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Be Sensitive to your Senses in Early Sobriety

Perhaps the most important part of recovery is figuring out what your triggers are and how to deal with them. A trigger can be almost anything–a place, such as a favorite bar, certain people you used to get high with, or any situation that causes you stress or anxiety. Sensory triggers can be very strong, especially smells. Your sense of smell is different from other senses in that it is hardwired directly into the parts of your brain responsible for fear, emotions, memory, and learning. It is the most primitive sense, strongly connected to food and sex. The smell of hamburgers on a grill, even from a mile away, can make you hungry.

Consider, then, the danger certain smells can pose during recovery. How many distinctive smells are associated with addiction? The smells of beer, tequila, and gin are unmistakable and they can fill a room. The smells of marijuana, meth, and crack are just as distinctive and disburse more widely when smoked. Even cigarettes can be dangerous. The smell of cigarette smoke is closely associated with drinking and drug use and although smoking is not as common as it used to be, you are likely to catch a whiff of cigarette smoke while strolling through any random neighborhood.

Smells can evoke powerful memories, sometimes things we’ve completely forgotten about. Sometimes these memories are bad and evoke stress and anxiety. We may hardly be aware of why we suddenly feel a bit rotten. Being suddenly confronted with a difficult memory may lead to cravings and wanting to escape.

All of this may be compounded by a period of sobriety. If you have been in a treatment center away from all alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes, you have probably gotten used to their absence. Just as your tolerance to drugs and alcohol have gone down with abstinence, you are no longer used to the smell. When you find yourself in the world again, you will probably be extra sensitive to the smells you have been away from for so long. Even faint smells may have a big effect on you.

It’s important to pay attention to what you are experiencing–sounds, smells, images, people. They all have some effect on your emotions. Most of them are neutral or good, but some of them may be difficult. They may be stressful and strongly associated with your addiction. If you aren’t aware of what caused a craving or a feeling of anxiety, it can make you even more anxious. You might feel maybe you’ll never escape cravings and relapse is inevitable. If you notice the stimulus that caused the craving, though, you have a little more control over the feeling. You can say to yourself, “Oh, it’s a warm day and I smell cigarette smoke. This reminds me of that time my friend and I got drunk on his porch,” or whatever. Being aware also helps you avoid sensory triggers until you feel more able to manage them.

If you are struggling with addiction or relapse, Gardens Wellness Center can get you back on track and help you find ways of dealing with stress and triggers. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at