Your Recovery Guide to Identifying Substance Abuse Triggers

Stressed out businessman with substance abuse triggers sits in front of a bottle of pills

Encountering the things that trigger you to abuse substances can make staying clean and sober extremely challenging. Yet, by identifying substance abuse triggers, you can come up with strategies to avoid and cope with these triggers. Here’s a guide on how you can identify different triggers and develop a plan for preventing relapse.

Need help recognizing and dealing with substance abuse triggers? Talk to our mental health professionals at Georgetown Behavioral Hospital to discover your answers.

How Do Substance Abuse Triggers Work?

Identifying substance abuse triggers is the first step in planning for relapse prevention. To start, you need to understand what cravings are and how triggers bring up cravings. 

What Are Cravings?

A part of the cure for addiction is recognizing when you might have cravings. It may seem that the idea of cravings is a simple one. However, there is more to cravings than you might expect. A craving is a feeling that makes you focus on getting the drug. It’s a strong desire to use it and a sometimes-overwhelming desire to get the same pleasant effects that you got when you used it before.


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A craving is partly a psychological thought, desire, or feeling of needing the drug. Yet, it is also a physical demand coming from the chemical processes of your brain. When you use drugs, your brain responds by sending chemical messengers to make you feel happy and rewarded. Then, after you go without the drug for a while, your brain creates cravings to prompt you to fulfill that need for reward in the same unhealthy way you did before.

How Long Do Cravings Last?

Cravings can go away after only a brief moment, and they often do. However, at other times, the craving may continue for hours or even days. What’s more, although you will likely have a lot of cravings right after you quit using, they can come up again many years after your recovery. In fact, you may go decades without cravings and then have intense cravings all those years later.

What Are Triggers?

Triggers are things you encounter in the world or within yourself that bring up cravings. They are people, locations, situations, or even objects that make you want to use the addictive substance. When you put yourself in environments where you will be exposed to your triggers, you make it harder to resist the urge to use. 

Avoiding your triggers is one way to deal with them. However, you can’t always do that. So, you need to have a plan for how to cope with them at those times, too.

Types of Triggers

The 4 Types of Substance Abuse Triggers infographic

There are four main types of triggers.

  • Pattern Triggers – Pattern triggers can be any situation, event, or time that calls up your desire for drugs. It could be a certain season of the year, a significant date in your life, or a type of event, like a wedding or graduation.
  • Social Triggers – You may be triggered when you are with a specific person or a group of people, especially those who were a part of your drug abuse experiences.
  • Emotional Triggers – Many feelings can make you want to engage in substance abuse. They could be pleasant feelings associated with celebrations. Or they could be negative emotions, such as sadness or anxiety.
  • Withdrawal Triggers – While the other types of triggers are based on your psychological processes, withdrawal triggers are physiological phenomena. Your body and brain are reacting to the absence of the substance by sending powerful messages, essentially demanding that you supply the drug.

How to Go About Identifying Substance Abuse Triggers

Triggers are different for everyone. What triggers you might not be a problem at all for someone else, and vice versa. Therefore, you will need to do a little work and think hard about what triggers you specifically. Here are two ways of identifying substance abuse triggers for yourself.

Examples of Common Triggers

One way of identifying substance abuse triggers is to start with a list of common triggers. Then, circle the ones that apply to your substance abuse history. Here are some of the most common triggers people face during recovery.

  • Holidays, vacations, or special occasions
  • Sports events
  • Being in a casino
  • People you used drugs with in the past
  • Someone offering you drugs
  • Feeling tired, stressed, or sad
  • Not having anything to do or feeling bored
  • Feeling lonely
  • Watching movies about substance use
  • Listening to music that was a part of your substance abuse experiences
  • Weddings, funerals, graduations, or family reunions
  • Work stress or accomplishments
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Memories of trauma

Remember that your triggers will be unique to you. You may have many triggers or only a few. However, identifying substance abuse triggers by looking at a list can get you started on the right path. 

Reviewing Past Times When You Used

Another way of identifying your triggers is to examine what you were experiencing before you used it in the past. Take a moment to visualize what was happening before you used it. Reflect on who you were with prior to engaging in substance abuse. Think about whether it was a significant time, season, occasion, or event. Now, consider how you were feeling when you started craving the substance.

With all the information you gather during this exercise, you should be well on your way to identifying substance abuse triggers that are unique to you.

Developing a Relapse Prevention Plan

After identifying substance abuse triggers, you are in a great position to make a relapse prevention plan. This will include dealing with triggers before the stages of relapse begin. 

The first thing you need to know is that cravings will go away eventually, even if you don’t use the substance. You don’t have to give in to them to get relief.

Internal Strategies

Now, make a plan for what to do about the craving. First, you will need to recognize that you are craving the substance. This means a part of your plan will include being alert for cravings when you must be in an environment where you may be triggered. Then, plan to leave that environment if you can, or cope with the craving by remembering that it will go away without using. This is your internal strategy, based on what you can think or do for yourself.

External Strategies

You also need an external strategy. This strategy will include taking advantage of things outside your addiction that will help you resist the cravings. It could include your support system of friends and family members who do not use substances. It could be activities you do that have nothing to do with substance use, such as reading a book or exercising.

Help with Substance Abuse Triggers and Recovery in Ohio

Treatment for substance abuse is available at a beautiful facility in Georgetown, Ohio. At Georgetown Behavioral Hospital, you get medically supervised detox followed by a comprehensive treatment program for substance abuse recovery. 

Our treatment plans include a variety of interventions, including psychotherapy and groups, to help you with identifying substance abuse triggers and creating a relapse prevention plan. If you have a mental health issue along with substance abuse, our dual diagnosis program can help you achieve recovery from both problems. 

To get started, all you have to do is talk to our team of mental health professionals. We will explain the program, provide assessment and diagnosis, and work with you to create the best treatment plan for you. Triggers may be difficult to manage, but with the help of experts, you can deal with them well and begin the next phase of your life.

Are substance abuse triggers destroying your recovery? Seek help today by calling Georgetown Behavioral Hospital.

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