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Dealing With Triggers: Developing Coping Skills for Substance Abuse Recovery

One of the more difficult aspects when it comes to recovering from addiction is trying to stay sober after you have left rehab. While in treatment, especially if you are in inpatient treatment, you are in a controlled environment where there is very little, if any temptation. You aren’t around people who are using, and you aren’t in situations or settings that make you think about using and bring about temptation. In fact, it’s these temptations that arise that are known as triggers. 

One of the things that you learn when you are in rehab is coping skills for substance abuse. You learn how to identify these triggers as well as the things you can actively do in order to prevent the triggers from winning and you relapsing. In this blog, we will take a look at what exactly constitutes a trigger as well as identify some coping skills in recovery that might be beneficial as you continue down your road to recovery.

What Is A Trigger?

A trigger is something that reminds us of something that happened in the past. It can be a scent, a person or a group of people, a place, or even a substance. Basically, a trigger is something that, when identified, brings back thoughts or memories from the past.

In the addiction world, a trigger is anything that may occur in our daily lives that brings back the urge and desire to want to use again. It can be either internal or external and remind the person about their past drug or alcohol abuse. A trigger is formed when the brain creates an association between whatever the trigger is and using drugs or alcohol. For many people, especially those that are newly recovered, a trigger can cause people to become angry, stressed, confused, scared, or even result in them succumbing to those temptations and relapsing.

That’s why learning coping skills for these triggers is so important. If you can properly identify a trigger, you have a better chance of reacting in a positive manner and not succumbing to said trigger.

What Is An External Trigger?

An external trigger is anything that occurs externally that can trigger the want to use drugs or alcohol again. This can be a person or people, a place, a sight or smell, a memory, an activity, or even a specific object. External triggers can be particularly dangerous to someone who is in recovery because these triggers can subconsciously cause a person to start craving drugs or alcohol again without them even realizing it. 

During addiction treatment, your therapist or treatment specialist will likely advise you to avoid any of these external triggers whenever possible. Additionally, they will work with you on ways to cope with said triggers so they don’t overpower you and lead to relapse. 

What Is An Internal Trigger?

An internal trigger is anything that occurs internally that can make you feel the urge to start using again. Internal triggers can be particularly dangerous because, unlike certain external triggers, you can’t avoid them. Internal triggers can be thoughts, feelings, or emotions that were associated with when you were using and abusing drugs or alcohol. 

During treatment, your therapist or treatment professional will address these internal triggers with you and teach you coping skills for substance abuse so you know how to properly handle your internal triggers when they arise. 

What Are Some of the Most Common Triggers That People In Recovery Experience?

Triggers are, for the most part, unique to each individual. What might cause cravings to develop for one person might not cause the same reaction in another person. That being said, there are some universal triggers that many people experience while in recovery. Some of those triggers include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Shame
  • Regret
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Heartbreak
  • Grief or loss
  • Losing control
  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Feeling unsafe
  • A specific place 
  • Trauma
  • Abuse
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What Are Some Healthy Coping Skills in Recovery?

The key to healthily navigating your triggers as they arise is to be self-aware of what’s going on both internally and externally. By understanding what your triggers are, it gives you a better chance of being able to control how you react and avoid relapsing. Here are some things that you can do to manage your triggers and not let them take over.

Be Honest With Yourself

The only way that you will truly be able to understand what your triggers are and how you can go about managing them is to be honest with yourself. Everyone has triggers, whether they are external, internal, or both. Telling yourself that nothing triggers you doesn’t do anybody any good. It just increases the chances that you will relapse at the first sign of a trigger. Acknowledging what your triggers are will give you a chance to prepare yourself for how you will react when it happens. 


When recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction, every part of your body needs to heal and recover from what you put it through when you were using. Without doing this you can not truly begin the recovery process. This includes your mind, body, and even your spirit. A great way to focus on healing all three simultaneously is by practicing meditation. When it comes to addiction recovery, meditation has many benefits including:

  • Making better choices in everyday life
  • Reacting better to things that happen in your life without having to turn to drugs or alcohol
  • Lowering your stress and anxiety levels

Prioritize Nutrition

Most people who suffer from addiction also suffer from poor nutrition or even malnourishment. This can be the result of using money that would normally go to food for drugs or alcohol. It can also be the result of just simply not focusing on your nutrition as a result of your addiction. Regardless of the reason, as part of the healing process, it is important to prioritize a properly balanced diet. Not taking the time to focus on your diet and nutrition can lead to issues such as sleep problems, low energy, and other ailments such as headaches. When you aren’t feeling well, you might be more tempted to turn to drugs or alcohol again so you can feel better. 

Learn How To Relax No Matter What the Situation

One of the biggest reasons why someone relapses is because they become stressed out or suffer from some sort of anxiety. Being able to relax the body and mind on your own without the help of any substances can go a long way when it comes to maintaining your sobriety. How can you relax the body and mind naturally? Here are some ways:

  • Taking slow, deep breaths
  • Listening to calming music
  • Soaking in a tub
  • Meditating
  • Practicing yoga
  • Journaling
  • Focusing on art or another activity that you enjoy
  • Massage
  • Herbal tea or other warm, non-alcoholic beverages

Whatever works best for you, being able to stay calm and in control will help keep the cravings and triggers away.

Create a Strong Support System

Having a strong support system is another one of the vital things that you can do in recovery to help avoid the chances of a relapse. After all, it’s likely that your old group of friends are the ones you used with. Not only is it not likely that they will be supportive of your new sobriety, but hanging around them again would be considered a trigger.

Surrounding yourself with positive people, especially those who are also in recovery like you, can help not just with your overall mental well-being but it can also help with managing your triggers and cravings since the other people in your support system have likely gone through similar things. Other benefits include:

  • Encouragement and positive reinforcement 
  • The chance to help and support others
  • Being held accountable for your choices in sobriety

Are You Interested In Learning More About Coping Skills for Substance Abuse?

Whether you are someone who is looking to get sober for the first time, or you are someone who has relapsed, it’s important to know that it is ok to ask for help. Going to a treatment center like Harmony Place can not only save your life, it can also teach you valuable skills when it comes to coping skills in recovery. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from an addiction and could benefit from one of the many treatment programs that we offer, contact us today. It is our goal to make sure that every person that comes into our facility goes on to live a happy, healthy, and sober life.