What are the triggers of addiction? (5 examples)

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In this blog, we will answer the question “what are triggers in addiction?”. We will first understand what addiction is and the stages of addiction. We will then define what a trigger is and the various triggers of addiction.

What are the triggers of addiction?

  • Stress
  • People, places and things connected to the addictive behaviour
  • Times of celebration
  • Seeing or sensing objects of your addiction
  • Negative emotions

Addiction

Addiction is a situation where a person cannot stop the use of a certain drug or substance, even when it is causing physical and psychological problems in his life and those around him.

It is classified as a chronic mental illness that cannot be cured; it can be managed.

Many people start to use drugs voluntarily, but over time they reduce self-control and the drugs take over. There is substance addiction and non-substance addiction. Non-substance addiction includes:

  • Gambling addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Internet addiction
  • Gaming addiction
  • Phone addiction

Symptoms of addiction

  • Poor performance in school or at work
  • Relationship problems
  • Inability to discontinue use even when it causes physical and psychological problems
  • Hygiene neglect
  •  Weight changes and changes in appearance

Diagnostic criteria for addiction

The DSM V criteria cover 11 distinct problems arising, including;

  • Wanting to cut down and stop using but not being able to
  • Taking the substance in large amounts than intended
  • Developing cravings and judges for the drugs
  • Spending a lot of time finding, using and recovering from the use of the substance
  • Continuing to use even when it is causing physical and psychological problems
  • Continuing to use even when it is causing problems in relationships
  • Not being able to do what is expected of you because of the use of the drug
  • Giving up important activities because of the substance/ drug
  • Using the substance over and over again even when it is a danger to your life
  • Developing tolerance (need to increase the substance to get the desired effect)
  • Getting withdrawal symptoms that can be relieved from the use of the drug/ substance 

Triggers

Triggers are sensory reminders that cause a resurface of painful memories or old habits. Triggers of addiction cause the person in recovery to have a strong desire for the drugs he was using. The road to recovery is difficult and triggers are the most common obstacle to a person’s sobriety.

There are internal and external triggers. They include:

Internal triggers

Internal triggers are sparked from within. Intrusive thoughts and feelings make one get the overwhelming urge to use again. They include;

Thoughts

Thoughts can range from negative self-talk like feeling useless to romanticizing the drugs, i.e. “a cold beer would be perfect for this hot weather”. Other thoughts that can trigger a relapse include anger, boredom and even celebration. These random thoughts come and go and they can be stopped if one is resilient and has positive coping mechanisms.

Feelings

Unwanted emotions like fear, anger, frustrations, sadness, etc. can trigger a recovering addict from wanting to use/drink. Initially, many drug addicts escape these feelings by the use of drugs. Unless they employ positive coping mechanisms on how to handle these feelings, they might end up craving to use and relapse.

Memories

Memories are difficult to get rid of and they have a tendency of triggering unwanted emotions and thoughts that can make a person in recovery relapse. Many people in recovery have gone through trauma, which they would wish to forget. They, therefore, ended up using drugs for self-medication.

Just because they are in the journey of recovery does not mean that the memories are gone. Unless they equip themselves with ways to deal with the triggers when they resurface, they can easily relapse.

External triggers

These are physical external stimuli that can make one relapse or that can trigger internal triggers. They include;

HALT

This is an acronym that stands for hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness. These four are believed to be external triggers of relapse. Hunger makes one irritable and can cause irrational decisions, like taking a drink to calm down. 

Being angry can also lead to rash decisions by recovering addicts to run to drugs to calm their nerves. They can also use the drugs as a companion when they are feeling lonely. Tiredness can also make one crave a drink/use drugs to loosen up.

PPTs

This is also an acronym meaning people, places, and things. You need to avoid people who can trigger you to relapse, i.e., drinking buddies. It can also include close people who trigger powerful emotions, like parents or partners.

Places include areas you used to frequent when using, i.e. bars or clubs. Places that trigger you could also be dark alleys where no one can see you, your friend’s house, etc.

Things could include paraphernalia that relates to your use, i.e. an ashtray, your favourite lighter, the t-shirt that you used to wear when going out drinking, or t-shirts with symbols of drugs and alcohol.

Other external triggers include:

  • Smells
  • Sounds
  • Taste
  • Movies
  • Cash
  • Specific time of the year
  • Events
  • music

How to cope with triggers in addiction

Identifying your triggers

The first step of recovery is to identify your triggers. Use the methods listed above, i.e., HALT and PPTs to identify people, places, things and situations. Use this list to identify triggers ‌you need to avoid and those that you have to build resilience for since they are unavoidable. 

Some examples of unavoidable triggers include close family members and advertisements on media channels.

Make a relapse prevention plan

A relapse prevention plan helps you make an effective plan to avoid relapse. It is a precious tool and should be taken with a lot of seriousness. Ask your therapist to help you create your prevention plan for relapse. A relapse prevention plan has the following;

  • A detailed list of triggers
  • Activities you can engage in as a distraction and positive coping mechanisms
  • List of places you can go to distract yourself from your cravings
  • List of people you can contact when you are feeling low/ when you have cravings
  • List of health professional you can reach out to when you feel low and have cravings
  • Emergency services that you can reach out to
  • Ways to reduce the risk factors

Seek professional help

Remember that a relapse can happen at any time and that it is not the end of life. Sometimes, relapses happen to help us understand how fragile recovery is. Have a psychiatrist or therapist who can help provide practical and emotional support in your process of recovery.

Trigger management

We will look at the healthy and unhealthy coping skills for managing your triggers. They include:

Healthy coping skills

  • Spending time with healthy people
  • Exercising
  • Getting enough rest
  • therapy/ counseling
  • Practising mindfulness and meditation
  • Staying hydrated
  • Eating healthy
  • Joining a support group (AA)
  • Using positive distractions
  • Restructuring negative thoughts and perceptions

Unhealthy coping skills

  • Self-harm
  • Other forms of abuse; mental, physical, emotional, sexual, and financial
  • violence
  • Making excuses for harmful behaviour
  • Bottling up emotions
  • Binge eating
  • Lying and denial
  • Anger outbursts

Conclusion

In this blog post, we have discussed ‌what addiction is, types of addiction, symptoms of addiction, and the diagnostic criteria for addiction. We have also put focus on what triggers are, the types of triggers in addiction, how to cope with trigger and trigger management. Please feel free to comment on the content or ask questions in the comment section below.

Frequently asked questions: triggers

What are examples of triggers?

Triggers vary from person to person, but the most common types of triggers include memories, loneliness, anger, pain, people, sadness, places, and feeling overwhelmed.

What does it mean by getting triggered?

To be triggered means to have an extreme physical or emotional reaction after encountering a trigger.

What makes something a trigger?

Any situation or action that leads to an extreme emotional reaction is a trigger. In addiction recovery, a trigger is anything that can make someone develop cravings or feelings of using.

Can you be triggered without knowing?

Yes, it is possible for one to get triggered even when the mind has not made a connection between their behaviour and the surroundings.

Citations

Murray K. (July 15, 2019). What is a trigger? Retrieved from https://www.addictioncenter.com/rehab-questions/how-handle-triggers/

Juergens J. (November 1, 2021). Learning to avoid temptations. Retrieved from https://www.addictioncenter.com/treatment/coping-triggers/

Hartney E. (March 21, 2020). DSM 5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/dsm-5-criteria-for-substance-use-disorders-21926

Felman A. (June 3, 2021). What is addiction? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323465

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