Identifying Triggers: The 5 Common Areas You Should Pay Attention To

Positive Emotions: Individuals in recovery, especially those in early recovery, can struggle in their experience of positive emotions and their resulting feelings due to the foreign nature of these experiences. It has been a long time since joy, happiness, surprise, and celebration have been naturally felt. It is easy for individuals experiencing these feelings anew to become overwhelmed and overcome, into making a bad decision. It may be that individuals are uncomfortable with these feelings, do not feel deserving of these experiences, and/or have an imprint in the brain that says, “This is nice, but you know what would make it better…” It is only when individuals become comfortable and feel deserving of these emotions, and that the authentic nature of their experience can be appreciated, that this area becomes less of a warning of relapse and more of a reward of recovery.

Negative Emotions: There appears to be this subconscious thinking within the structure of addictive thinking that says negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, grief, and fear, cannot be tolerated and must not- at any cost- be experienced. Hence the return so often to substance use when individuals find themselves faced with experiencing negative emotions. They feel like they cannot bear it. When these individuals can become mindful of their experiences, appreciating both the positive and negative which are conditions of being human, they learn that how they feel is not unbearable. The temporary conditions of their life, and their minds are not hopeless.

Interpersonal Conflict: Simply put… getting into arguments/fights with others. This is one of the most difficult areas for individuals in early, and ongoing, recovery and often leads to the most rapid relapse response. Individuals who are able to identify and address the part they play in their relationships, as well as develop assertive communication and emotion regulation skills, are able to mitigate the fight and/or flight response leading to relapse after experiencing conflict.

Testing Control: Acceptance of the powerlessness that comes with the disease of addiction is often something that grows in recovery. Understanding the full extent of this powerlessness is not achieved overnight, over a week or month. This is why individuals in recovery so often try to manage their use and then often turn to substitution. Even those who recognize that they cannot use any substance still may find themselves in situations they cannot get out of clean as they believe they can control themselves, their addiction, despite circumstantial odds being stacked against them. It is only when addicts accept their complete powerlessness that they no longer willingly place themselves in these situations.

Environmental Triggers: This may be the most obvious trigger for individuals coming in the door seeking recovery; nonetheless it should not be diminished. Individuals in treatment and recovery are recommended to be clear about what “people, places, and things” trigger their thoughts and cravings for use and develop a plan to address (eliminate or tolerate) the stimuli which perpetuate their continued use.

Many patients at the onset of their treatment struggle to identify why they use. Often times, it is a protective factor of the disease of addiction. One which keeps individuals in a reactive cycle of unhealthy behavior. Fortunately, many clients come to understand and agree with this easy categorization of reasons for use. It is a revelation which sets a platform for achieving recovery and developing an effective relapse prevention plan.

Author: Jonathan K. Blauvelt, MA – Footprints to Recovery – Clinical Supervisor

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