Recovery: Emotional Triggers

What Are Emotional Triggers?
Graphic helps identify what triggers you emotionally in relationships
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An emotional trigger is any topic that makes us feel uncomfortable. These emotional triggers are telling us which aspects in our life we might feel frustrated or unsatisfied with. As mentioned above, it can vary in each person because we are all struggling with something different.

If you follow any kind of recovery groups, you will find references to just about everything and anything as triggers. I have difficulty understanding how some of the folks I meet in these groups have such a tenuous hold on their sobriety. They cite everything from lack of sleep, to arguments with their significant others, to driving by a neighborhood they once used in as all viable triggers. But, apparently, there is legitimacy to even the subtlest things having the potential to trigger someone into relapse.

When we can identify what bothers us, we can take action to protect our mental health. Even though we can’t avoid all of the situations that may emotionally trigger us, we can take actionable steps to take care of ourselves and develop a strong inner voice to help navigate us through these uncomfortable situations. 

What Are Triggers In Recovery?

Early on in recovery I was warned about certain “triggers” that had the potential to lead me to relapse. These triggers had the potential to weaken our resolve and lead us down the path to relapse our therapists warned. The VA did a thorough job teaching us how to recognize and avoid these triggers. They identified the top 5 triggers for us and help us to develop skills for avoiding, minimizing, or managing these triggers.

Stress–Stress is the top cause of relapse. And, many people who struggle with addiction turn to their substance or activity of choice as a maladaptive way of coping with it.

SOLUTION: By making changes in your lifestyle, relationships, and priorities, you may be able to reduce the number of stressful situations in your life. And, when you do that, you will be reducing the likelihood that stress will trigger a relapse.

People & Places–People who participated in your addictive behavior are potential triggers for a relapse, regardless of whether or not they are still drinking, smoking, or using drugs.

SOLUTION: When you’re reminded of your addiction, it’s important to have effective ways of handling your feelings. For instance, if you’re an alcoholic and a group of drinking buddies ask you to go out, or you see people from work going to happy hour, it might help to have a specific response ready.

Seeing or Sensing Object of Addiction–Reminders of your addiction can trigger relapse during recovery. A whiff of cigarette smoke, watching people sip cocktails in a bar or restaurant, or a couple locked in an erotic embrace are reminders that seem to be everywhere in the early stages of quitting.

SOLUTION: Focus on the new life you’re building and the changes you’re making. Think about the negative consequences that you experienced while participating in your addiction—the people you hurt and the relationships you lost. You may think you miss your old life when you see these reminders, but in reality it only brought you pain and hardship.

Negative Emotions–People who struggle with addiction need effective ways of tolerating, managing, and making sense of the negative feelings encountered in daily life. Alcohol, drugs, or addictive behaviors used to provide temporary relief from those feelings, but you can’t rely on them anymore.

SOLUTION: View these emotions as an opportunity for growth and understanding. You can learn a lot about yourself by taking an inventory of what you’re feeling and asking yourself why. In fact, learning how to face your emotions without escaping into addiction is invaluable.

Times of Celebration–Positive situations, such as birthdays and holidays, can be triggers too. You may feel happy, in control, and confident you can handle one drink, one smoke, or one mild flirtation with the attractive stranger. But can you really keep it under control?

SOLUTION: Avoid going into situations alone where you are at high risk of relapse. You might be surprised how quickly your resolve and good intentions disappear once the party’s started.

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