Helpful Ways to Overcome Substance Use Triggers

Apr 5, 2024

One of the most challenging facets of the recovery process is learning how to overcome substance use triggers effectively. Anything that could tempt you into using alcohol and other drugs again – people, places, things, or circumstances – can be considered a substance use trigger. While you cannot possibly prepare for every trigger that may surface throughout long-term recovery, you can implement helpful habits and plans for navigating triggers while preventing relapse. 

At Renaissance Ranch, we understand that learning how to overcome substance use triggers is an ongoing process throughout lifelong recovery. Yet, the earlier an individual can bring awareness to their triggers, the sooner they can release the power of such triggers to control a self-destructive response. During treatment at our facility, we use a variety of techniques and approaches to help our clients overcome substance use triggers. Meanwhile, once treatment is finished, our clients can access our Band of Brothers alumni network to lean into social support when navigating triggers in daily life. 

Identifying Substance Use Triggers

Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience explains that a “trigger” can be considered an external stimulus that induces a reaction. For example, “[T]he trigger is considered a key element in the craving response” shown by individuals in addiction recovery that causes “the individual to repeat drug use or relapse after a period of abstinence.” An example of an external trigger in addiction recovery is a place, such as a bar or a party, where other individuals are partaking in alcohol and other drug use. 

Meanwhile, it is also important to recognize that triggers are subjective and often stretch beyond circumstances involving the deliberate use of alcohol or other drugs. By being able to identify an external trigger and the internal experience that it brings about, individuals can effectively process the intensity of such a trigger. Moreover, as stated in the journal mentioned above, “The treatment of the subjective emotional state will help to provide a new meaning to that external stimulus, an action that we call to “re-meaning” the trigger.”

Different Types of Substance Use Triggers

Some of the most common types of substance use triggers are situations or circumstances that remind an individual of their past substance use. For example, an individual in early recovery may feel triggered to reengage in substance use when they hang around individuals who use to (or continue to) enable their alcohol and drug use. Others may feel triggered to use substances when they are celebrating successes and achievements, especially because substance use is often normalized and encouraged for these purposes in society. 

There are also less obvious substance use triggers for individuals in addiction recovery. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Stressful situations and circumstances
  • Insomnia and other sleeping problems
  • Overconfidence in recovery
  • Physical or mental illness
  • Social isolation
  • New life responsibilities 
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Romantic relationships

When going about daily life in and outside of treatment, individuals can tune into their triggers by recognizing what situations, conversations, and moments fuel physical or psychological cravings to reengage in substance use. Not surprisingly, individuals may find that even the most common stressors – like feeling disconnected or misunderstood – can be a substance use trigger. Meanwhile, always be prepared for new triggers to rise consistently throughout long-term recovery. 

How to Process and Overcome Triggers

Working through substance use triggers is certainly easier said than done. Often, the most effective way to process triggers is by doing it when such triggers arise. Individuals will discover that some triggers are easier to overcome than others. Additionally, those in addiction recovery will likely need to overcome substance use triggers a plethora of times before a trigger loses its intensity and associated craving severity. 

During early recovery, the best way to overcome triggers is through a combination of self-reflection and distraction. It is essential to recognize that the emotional reaction to a trigger – as well as associated substance use cravings – will subside with time. Turning one’s attention to something healthier, more helpful, or otherwise distracting will reduce the intensity of the trigger. For example, when an individual feels triggered to reengage in substance use, they can consider:

  • Reading a self-help book, focusing their attention on self-improvement
  • Cleaning the house, tidying up their living space
  • Going for a walk, connecting with nature 
  • Calling a loved one, relying on social support
  • Exercising, regulating internal processes, and improving mood

As individuals become more confident in their recovery, they may feel more inclined to engage in self-reflection over distraction in the presence of a substance use trigger. Similarly, the method used to overcome a trigger may vary depending on the power of the trigger in question. When turning to self-reflection, individuals may:

  • Reach out to a peer, mentor, sponsor, or another loved one to talk through their trigger or seek advice
  • Challenge intrusive thoughts with positive affirmations
  • Focus on all of the reasons why one chose sobriety
  • Turn to mindfulness strategies, like meditation, to actively prevent relapse

Healing Substance Use Triggers With Renaissance Ranch

At Renaissance Ranch, we offer a variety of resources and services to support our client’s journeys to lasting healing and recovery. Healing substance use triggers is one of many focuses during treatment at our center, along with healing from past trauma, co-occurring mental health concerns, lack of social support, and more. With multiple approaches and interventions, we can customize client care to ensure lasting recovery success and protect clients from relapse beyond treatment. 

A substance use trigger is any stimulus that elicits a strong emotional reaction in addition to physical or psychological cravings to re-engage in substance use. Learning to effectively identify and overcome substance use triggers is an essential part of lasting sobriety and recovery, as it helps to prevent relapse when difficulties arise. A combination of self-reflection and distraction can help individuals work through uncomfortable triggers in the moment. At Renaissance Ranch, we offer a wide range of treatment programs for those seeking healing from substance abuse and other mental health concerns. Allow us to guide and support you in creating a stable foundation for your sobriety. Call us today at (801) 308-8898 to learn more.