Recovering from substance addiction is a process that evolves but remains an ever-present part of your life in order to safeguard your sobriety. No one exiting a treatment programs wants to think in terms of relapsing and undergoing the rigors again. The problem of drug and alcohol addiction is as much psychologically driven as physically. Learning to recognize the desire of the mind and body to enjoy “reward” is why great importance is placed on discovering your personal triggers. A trigger is what can lead you to trip up and begin using substances again, even after long periods of freedom from use.
The Complexity of Addiction Recovery
No two addictions and recovering addicts are the same. The National Institutes of Health recognize that more than 14,500 specialized drug and alcohol treatment programs exist to accommodate the variance needed to reach success in as wide a scale as possible. It accounts for the relatively lengthy intake procedure in which the individual is asked what seems like a million questions. The intake counselor will do their best to try and match up each client with the most successful route possible to full recovery.
The prevalence of substance addiction and problems it poses to national health ensures that continued funding will come from local, state, and national governments to help combat the problem. The sheer number of specialized programs, outpatient doctors, clinics and therapists help create an atmosphere that is conducive to customized treatment options. Although the private insurance funding of treatment programs tended to be limited before 2010, the changes that have come about by the Affordable Care Act brings mental health and addiction recovery to the forefront. Many employers and insurance companies see the benefits of treatment rather than terminating otherwise valuable employees.
What Is a Trigger?
Developing a chemical dependence does more to the brain than you might think. It can change the way you act and react to the world. Early stages of addiction recovery are when people are at their most vulnerable to a lapse or relapse. Whether it is by accident or design, dealing with a full relapse can leave you feeling overwhelmed and as if you have completely failed. There are specific triggers that can and do lead those in recovery down the wrong road to reestablishing the addiction.
A trigger can be an event, smell, location, person, or feeling that overwhelmingly brings you to a place of craving use of the substance from which you have worked hard to distance yourself. Much like treatment methods, people are individual in what constitutes a trigger for the mind to let go and desire the substance so strongly that relapse can occur. At this point, pulling out all the stops and using every coping mechanism available to you is critical. The harder you push back on the trigger, the more likely you will get past these moments unscathed and in recovery mode.
How to Identify a Trigger
There is a psychological explanation for the near stranglehold a trigger can have on a recovering addict. Much like the old Pavlovian experiment of ringing a bell and associating this triggering event with the presentation of food, the dog in the experiment would begin to associate the reward of food with hearing the tinkle of the bell. The dog would automatically begin to drool whether the food was presented or not. The psychological markers or trigger response development is no different for humans.
Pavlov was not trying to bring humanity down by suggesting there is purely base thought with behaviors but rather by demonstrating the association of behaviors to what is naturally considered good and fulfilling for humans. In other words, your triggers will revolve around pleasant experiences you have associated with taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Hearing a song, attending a concert, entering a neighborhood, meeting with old associates and other things can all be intense triggers for you to begin desiring the reward that used to go along with using substances in those moments. It is imperative that you deeply delve into what might be triggers for your personal substance use. It will give you a keener understanding and appreciation of the overall battle.
Triggers and Avoidance vs. Coping
Mastering complete recovery is a process that requires paying strict attention to your personal behavioral triggers and making the right choices to avoid or cope with situations. Avoiding the things that are triggers is the optimal solution. It requires less intense energy expenditure on your part. It is not always practical to think that you can avoid every trigger mechanism in the real world. At some point, you will have to successfully navigate and use coping skills to get through a moment of intense craving and desire to use a substance. No matter how terrific your treatment experience has been, these moments will come, sometimes months or years after you quit using. The following steps can help you identify and avoid your triggers.
- Create a Triggers Chart – Load a chart with every trigger you can think of that is associated with your former substance use. It will prove useful in learning to navigate in the world with less stress.
- Note Behavioral Patterns – Write down any of the times you can recall that lead up to substance use. Be as specific as possible with details. You can look back and often see a pattern that allows you to interrupt a future relapse.
- Create Established Goals – If you approach life with a set list of goals in career, family, sobriety, education and other specifics, you will be less apt to relapse.
Psychological and Physical Battles
No matter what type of substance, the length of the addiction or the individual circumstances involved in substance use disorder, successful recovery comes from treatment that deals with all levels of addiction. It is a battle fought on both a physical and psychological front. The psychological aspects of addiction occur from the all-consuming time spent in thinking about, acquiring and using the drug of choice. It is a difficult merry-go-round to hop off. You will find that many battles are centered on finding ways to break certain trains of thought that lead to cravings and relapse.
The physical aspects of addiction battles are evident right away in the withdrawal symptoms experienced after ceasing use. It is the more unpleasant side of recovery that can have lasting effects of anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. It is perfectly normal to feel a sense of anxiety and panic begin when entering an area you used to purchase drugs from or running into an old buddy who used with you. Strong coping skills can help you identify these moments and work through them for a positive outcome.
Monitoring and Reducing Stress Levels
As a recovering individual, if you ever felt that stress had more to do with triggering relapse than a mere psychological effect, science is prepared to back you up. Stress has long been associated with the contribution of relapse in vulnerable recovering addicts, but until recently, it was thought that it played a significant role in the psyche of the addicted individual. Obtaining drugs during periods of high stress was believed to wholly reduce the stress levels of the individuals in question. It turns out that this theory is only partially correct.
Links have been made that demonstrate changes at the cellular level in addicted people in response to increased stress. Yes, high amounts of stress can bring about sudden physical cravings for substances. The real takeaway here is to monitor the overall stress you are under during your recovery. Stay prepared to make swift changes to reduce stress and anxiety. It is not the best time to make sudden career changes, have a baby or take on an extra amount of debt. Once you have successfully navigated your most vulnerable period after addiction treatment, you can begin to set the new normal for your life. Staying consciously aware of stress will prove helpful for the rest of your life.
Easy and Effective Coping Skills to Try
One of the most important points to remember from addiction treatment is that you are a recovering individual and need to take time to practice self-care. Keeping this in perspective will help you avoid many situations that involve triggers and relapse. You will grow stronger as you navigate through the final stages of addiction treatment, but changes in lifestyle and associations will be a critical part of success. Below are a few effective coping skills you can try to help stay on the road to health and wellness.
- Eat a healthy diet and exercise.
- Stay away from old drug-related associates.
- Start a hobby.
- Practice meditation and mind-relaxation techniques.
- Talk with non-judgmental people.
- Spend an hour each day in quiet contemplation.
- Follow through with your addiction treatment plan.
- Remind yourself of your personal goals and how drugs are not a part of it.
- Never feel afraid to ask for professional help.
Pharmaceuticals and Coping Success
The use of medications during the course of addiction treatment and recovery is normal. It is absolutely necessary when combating certain forms of addiction withdrawal. The ability to cope with uncomfortable symptoms brought on by drug cessation can be extremely limited without the aid of specific drugs as a counteractive measure. Some of the medications are also addictive in nature, but they are used in a step-down process to create a safer detox and recovery. A few of the medications used by category are:
- Opioids: Methadone, Buprenorphine and Naltrexone
- Tobacco: Bupropion, Varenicline, and Nicotine replacement spray, patches, gum and lozenges
- Alcohol: Naltrexone, Disulfiram and Acamprosate
Another situation that often requires the use of pharmaceuticals both during and after addiction treatment is the existence of a co-occurring mental health condition. You will need to stick with the medication regimen recommended and prescribed by your treating psychiatrist to assist in staying on the road to recovery. Relapse can happen from trying to self-medicate symptoms of mental illness. Your treatment specialists and psychiatrist will work together to devise the best and most effective medication routine.
What Happens If I Relapse?
Although the word relapse strikes a chord of anxiety to anyone undergoing addiction treatment, it is a fact that up to 60 percent of addicted individuals will experience this at some point during recovery. You should never view a lapse or relapse as a complete failure. Much like any disease, getting completely free of the hold of addiction takes time and practice. You should do all you can to recognize and deal with triggers when possible. It does not mean that you will be 100 percent successful at all times. It is often a combination of things that brings about a complete relapse. If you find that you have fallen into relapse, you should.
- Contact your sponsor or treatment team for help.
- Seek immediate treatment for detox.
- Discuss needed changes to the treatment plan to avoid further relapse.
- Spend time discovering what went wrong and how relapse happened.
- Prepare to make needed changes to avoid another relapse.
Rather than feeling fear or intimidation at the thought of dealing with triggers during addiction treatment and recovery, you should welcome the discovery as the essential clues you need to obtain and maintain sobriety. Knowing what your personal triggers are and instituting the right coping mechanisms will help smooth out what would normally be a tough road to travel. Developing good coping skills is one way to give your recovery process a boost and offer you the chance of a bright and drug-free future.