Addiction triggers are events or objects that “trigger” an addict or alcoholic to have the thoughts that remind them of using. Sometimes these ideas lead to use. Triggers can be found in good or bad situations. Sometimes you are prepared for them, and sometimes they take you by surprise.
Everyone will tell you about triggers being people, places, & things. They will tell you that emotions like depression, frustration, anxiety, loneliness, hunger, anger, overconfidence, and self-pity are all triggers. What you will not hear as often is that there are a lot strange triggers out there waiting for you to stumble across.
When I first got sober I had some expected triggers, some unexpected ones, and some you will likely think are very strange. The truth is that triggers can be very personal because the mind works in mysterious ways, and because we all use for different reasons and in different ways.
Strange Triggers for Me
1. Grocery stores
When I first got sober, it took me a few months to be able to enter a grocery store without the instinct to head straight to the alcohol aisle. Walking past the liquor section was always a complicated process. I had to push the cart forward with intention to keep myself from wandering through it. Today, I’m able to walk by without a second thought, but it’s good to remain aware. My supply is so easily available, and my addiction is ready to pounce when I’m unaware of it.
Cash can be triggering for multiple reasons. For most addicts, drugs were purchased with cash. When they have some extra money laying around, it’s difficult to work through the temptation of wanting to go pick up. Those who used drugs such as cocaine often used rolled up bills to snort them. Having cash can make it difficult to forget those long nights of being enslaved to the drug. It took me a while to feel comfortable carrying cash around without having the desire to either spend it or roll it up.
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Most people are attracted to certain songs or bands they can relate to. This is no different for addicts or alcoholics. When these songs come on randomly while listening to the radio, or in a movie or television show, it can be difficult not to remember days past. There are some songs and bands I go out of my way not to listen to because they bring up awful memories of the times I was trapped in my addiction. In the future, I may be able to listen to these songs again, but right now it’s still smarter for me to avoid them in the first place.
There was a time during my addiction when I had to be using to eat. A trigger during the beginning of my sobriety, food often increased my desires to use because it was so difficult to eat while sober. Over time, this trigger’s effect on me has lightened, but I was surprised to find how difficult it was for me to eat in the midst of early recovery. Some foods also went well with certain types of alcohol, so I found I had to avoid those foods to avoid the thought process that came along with them.
5. Tampon Applicators
Easily the strangest item on this list, tampon applicators are sometimes a trigger for me. After years of using rolled up bills to snort drugs, a friend introduced me to using the slimmer end of a plastic tampon applicator. They were incredibly effective for using drugs, and I still think of using whenever I see one. It’s an odd trigger, but one I felt needed to be included because it is such an unexpected item.
Strange Triggers for Others
- Water bottle caps – Used to mix heroin by heroin users.
- Tin foil – Used to smoke heroin.
- TV shows – People using drugs or alcohol often pop up before we realize it.
- Celebrations – When everyone else is drinking, sometimes it’s difficult not to.
- Lack of sleep – When tired it’s easier to slip into alcoholic or addict thinking.
- People – Either certain people or the frustrations of people in general.
- Arguments – The extreme emotions involved in an argument always eased when using.
- Seasons – Certain seasons can easily trigger substance-dependent people.
- Perfume – Some people wore certain perfumes for partying, and this can be a reminder.
- Strawberries – The first time my friend did cocaine it had a subtle strawberry infusion. He had a difficult time around strawberries in early sobriety.
- Too much to do – Feeling overwhelmed often is a huge trigger to many addicts and alcoholics.
- Sex – Addicts and alcoholics are often loaded during sex, so some find it a triggering activity when to sober.
- Pictures – Either of ourselves or others using. With Facebook, many people post drinking pictures.
- Feeling accomplished – Often we drink or use to acknowledge a feeling of accomplishment.
- Casino noises – In certain games, or in shows, casino noises are used. They can be very triggering to an addict or alcoholic who used heavily at the casino.
- Your Mom – Many people have a complex relation with their mother and their addiction. Turmoil in this relationship can be a big trigger.
Overall, almost all triggers are rooted in stress. Nearly every addict and alcoholic lack the right tools to cope with stressful situations. They resort to the only way they know how to get through difficult times: using drugs and alcohol. After years of addiction, it is almost impossible to immediately change behaviors that have taken so long to develop.
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The Importance of Coping Skills in Recovery
When substance-dependent people make the decision to get sober, they must learn alternative coping mechanisms to help avoid relapse. Treatment centers teach coping skills to help their patients learn to handle and work through problems without having to use. 12-step programs suggest ideas like using a pause before responding to a situation. Pause instead of acting upon the first thought that occurs.
Whichever method of entering recovery is selected, it is suggested that addicts and alcoholics learn to live proactively rather than reactively. Instead of reacting to whichever situation they find themselves in, taking action to change the situation before it occurs is the best approach.
Make a Plan for Success
When triggers occur it is best to have an established plan of action to fall back on. It could be taking a walk to clear your head, calling your sponsor, reading a book, or playing with a pet. Find some way to pause before responding to the situation. If you know what you’re going to do when your triggers arise and then do those things, you have a much better chance of working through the problem without using.
Share Your Strange Triggers
What are some triggers you have that weren’t mentioned? Let us know in the comment section, and maybe you will help another addict or alcoholic who has one similar to you. #StrangeTriggers