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What is a Trigger?

A trigger is some stimulus you strongly associate with your addictive behavior. Just as Pavlov’s dogs salivated at the sound of a bell, going to a certain place or being around certain people might cause cravings. An important part of treatment is identifying your triggers and finding ways to reduce their power over you. Some common triggers include:


This is the big one. Stress can take many different forms and you have to pay attention to what causes the most stress for you. It might be your job or your family. Stress is not so much the feeling of, “I have a lot to do,” as it is, “I have a lot to do, I can’t handle it, and the consequences will be disastrous.” The feeling of helplessness in the face of impending disaster often makes people feel like they might as well relapse because it doesn’t matter anyway.


You may have relationships based entirely on using. You may have real relationships where using was just extra. Either way, there are certain people who just make you feel like using. Maybe it’s just a habitual response, or maybe you feel like sobriety has cost you a friend. The combination of conditioning and social pressure can be very powerful and you may need to avoid certain people for a while.

It’s not only fellow addicts you need to watch out for. Certain people can cause us a lot of anxiety for any number of reasons. Maybe being around a critical parent makes you feel helpless. Maybe an abusive ex works at the grocery store. Minimize contact with these sorts of people until you have more control over how you respond to them.


This could be anywhere–a favorite bar, a house where you often got high, a scene of a traumatic event. Being in a particular place is a powerful way of putting you in a certain frame of mind. The effect can be sudden and overwhelming. As with people, you might need some time before you are ready to return to certain places. Of course, some places, like bars or your dealer’s house are best avoided entirely.


We aren’t always aware of what causes our moods. Sometimes we just feel sad or anxious or angry. If you find yourself experiencing a mood that leads to craving, pay attention. See if you can figure out what might have caused it. Most importantly, remember it’s only a mood and it will pass.


Smells are a powerful trigger because our sense smell is hardwired directly to the emotional part of our brain. It’s why smelling food automatically makes you hungry. It’s also why smelling beer might make you want to drink. Like the other triggers, smell may be circuitous because it can trigger any number of associations. Maybe the smell of gasoline reminds you of a bad accident and you feel stressed.


This one can catch people off guard. If something good is happening–a holiday, a wedding, a promotion at work–we typically imagine happiness and camaraderie, which are excellent for recovery. But happy occasions can also be stressful. “Will I be able to handle the responsibilities of the new job?” “Will I be able to stay away from the open bar at the reception?” The good news is you can usually plan for these events and come up with a strategy.

Inadequate sleep.

Even one or two nights of bad sleep can make relapse more likely. Lack of sleep makes you feel depressed and anxious. You have less emotional control and self-discipline. You can’t anticipate problems as well. Make sure you have plenty of time for sleep, and if you have insomnia, deal with it as quickly as possible.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you  detox in a comfortable environment and take advantage of a variety of complementary therapeutic approaches. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.