Dealing With Addiction Triggers? Try These Coping Skills

Therapist explaining about addiction triggers

Encountering addiction triggers on the road to recovery is inevitable. This is even true for individuals that have maintained their sobriety long-term after addiction treatment. Although there are many ways to handle addiction triggers, healthy coping skills are going to be important for growth. 

The reality is that learning how to deal with triggers, and being able to do so effectively, requires constant dedication. Both dedication toward the life you want to experience sober, and the emotional and psychological wellbeing that holds it together. By making a plan that works for you and sticking with it, you can set beneficial goals for your future. 

Even though not all substance abuse triggers are universal, some are inevitable. Rehab counselors, therapists, and those that have faced addiction before you, offer valuable coping skills for dealing with addiction triggers. Check out some of the most common temptations are, and how to deal with triggers that threaten sobriety. 

Understanding Triggers And How They Affect Sobriety

A trigger refers to anything that brings up the idea, sensation, temptation, or thought of giving in to addiction. It’s anything that initiates an intense craving that sparks a recurrent pattern of behavior that leads to relapse. Sometimes, triggers don’t even exist physically but can arise out of a word, emotion, or even behavior of another. They don’t need to have anything to do with a current addiction, or, substance use at all for that matter. 

During intensive outpatient treatment, much of the core curriculum revolves around identifying triggers that lead to substance abuse. The comprehensive self-evaluation is going to be just as important as professional rehab therapy. However, after gathering as much knowledge on personal temptation as possible, learning how to deal with triggers encourages staying sober. 

Common Triggers Faced In Recovery

What exactly triggers a craving for one person may not be the same as a trigger that affects another. However, what all addicts in recovery do have in common, is having to face them. What makes this important is the factor that encountering a trigger evokes; That common element is stress. 

During addiction treatment programs and therapy, individuals can open up and share their experiences with different stressors that trigger cravings. For some, these may be emotional triggers in recovery. Others face their triggers physically when encountering people, places, or things that remind them of substance abuse. 

Regardless, the strong desire to turn back to addiction is a universal understanding among individuals that have faced their addiction. While it may not make it easier, it does mean that you never have to face those demons completely alone. That in itself is a coping mechanism. 

Physical Triggers And How To Cope

Physical triggers, also known as external triggers, are usually physically encountered. However, that doesn’t always mean that they involve using substances specifically. For example, seeing a syringe is a very obvious physical trigger. But a physical trigger could also be part of a routine. Something that immediately preceded drug or alcohol use, or something that usually happened after. A physical addiction trigger could even be a car, or a type of car if it sets off a craving. 

Regardless, it is going to take some work to move past associations, like going places or doing things. Although it might sound vague, substance abuse has likely infested many corners of an addict’s lifestyle. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) during rehab is helpful to reform associations made with substance abuse triggers. With the help of a CBT therapist, it’s possible to break the bond between addiction and triggers. Then, to top it off, replace it with a healthy sober one.  

Emotional Triggers That Sneak Up

No one is going to argue that facing your addiction and triggers, aren’t emotional experiences. But what about when emotions themselves are the trigger? Emotional triggers in recovery are especially difficult to navigate through and even harder to identify. 

However, one of the beneficial characteristics of outpatient treatment is being able to experience both freedom and structured rehab, simultaneously. Spending time away from the treatment center can seem scary, especially right after detox. But the outpatient treatment does allow for the opportunity to gather information about areas that are particularly consumed with triggering emotions. 


Emotional triggers in recovery that haven’t been carefully considered can derail sobriety very quickly. Use the opportunity to your advantage by discussing addiction triggers linked to feelings during therapy and addiction education lessons. 

Underlying Psychological Triggers Can Lead To Relapse

Another important concept to consider when coping with addiction triggers is their impact on our mental health. Not only is addiction itself considered a psychological illness, it often goes hand-in-hand with others, being masked by withdrawal symptoms. In rehab terms, this is called having co-occurring disorders. 

What makes co-occurring disorders important, on the topic of emotional triggers in recovery, is the necessity for proper treatment. Undiagnosed or mismanaged psychological illnesses, such as a substance use disorder and depression, have been found to trigger the other. For example, the feelings of sadness or hopelessness were often seen in individuals suffering from depression, could prompt desires to self-medicate

By abusing substances to cope, instead of getting professional care, each illness triggers the other. Cut out the middleman, and participate in a treatment program that incorporates treatment for co-occurring disorders along with addiction triggers. 

Dealing With Unexpected Addiction Triggers

No matter how prepared you are knowing how to deal with triggers, it’s hard to prepare for the unexpected. Unexpected triggers can even be ones you have prepared for but arise very suddenly and without warning. Often these are emotional triggers in recovery, but that’s not always the case. 

Bumping into someone you used to drink or do drugs with at the store or library, can and might happen. You will need to have an aftercare plan in place that you can rely on to default to. In the best-case scenario, simply excuses yourself and walk away. 

For some people, especially right out of detox, these types of addiction triggers can lead to multiple recurrent relapses. One of the options available through select treatment centers that can help is known as medication-assisted therapy (MAT). While it may not be available for everyone, it effectively reinforces lessons on how to deal with triggers. 

This therapeutic approach is often used when withdrawal symptoms are persistent and interfere with the focus on addiction treatment. Although MAT is a very useful program to incorporate into treatment, it is not intended to be utilized forever. Instead, a medication that reduces cravings or causes negative reactions to substances is used as a teaching experience. 

Remove Yourself Or The Trigger But One Has Got to Go

The first, and often the best way to handle encountering an addiction trigger, is to leave or get away. By putting distance between yourself and whatever is prompting a craving, you diminish the severity of the immediate threat. For example, if the beer is not in front of you, you cannot reach out and grab it. This gives you time to identify it as a trigger and work through the after-plan process that’s been practiced. It sounds simple, but in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Stay aware and remember what’s important.

How To React When Walking Away Isn’t An Option

But what about situations when you simply cannot leave, because there is nowhere to go? Or how to deal with triggers that occur at work or school? What about family functions when leaving would disrupt the peace? 

No doubt these can be difficult to navigate through. But, there are some things you can do about it. Proactively, you can open up, be honest, and get everyone (who is willing) on the same page. 

When dealing with situations that require your attendance and attention, like school or work, you may have to weigh options. For starters, it may help to privately communicate concerns to the person in charge. Sometimes, arrangements can be made, other times, you may need to make these changes for yourself. 

When the family is involved, especially family that has been hurt by your addiction, it’s usually a coin toss. Most of the time, family and friends will understand and be supportive. However, this isn’t always the case, and leaving a gathering could result in even more drama. Try being firm, yet gentle, when expressing yourself. 

Take advantage of the opportunity to participate in family therapy programs available through a treatment center. They often contribute toward better relationships in the long run. Regardless, if anything is causing distress or threatening relapse, you need to do what’s best for you and your sobriety. 

Setting Boundaries To Avoid Relapse

It’s not only important to set boundaries with others in recovery. But you must also set them with yourself, regarding exposure to substance abuse triggers. Navigating past one or two triggers at a time can be possible for some people. 

Although at some point, it will begin to weigh heavy. Make sure you are not biting off more than you can chew, and have plans for when it feels overwhelming. Lastly, it’s important to hold yourself to these guidelines, and to be kind and respect yourself, but knowing your limits. 

Sometimes, individuals in recovery set extremely high standards for themselves. Then when unable to maintain unreasonable expectations, develop a sense of self-defeating internal dialogue. These negative thoughts and feelings can be dangerous emotional triggers that should not go ignored. 

Addiction treatment programs like rational emotive behavior therapy are designed to focus on just that. Not only can the program work to alleviate an inescapable trigger, but it also helps to develop a positive mental outlook. 

Healthy Ways to Manage Triggers In Recovery

There are so many beneficial ways to cope with addiction triggers that can endanger sobriety. The number one way to reduce the intensity of any trigger is to better manage all-around stress levels. To do that, you need to find an outlet for that energy to go into. 

Some of the best ways to deal with substance abuse triggers revolve around distracting the mind from the craving. For example, some of the healthiest activities to incorporate into your daily regime to manage addiction triggers might be:

  • Mindful meditation
  • Quiet time designated for rest
  • Quality time with friends and family
  • Prioritizing time to make healthy meals or snacks
  • Participating in a support group or attending regular meetings
  • Regularly attending individual therapy during and after treatment
  • Join a gym or participate in a competitive sport

Committing an activity doesn’t mean that every trigger encounter sends you running to the gym. That would be unrealistic. But the name of the game is to keep a handle on stress. However, you decide to safely reduce stress regularly, use that as something to look forward to. When we make time to reduce stress regularly by doing things that we enjoy, it reinforces sobriety. Then, any triggers and problems that come up, can appear smaller, and easier to overcome or move past. 

It’s OK to Ask For Help With Thoughts Of Relapse

Sometimes, some people encounter an addiction trigger and everything teeters on the edge of relapse. Unfortunately, at that point, the process of relapse has already begun. That pressure to try desperately to keep the pieces of your recovery together begins to become a trigger in itself. 

Instead of trying to claw your way back alone, the best thing you can do is reach out for help. Partial care programs offer the flexibility to participate in treatment without impacting your daily obligations in any major way. Take the time to learn how to deal with triggers that may have more gravity to them than originally thought. There’s nothing wrong with improving, especially if you are improving how you cope with addiction triggers. 

Getting Addiction Treatment To Manage Triggers and Stay Sober

No matter how much work gets put into recovery, addiction triggers are going to be a part of it. Addiction treatment doesn’t just stop at getting sober. It’s about learning how to deal with triggers to stay that way. In reality, learning how to deal with triggers requires dedication. 

Get connected with professionals that can help you make a plan that works for you. No one in recovery is a stranger to facing addiction triggers. But being prepared with reliable addiction treatment to get sober, will surely contribute to staying there, despite addiction triggers. 

Treating mental health and trauma

Our behavioral health and substance abuse treatment experts also treat co-occurring disorders/dual diagnoses (including trauma), and we are one of the few alcohol and drug rehab centers offering gambling addiction treatment.