Managing External Triggers

Relapse Triggers

External triggers are people, places, things, and situations that awaken cravings. They differ from internal triggers, which are negative emotional states such as anger, fear, or boredom.

Common external triggers include drugs, drug paraphernalia, bars, people using, drug dealers, neighborhoods where you got your supply, and places where you addicted. If you went to certain events, such as concerts, high, then those events can trigger you. The Internet can trigger cravings for people with many forms of addiction, including sex, love, Internet, and gambling addiction.

One common relapse trigger is a call from a dealer. Dealers are predators. Their calls are tests to see if you are vulnerable to relapse. Calls from addicting “friends” can also trigger cravings. Minimize these triggers as much as possible. One common practice is to change your phone number, email, and social media sites to make it more difficult for negative influences to contact you.

Conflict, stress, and loss are triggers. Boredom due to a lack of meaningful activities can trigger relapse. Untreated psychiatric and medical illnesses can be a trigger. Minimize these triggers by leading a meaningful and low-stress life and getting professional help.

Jobs that expose you to the object of your addiction can be triggers. Bartenders who become addicted need to find another profession, as bars are notorious places for both alcoholism and drug addiction. If you work in a drug-infested environment, such as a restaurant or with others who addict, your chances of recovery fall to close to zero.

The numbers and types of triggers are many. Although you must work to remove triggers from your life, you cannot protect yourself from all possible people, places, things, and situations. Stress, for example, is unavoidable, no matter how skillful you become at minimizing and managing it. You must learn to manage unavoidable triggers.

The first step to managing triggers is to mindfully note when you are triggered. Sometimes the trigger can induce a subtle passing negative thought that takes root and grows in your mind, such as self-pity or resentment. You cannot manage triggers if you do not know you are being triggered. Once you note the trigger, tell yourself that you are in trouble and act to protect your recovery.

The second step is to remove yourself from the trigger as fast as possible. If you are at a party or event, excuse yourself. If you see someone on the street, walk the other way. If someone offers you something, say “no” and leave.

Whatever the trigger, call someone as soon as possible to talk out the craving. Exercise one or more of the many craving management techniques discussed in my previous blogs.

Part of setting up a safe recovery environment entails eliminating as many triggers as possible. This can be difficult. It can be painful, for example, to let go of important relationships contaminated by addiction. Establishing a new living situation can be difficult. Some people have to move and start a new life elsewhere to avoid the many triggers in their lives. Removing triggers requires courage, conviction, clarity, and support.

Do what you need to do to minimize external triggers in your life. Become skillful through practice at managing the triggers you cannot avoid.

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