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Individuals diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD) often experience intrusive thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations triggered by memories of past substance misuse. Studies have shown that “[w]ith repeated exposure to opioids, stimuli associated with the pleasant effects of the substances (e.g., places, persons, moods, and paraphernalia) and with the negative mental and physical effects of withdrawal can trigger intense craving or preoccupation with use.” Anything related to SUD may become a trigger. However, scents and sounds often cause the strongest emotional reactions. The Redpoint Center uses evidence-based treatments, including trauma therapy, to help individuals with SUD prevent and manage potential substance misuse triggers. 

What Are Common Substance Misuse Triggers?

No two people have exactly the same triggers or automatic body reactions. Flashbacks, cravings, and intrusive thoughts make it impossible for some people to function in their day-to-day lives. In addition, severe triggers decrease quality of life and may interfere with recovery. Mental health and addiction recovery programs are the best way to avoid a triggered relapse. 

Clients in treatment learn to spot potential triggers and manage them using healthy coping techniques. However, a person must be able to identify triggers before they can find ways to manage them. 

Some common substance misuse triggers include: 

  • Locations where substances were previously procured, misused, or kept for future use 
  • Individuals or groups who participated in or enabled addictive behaviors
  • Sounds, smells, sensations, or tastes associated with substance misuse 
  • Being confronted with past mistakes or the consequences of maladaptive behaviors
  • Muscle memory and repeating actions related to substance misuse 
  • Feelings or moods similar to states experienced while under the influence of substances

Triggers often involve memories, thoughts, beliefs, experiences, or anything that reminds a person of past substance misuse. People in recovery work with their care team to identify, process, and manage any known triggers. 

How Do Substance Misuse Triggers Affect Recovery?

Recovery takes time and effort. Triggers interfere with recovery by reducing motivation and making it more challenging to focus on treatment and healing. In addition, triggers force a person to relive moments and experiences related to substance misuse. If triggers aren’t managed, the constant reminder may cause some people to relapse, overdose, or return to maladaptive behaviors. 

Substance misuse triggers cause the following: 

  • Intense cravings
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Compulsive and impulsive behaviors
  • Flashbacks or other dissociative events 
  • A desire to relive past experiences 

Traumas related to substance misuse are more likely to cause severe trigger responses. Individuals with co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues may experience more intense reactions. Triggers are also often worse on meaningful dates. For example, people in recovery might feel an increase in cravings or intrusive thoughts on the anniversary of their sobriety. Studies have shown that “[t]riggers are often associated with the time of day, season, holiday, or anniversary of the event.”

People in recovery may not always have the ability to avoid triggers. Therapy and other forms of treatment help them develop the skills to cope with triggers and manage any emotional or physical reactions. The Redpoint Center uses traditional talk therapy and alternative holistic treatments to help clients learn effective ways to manage everyday triggers. 

Coping With Substance Misuse Triggers in Everyday Life

Everyday life is full of unexpected triggering moments. No one has complete control over their environment, and some people have a higher risk of encountering distressing or triggering situations. Individuals who continue to work or go to school while attending treatment for SUD may have to navigate coworkers, friends, or acquaintances who continue to misuse substances or other triggering situations. 

People cope with triggers in everyday life by doing the following: 

  • Practicing mindfulness and increasing self-awareness
  • Replacing negative internal self-talk with positive affirmations 
  • Consciously choosing to focus on positive things when triggers cause intrusive thoughts 
  • Finding healthy ways to reduce stress and improve physical health to reduce the impact of triggers 

Mental and physical health are directly linked. People who feel tired, drained, or sick have a harder time combatting maladaptive thoughts and cravings. Non-residential treatment programs provide clients with the tools to improve their physical and mental health. 

Managing Stress During Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient programs, including partial hospitalization (PHP), allow people to practice coping skills in the real world before they transition to independent sobriety. Spending more time outside treatment also allows people to track their moods and emotional responses, making it easier to identify potential triggers. The Redpoint Center uses various therapeutic methods to help clients cope with the effects of triggers. 

Managing stress during aftercare is essential. Clinicians provide clients with access to resources and the skills necessary to reduce stress and manage their condition. The goal of treatment is to improve quality of life and ensure clients have all the tools they need to maintain long-term positive mental health and sobriety. 

Many people in early recovery struggle with cravings, intrusive thoughts, and other automatic reactions caused by triggers. Everyone experiences different triggers. Part of recovery treatment involves identifying triggers and their responses. The clinical team ensures clients have the skills and resources to manage their condition and reduce the adverse effects of triggers. Trauma-informed care and personalized treatment programs help people find healthy ways to manage their triggers. The Redpoint Center also encourages peer engagement and support. People often feel more comfortable discussing triggers with people who have similar life experiences. The care team guides clients through managing their triggers during early recovery. To learn more about our outpatient treatment programs and services, call us at (303) 710-8496.

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The Redpoint Center
1831 Lefthand Cir, Suite H
Longmont, CO 80501

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