Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands

Treatment for recovery from alcohol and other substances must be intentional. It must teach patients how to achieve long-lasting sobriety. While a person may be able to commit to sobriety on their own initially, it is unlikely that they will be able to maintain their sobriety without help. Learning effective coping mechanisms from treatment to help manage intrusive thoughts, overcome withdrawals and maintain inner peace are vital to recovery.

One of the most challenging aspects of overcoming addiction and achieving long-lasting recovery is learning to manage triggers and cravings. Before you know how to manage them, you must first recognize what they are, what causes them and what happens psychologically when you experience them.

Triggers are stimuli that serve as a reminder about past substance use.

In daily life, being “triggered” refers to having an unpleasant emotional experience with certain stimuli based on a previous negative experience with that particular catalyst. Similarly, the word trigger describes the stimuli likely causing emotional distress.

In addiction recovery, triggers serve as reminders about past substance use. A trigger may be a person, a place, a scent, a situation or even a distant thought. To better understand what triggers look like, they can be divided into two categories: internal and external stimuli.

Some examples of external (outside of oneself) addiction triggers may include:

  • Stressful or uncomfortable situations where, in the past, you may have turned to substances to feel more relaxed
  • Being around people that continue to use substances
  • Accessibility to contacts who can get alcohol or other drugs for you
  • Social events where drinking alcohol and using drugs are normalized or encouraged
  • Certain scents that remind you of your past substance use
  • Experiencing financial issues
  • Experiencing adversity or other trauma

Compared to external triggers, internal triggers tend to be emotional lows that increase the risk of relapse. Internal stimuli can also occur from positive memories of past substance use.

Some specific examples of internal (inside of oneself) addiction triggers may include:

  • Co-occurring conditions such as depression
  • Experiencing emotional distress that you want to avoid
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Wanting to celebrate positive life events “like everyone else”
  • Glorifying past substance use
  • Remembering unresolved trauma

Substance use cravings are caused by triggers.

While triggers serve as reminders of past substance use, they are also what trigger cravings. In recovery, cravings are mental or physical desires to use substances. Cravings motivate both substance-seeking and substance-using behaviors.

Cravings can happen anywhere at any time and can be triggered by even the briefest thoughts about substance use. In a world where substance use is normalized, cravings often surface and pose extreme challenges for those in recovery.

Typically, a person is not born with substance use cravings. Once a person uses substances regularly, their mind and body begin to crave substance use as a way of feeling “normal.” On a chemical level, when a person drinks or uses drugs, their brain is flooded with an excess of dopamine. Over time, their mind craves the excess dopamine and reinforce drug use as a way to achieve that dopamine surge. Cravings are also a typical withdrawal symptom when people attempt to slow or quit using their substance of choice.

Achieving and sustaining recovery takes an ample amount of patience. It takes time for your brain to reverse the changes in pleasure and motivation from repeated substance use. In the same way, it takes time for your brain to heal from cravings.

Common examples of drug and alcohol cravings may include:

  • Physical urges to use substances
  • Intrusive thoughts about a substance
  • Desiring the positive physical or mental effects that come from substance use
  • A strong desire to use substances that is so intense you cannot think about anything else
  • Significant emotional distress when you think about the substance

Learn to manage your triggers and cravings with addiction treatment.

To better manage your triggers and cravings, you must be able to recognize and understand them. Every person will experience different triggers and desires, especially during long-term recovery.

While there are ways to learn how to manage triggers and cravings independently, addiction treatment is the most effective way to do so. Addiction treatment facilities offer different cognitive, behavioral, holistic and experiential therapies that teach various complementary ways of navigating and overcoming triggers and cravings.

Addiction treatment will also help you learn how to find positive coping mechanisms when you feel depressed or anxious to prevent relapse from occurring in the future. You will learn to stay sober from drugs and alcohol by challenging triggers as they surface in life. These vital tools will remain with you long after you exit the doors of treatment and return to everyday life.

Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is a drug and alcohol treatment center that emphasizes the importance of working through personal triggers and cravings while achieving long-term recovery. We offer several different types of programs and therapy options to help individualize your treatment experience. We can help you build the necessary coping skills to overcome your addiction. To learn more, call Pinelands today at (877) 557-5372.