance, you can go for a run, watch a movie, or have dinner with your sponsor.

Keep a Journal

If you’ve had good moments during your day, you should jot them down into a journal. It provides a source of gratefulness. When you become comfortable with your feelings and emotions, you’re less likely to allow negative times from causing setbacks. Also, it allows you to look back at good times in your life.

Forget the Past

It’s easy to dwell on the past, but it’s much smarter to focus on the new life that you’re building. You should only think about the past when you’re remembering the negative consequences that resulted from your drug or alcohol addiction. In the end, it is most important to embrace the healthier person that you have started to create.

Develop a Support Network

When you have made friends with people who are battling the same issues, you have created a support team. Also, you can rely on your family for support. These people keep you accountable and encourage you to remain sober. When you feel triggered, you must turn to someone for support.

Change Everyday Activities

You have worked hard to get sober. To maintain recovery, you must change your lifestyle. To begin, you should exercise regularly. This offers a distraction from your cravings. Also, exercise provides structure to your day. Eating a healthy diet and avoiding hunger keeps your body calm as well.

Learning How to Manage Triggers

After finishing rehab, you will have learned coping skills for substance abuse. Throughout recovery, you learn how to overcome fears of failure. Also, you learn how to enjoy your sober life. You may not have believed that sobriety can be exciting and satisfying. However, learning to manage your triggers may change your thoughts about “fun.” Cognitive behavioral therapy may help as well. Finally, you should focus on the progress that you are making. Relapse does not make you a failure. Asking for help, avoiding risky situations, and being honest with yourself are ways to manage your worst triggers.

Work With Rock Recovery Center

Triggers bring stress, so you must get help to avoid relapse. At Rock Recovery Center, we want to teach you how to identify your triggers and to explain positive coping skills for substance abuse. To enjoy long-term sobriety, you must develop a solid plan for trigger management.

No matter how confused or lost you feel, you can improve your life. We are here to offer support throughout your recovery. At Rock Recovery Center, our trained staff will help you deal with the challenges that come after detox and rehab. To continue on a successful road to recovery, contact us. We want to make sure that you receive the care and the treatment that you deserve.

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