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Reducing Triggers in Alcohol Addiction Recovery

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In alcohol addiction recovery, you will identify people, places, situations, and things that generate a desire to consume alcohol. You may experience an urge to consume alcohol when you are reminded of times you used to in the past because your brain associates those people, places, and situations with drinking. These experiences are known as triggers.

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Types of Triggers

Triggers can be internal or external. Internal triggers may be a particular emotion (pleasant or unpleasant), energy fluctuations, memories, or thinking patterns. External triggers are the stimuli around you that cause a craving or desire to consume alcohol.

Triggers may not directly lead to substance use or relapse, but they can generate unpleasant and challenging experiences such as anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive thinking, euphoric recall, or toxic shame. In effect, external triggers can lead to internal triggers, increasing your risk for relapse.

Examples of External Triggers in Alcohol Addiction Recovery

External triggers are associated with your five senses.

Visual triggers are things you see that remind you of consuming alcohol, including alcohol in the media and advertising. They may include:

  • Commercials or billboards for alcoholic beverages
  • Television shows or movies where people consume alcohol
  • Social media
  • Magazines or articles
  • The neighborhood, store, restaurant, club, or bar associated with your history of alcohol consumption
  • Seeing people that you used to consume alcohol with, either in person or on social media
  • Mood-lighting in a particular setting
  • Seeing bottles of alcohol or paraphernalia, such as specific dishware used when consuming alcohol

Auditory triggers, things you hear that remind you of consuming alcohol, may include:

  • People talking about a specific drink or sharing memories and experiences that remind you of consuming alcohol
  • Overhearing people talking about alcohol
  • Songs with lyrics about alcohol or drug use, or a particular style of music
  • The roar of a crowd in a sporting event, or the announcements of sports commentators

Olfactory triggers are aromas or scents that stimulate an urge to consume alcohol. These could include:

  • The smell of alcohol
  • The scent of foods that alcohol accompanied in the past

Additionally, seemingly unrelated aromas may trigger thoughts or urges if they were previously paired with alcohol consumption, such as holiday scents or a campfire.

Specific tastes and flavors may trigger desire, particularly if these flavors were paired with alcohol in the past, like nuts or fried food.

The touch or feel of an object may be a trigger for alcohol use. For example, if you frequented places with leather seating or would regularly consume alcohol while sitting on a specific fabric in your home, this could be a trigger. Additionally, the feel of certain clothing you may have worn when you drank socially may become a trigger.

Additional external triggers may include situations or places such as:

  • Holidays and special occasions
  • Certain friends’ homes
  • When you’re home alone
  • Parties or social gatherings
  • Dining out
  • Before or during a date
  • Work-related stress
  • Promotions or celebrations
  • Vacations
  • A particular time of day (e.g., morning, afternoon, or after work)
  • The loss of a loved one

How to Cope with External Triggers in Alcohol Addiction Recovery

The Serenity Prayer, which is recited at many 12-step meetings, states: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The wisdom associated with this prayer can be a means to navigate triggers when they arise.

Accepting That Triggers Will Occur in Alcohol Addiction Recovery

The first line of the Serenity Prayer is, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

When in recovery, you will experience triggers—that is just part of recovery.  Since you can’t avoid triggers, it is helpful to prepare to cope with triggers when they arise. Having coping strategies ready when triggers arise makes you more prepared to redirect your attention to support your sobriety. Examples of coping strategies include (but are not limited to):

  • Writing a list of at least 20 reasons why you want a life of sobriety. Carry this list around with you everywhere you go. When a trigger occurs, immediately read this list that you’ve created.
  • Identifying thoughts you have that sabotage your sobriety when you are triggered and write them down. Next to this thought, write helpful responses that can counter the sabotaging ones. For example, your sabotaging thought may say, “I don’t care anymore. This is too hard.” Your pre-written, helpful response will say something like, “I may not care in this exact moment, but I will definitely care if I relapse. I will be disappointed and feel back at square one. Sobriety is hard, but relapse is harder.”
  • Attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
  • Calling your sponsor, a program friend, or your therapist.
  • Going for a walk or engage in an exercise you enjoy.
  • Practicing prayer and/or meditation.
  • Engaging in activities you find enjoyable, such as painting, cooking, reading, writing, or listening to peaceful music.

13 Strategies to Reduce Triggers in Alcohol Addiction Recovery

The second line of the Serenity Prayer states, “[Grant me] the courage to change the things I can.” Many things are within your power to reduce the number of triggers you experience. Each time you experience a trigger, it requires energy and can increase your chance of relapse; therefore, it is ideal to reduce the number of triggers you encounter where possible. Below are 13 strategies that help you to avoid triggering experiences in sobriety.

1. Avoid Locations

Avoid the places where you used to purchase and/or consume alcohol. This may include avoiding entire neighborhoods, restaurants, stores, or the homes of certain friends.

2. Remove Yourself from Active-Use Situations

Avoid interacting with friends or family who actively use and consume alcohol in front of you. You may need to grieve the loss of connection with certain people as they may have been an important part of your life before recovery. However, if they are dealing with addiction and do not desire recovery, they may encourage you to return to alcohol consumption rather than support you.

3. Avoid Exposure to Advertisements

Avoid advertisements that promote alcohol. Today, many online services offer an option to pay a monthly fee for ad-free streaming. This additional fee may be worth the energy it would otherwise take to cope with a triggering advertisement.

4. Review Entertainment Prior to Viewing

When you view entertainment, you can review the content of a song, movie, or podcast before immersing yourself fully in the content. You may notice that this song, movie, or podcast has some triggering material that you will be exposed to when reviewing the content. However, when you initiate this review, you have prepared yourself for whatever triggering material you may observe while reviewing it. In this way, you are not caught off guard by the trigger.

Alternately, you can ask friends in recovery if they are familiar with a particular movie, artist, or song. If your friends have already identified triggering content, you will have an idea of some of the entertainment to stay away from.

5. Block Triggering Content on Social Media

If you notice a friend on social media posts images of alcohol, you can block this friend’s posts from your newsfeed. You do not necessarily need to unfriend this person, but you can update your settings to avoid seeing their posts.

6. Unfollow, Unfriend, or Remove Social Media

Similarly, you might find that you experience emotional discomfort such as anxiety, shame, envy, resentment, or sadness when you see  someone’s post on social media. Perhaps you have a history of consuming alcohol with this friend, or the relationship has been stressful. These emotions might become a trigger for alcohol use. In this case, you can block this friend’s post from your newsfeed or unfriend this person. You may even decide to deactivate or delete your social media accounts altogether if you find it is causing stress to your sobriety.

7. Clearly Communicate with Friends & Family

Have an honest conversation with your friends and family about them not consuming alcohol around you or telling stories about it. It might feel awkward to make this request. Because alcohol is legal and (mostly) socially acceptable, many individuals speak about it casually and it is involved in many events and celebrations, which can mean that it may be encountered in casual conversations.

Making this request could be an opportunity to deepen your relationships. For example, when you share a vulnerability with another person, it can deepen emotional intimacy. However, you cannot control how your friends or family will respond. Some friends and family may not be willing to alter their behavior or conversations around you, in which case you might decide to limit your interactions with them.

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8. Build Friendships with Others in Alcohol Addiction Recovery

Create friendships with others who are in alcohol addiction recovery. When you are around like-minded people, you support one another in countless ways. For example, when you together you can do things that don’t involve alcohol consumption. You can have direct discussions with your friend about your triggers and, because they understand the challenges, they may be more likely to modify their behaviors to better support you , and you can support them as well.

9. Build a Solid Recovery-Based Support System

Attend regular and consistent alcohol addiction recovery-based support groups. A strong support system does wonders for sobriety. For example, in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, you can share your experience with triggers and hear the experience of others to gain inspiration and ideas to support your sobriety. You can attend other recovery-based support groups such as SMART Recovery or Women for Sobriety, a therapy group, or faith-based community connections.

10. Regularly Review Triggers with a Sponsor or Friend in Alcohol Addiction Recovery

Regularly speak with your sponsor, recovery friends, or therapist about your triggers as part of a relapse prevention plan. For example, set aside time for a regular weekly conversation to intentionally discuss the triggers you noticed in the previous week. Discuss the emotions and thoughts you experienced related to the triggers and how you coped with the trigger. Celebrate how you practiced sobriety despite the trigger. Brainstorm with your sponsor, friend, or therapist if there are ways you can avoid this trigger in the future. If you cannot avoid this trigger, brainstorm the coping skills that helped you the most.

11. Remove Triggers from Your Home

Remove as many triggering items from your home as possible. It’s best to do this with your sponsor or a friend, as you may be throwing out alcohol, drugs, or paraphernalia associated with your triggers.

12. Plan for Triggering Situations You Cannot Avoid

Solidify a plan for situations that have been known to trigger you in the past. Before this situation occurs, talk through strategies to help you experience the situation without losing your sobriety. Plan to have your sponsor or program friend available for a phone call immediately after this triggering situation. Also, before this triggering situation, visualize yourself getting through this situation using helpful strategies. Imagine yourself feeling grateful that you maintained your sobriety despite any urges you may have had.

13. Support Someone Else Struggling With Trigger Moments

Become a sponsor. There is a common saying in AA:  “To keep it, you’ve got to give it away.” When you work with a sponsee, you share your experience, strength, and hope. This reinforces behaviors and thinking patterns that you’ve engaged in to support your sobriety. When you give support to another whom you can relate to, the positive experience of providing benefits to a fellow traveler can increase your own motivation.

Although coping with triggers can be challenging and uncomfortable in early alcohol addiction recovery, the more you practice new behaviors, the easier they will become over time. It can be an incredibly satisfying experience to observe the ways your alcohol addiction recovery strengthens over time and sharing that hope with others.

A life of sobriety can be rewarding in so many life-changing ways. Call 800-948-8417 Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers 24/7 to learn about treatment options and get started on a path to sobriety.

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