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Coping with Triggers: How to Manage Negative Emotions and Thoughts in Addiction Recovery

Coping with Triggers: How to Manage Negative Emotions and Thoughts in Addiction Recovery Featured

In addiction recovery, coping with triggers is essential for maintaining progress and avoiding relapse. Triggers are situations, emotions, or thoughts that can lead individuals to crave drugs or alcohol, or harmful behaviors. This article explores practical strategies to manage these triggers effectively, empowering individuals on their journey toward sobriety.

Definition of Triggers

Definition Of Triggers

A trigger is something that sets off a reaction. In recovery, it refers to situations or feelings that make a person want to use drugs or engage in harmful behaviors again. Triggers can be external, like being in a place where drugs or alcohol were previously used, or internal, such as feeling stressed, sad, or anxious. They can also be related to certain people, memories, stressful situations, or even specific times of the day.

Common Types of Addiction Triggers in Recovery

In recovery from addiction, individuals may encounter various triggers that can challenge their sobriety and potentially lead to relapse. Here are some common relapse triggers:

  1. External Triggers: These are factors in the external environment that can stimulate cravings and addictive behaviors. They include:

    • People: Being around family members or peers who use drugs or alcohol or who are associated with your past addictive behavior.

    • Places: Visiting locations where you used to engage in your addictive behavior.

    • Things: Objects or paraphernalia associated with your addiction, such as drug-related items or tools.

    • Events: Attending parties, celebrations, or gatherings where substance use is prevalent.

  2. Internal Triggers or Emotional Triggers: These triggers arise from within, often related to emotions and thoughts:

    • Emotions: Feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, anger, or boredom can trigger the desire to use substances as a coping mechanism.

    • Memories: Recall of past drug use experiences or positive memories associated with substance use can lead to cravings.

    • Thought Patterns: Negative thought patterns, such as self-doubt or feelings of helplessness, can increase vulnerability to triggers.

    • Physical Sensations: Physical discomfort, pain, or fatigue can trigger a desire to use substances for relief.

  3. Situational Triggers: These are specific situations or circumstances that can prompt cravings:

    • Routine: Activities or times of day when you used to engage in addictive substances can trigger cravings due to ingrained habits.

    • Social Pressure: Peer pressure or the desire to fit in with a certain group can trigger substance use.

    • Celebrations and Holidays: Special occasions that involve alcohol or drugs can create challenges for individuals in recovery.

  4. Stressors: Stressful life events, such as work-related pressures, relationship issues, financial problems, or major life changes, can trigger the urge to use substances to cope.

These triggers can vary significantly from person to person due to a wide range of individual differences and life experiences. What may be a powerful internal or external stimulus for one individual in recovery might have little to no effect on another. 

The Importance of Identifying Addiction Triggers in Recovery

Identifying addiction triggers in recovery is crucial for maintaining sobriety and achieving long-term success. By recognizing and understanding these triggers, individuals can develop coping strategies, avoid high-risk situations, and manage their cravings effectively. This self-awareness helps create a solid foundation for a sustainable recovery journey, promoting healthier behaviors and reducing the risk of relapse.

The Benefits of Recognizing Triggers

Recognizing triggers offers a host of benefits that contribute significantly to recovery:

  • Improved self-control: Recognizing triggers allows individuals to proactively manage impulses and make conscious choices, fostering better self-control over their behaviors.

  • Enhanced coping skills: Awareness of triggers encourages the development of healthier strategies to cope with stress and emotions.

  • Reduced vulnerability to triggers’ effects: Understanding triggers helps individuals prepare for and resist the lure of harmful behaviors or substances.

  • Strengthened ability to navigate challenging situations: Trigger recognition empowers individuals to face difficulties proactively and find constructive solutions.

How To Identify Triggers

Identifying triggers involves a process of self-awareness and observation. Here are steps to help you identify your triggers:

  1. Self-reflection: Take time to reflect on your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in various situations. Look for patterns of reactions, cravings, or changes in mood.

  2. Keep a journal: Maintain a journal where you record environmental events, situations, or emotions that provoke strong responses or cravings. Write down how you feel and how you react to each trigger.

  3. Notice changes in behavior: Pay attention to any sudden changes in your behavior, such as increased stress and irritability.

  4. Mindfulness practice: Practice mindfulness to be fully present in the moment. Mindfulness helps you observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment, making it easier to recognize triggers as they arise.

  5. Take note of high-stress situations: Stress can be a significant trigger for many people. Keep track of situations that cause stress and examine your reactions.

If you’re having difficulty identifying triggers on your own, consider talking to a therapist or counselor. They can help you explore your emotions and experiences more deeply and provide valuable insights.

Remember, identifying triggers is a gradual process. Be patient with yourself, and keep an open mind as you explore your thoughts, emotions, and reactions. Understanding your triggers can lead to improved coping strategies and emotional well-being.

Types of Relapse

There are three types of relapse: emotional relapse, characterized by neglecting self-care and emotions; mental relapse, marked by cravings and mental preoccupation with substance use; and physical relapse, the actual act of using substances. Early recognition and intervention during emotional and mental relapse can prevent progression to physical relapse.

Seeking Professional Guidance or Support Groups

Seeking professional guidance or joining support groups further enhances the recovery process. Trained therapists and counselors provide a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals to unravel their triggers, offering valuable insights and evidence-based coping strategies. Support groups, on the other hand, offer a sense of community, reducing feelings of isolation and fostering encouragement. This comprehensive approach to trigger recognition promotes emotional resilience and sustainable recovery.

What to Do After Identifying Your Triggers in Addiction?

After identifying triggers in addiction, develop a coping plan with healthy strategies. Avoid high-risk situations and seek professional help or support groups. It is also important to practice stress management techniques, build a strong support system, and prioritize self-care. When you address triggers and implement coping mechanisms, you can maintain lasting sobriety.

Coping Techniques in Addiction Recovery

Coping techniques are vital even in the early stages of recovery, encompassing substance use disorders, behavioral addictions, and prevalent triggers. Here are some examples of coping techniques:

Mindfulness and Meditation: Practicing mindfulness and meditation helps increase self-awareness and manage stress by staying focused on the present moment.

Cognitive-Behavioral Strategies: Cognitive-behavioral techniques involve identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with addiction.

Healthy Lifestyle (Exercise, Nutrition, Sleep): Having regular exercise, a regular sleep schedule, and a healthy eating routine contributes to physical and mental well-being, supporting recovery.

Support Groups: Participating in support groups provides a sense of community and understanding among peers who share similar challenges and experiences.

Stress Management Techniques: Learning stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing, relaxation, and mindfulness helps manage stress-induced triggers.

Identifying Triggers: Recognizing specific triggers, both internal and external, empowers individuals to prepare and respond proactively when faced with triggering situations.

Distraction with Hobbies: Engaging in hobbies and interests provides a positive and engaging way to redirect focus from cravings and triggers.

Strengthening Support Network: Building a strong support system with friends, family, sponsors, or mentors offers encouragement and assistance during difficult times.

Seeking Professional Guidance: Consulting therapists, counselors, and addiction specialists can provide tailored guidance and strategies for effective coping and relapse prevention.

Through these techniques, you can successfully manage cravings, navigate triggers, and pave the way for a sustained recovery.

Continuously reassessing and updating coping strategies is essential throughout the recovery journey, considering the evolving nature of triggers and personal growth. Triggers that once held power may lose their potency as you gain insight and resilience. Conversely, new triggers might emerge from life changes or unexpected stressors.

What If a Trigger Leads to a Relapse?

If a trigger results in a relapse, it’s important to respond with compassion and determination. Acknowledge that setbacks are common in recovery journeys and avoid self-blame. It’s always best to reach out for immediate support from your network, like a sponsor or counselor.

In addition, you may analyze the addiction trigger and your coping strategies to better prepare for similar situations in the future. Learn from the experience: identify vulnerabilities and adjust your approach accordingly. You may also reaffirm your commitment to recovery, reevaluate your goals, and consider seeking professional help. Remember, a relapse doesn’t erase your progress; it’s an opportunity to refine your strategies and strengthen your resolve. Stay focused on your long-term goals and use the setback as motivation to continue working towards sustained sobriety.

Embrace a Life of Sobriety at Bridges Sober Living Apartments

Embrace a life of recovery and growth in our welcoming sober living home. From structured routines to a supportive community, Bridges Sober Living Apartment provides the tools and environment to help you stay on track. Make the choice to break free from addiction and build a foundation for a healthier future. Contact us via our contact page or call 310-953-4075 and take that essential step towards lasting positive change.

Frequently Asked Questions

In addiction treatment, addressing shame involves acknowledging past actions without judgment, understanding substance use disorder as a medical issue, and recognizing that seeking help is a courageous step. Therapeutic interventions and counseling can help individuals navigate and heal from shame associated with substance use disorders.

Shame in addiction recovery can be both detrimental and transformative. When shame is linked to moral judgment, it can hinder progress by reinforcing negative self-perceptions. However, if managed constructively, shame can motivate change, leading individuals to seek help, confront their actions, and adopt healthier behaviors, ultimately contributing to their recovery journey.

Yes, shame can act as a barrier to sobriety. When individuals feel deeply ashamed due to their addiction, it may prevent them from seeking help and admitting their struggles. The fear of judgment and the belief that they are morally flawed can hinder their willingness to engage in the recovery process.

Coping with guilt in recovery involves acknowledging past mistakes without self-condemnation. Utilize therapy or support groups to discuss feelings of guilt, gaining perspective and understanding. Practicing self-forgiveness and focusing on positive actions can also help individuals release guilt and embrace a healthier mindset on their journey to recovery.

Neutralizing shame involves recognizing that addiction is a medical condition, not a reflection of one’s moral worth. Engaging in self-compassion and understanding that seeking help is a sign of strength counteracts shame’s negative impact. Sharing experiences within social support groups and focusing on personal growth can also help neutralize shame and foster a positive recovery environment.

The first step towards recovering from shame is acknowledging it in a healthy way. Recognizing its presence and understanding that shame is an emotional state, not an intrinsic identity, is essential. By separating the feeling of shame from one’s core self and seeking support, individuals can begin to heal and rebuild their self-confidence.

The three P’s in addiction recovery refer to “Predict,” “Plan,” and “Practice.” They are key components of a relapse prevention plan. Predict involves identifying potential triggers and warning signs of relapse. Plan entails developing strategies to avoid triggers. Practice means consistently applying these strategies to prevent addiction relapse.

The two components of shame are “self-consciousness” and “self-criticism.” Self-consciousness involves feeling exposed and judged by others. On the other hand, self-criticism is an internal dialogue where individuals perceive themselves as flawed or inadequate. These components often interact, leading to intense feelings of shame that can impact self-esteem and mental well-being.

Effective therapy for healing from shame related to using drugs or alcohol involves a non-judgmental exploration of past actions and their underlying causes. Therapists may utilize cognitive behavioral therapy, which creates a safe space to openly discuss uncomfortable feelings and emotional distress, helping individuals develop self-compassion, challenge negative beliefs, and foster a sense of worthiness on their recovery journey.

The hardest point of sobriety is often resisting drug or alcohol cravings triggered by internal or external stimuli. Overcoming deeply ingrained patterns of substance abuse requires managing triggers and learning healthy coping mechanisms to handle emotions and situations that once prompted the desire to use substances.

Defenses against shame involve adopting healthy habits to navigate daily life and overcome triggers that evoke strong emotions and negative feelings. Embracing self-compassion and positive self-talk can counteract the internalized sense of inadequacy. Most importantly, engaging in therapy, seeking support from a strong network, and reframing past experiences contribute to building resilience and breaking the cycle of shame.

Yes, shame can act as a coping mechanism, especially in the context of alcohol or drug addiction. When faced with common triggers like stress, emotions, or memories associated with drug or alcohol use, individuals might feel overwhelming shame. This emotion can become a way to cope with their struggles, albeit in an unhealthy and self-destructive manner, often perpetuating the cycle of addiction.

Releasing survivors’ guilt involves acknowledging that surviving is not a wrongdoing. Embracing self-compassion and understanding that circumstances are beyond one’s control can help alleviate guilt. Engaging in therapy, sharing feelings with trusted individuals, and focusing on personal growth can also aid in letting go of survivors’ guilt.

Guilt in recovery arises from feeling remorse for specific actions or behaviors, focusing on what was done wrong. It’s often a healthy response that can motivate positive change. Shame, on the other hand, goes deeper, attaching negative judgments to one’s entire sense of self. While guilt can encourage accountability, shame can hinder progress by reinforcing feelings of unworthiness.

Letting go of all guilt requires a multi-faceted approach. Firstly, acknowledge and accept challenging emotions without self-condemnation. Engage in therapy or counseling to process these feelings in a supportive environment. Secondly, remind yourself that dwelling on past actions won’t contribute positively to your recovery. Thirdly, focus on personal growth and adopt healthy coping mechanisms to prevent relapse, particularly in cases involving illicit drugs. Lastly, practice self-compassion and forgiveness as essential steps toward releasing guilt and fostering emotional healing.

Anke Snoek, Victoria McGeer, Daphne Brandenburg, Jeanette Kennett, Managing shame and guilt in addiction: A pathway to recovery, Addictive Behaviors, Volume 120, 2021, 106954, ISSN 0306-4603,


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