Even after detox, a patient is far from “cured” from addiction. Addiction is a multi-faceted danger, which affects the patient on a mental level just as much as a physical level. Even if you’re no longer feeling actual, physical cravings for a drug, it doesn’t take much to trigger a former addict into the mindset of addiction once more and end up seeking out a substance once more, possibly ending in relapse.
One of the foremost missions of therapy and treatment is to teach former addicts how to manage triggers in addiction recovery.
Trigger has become a divisive word in online discourse in recent years, but in the world of substance abuse and addiction treatment, a trigger is simply anything that reminds a former or current addict of their addiction and pushes them to possibly seek to indulge that craving and partake of the drug once again.
Anything can be a trigger, and one person’s trigger will mean nothing to another person with an otherwise identical addiction. It can be something obvious – the sight of a syringe – or something seemingly benign – an innocuous object the addict associates with their drug use due to some association unique to their experience.
This can make avoiding triggers hard at times. It’s one thing for an addict to knowingly avoid going to old locations associated with their drug use or to no longer spend time with friends who were fellow addicts and might still be using. But how does one avoid a popular movie title that only they associate with their first hit, or a smell of a food they often ate while using an illicit substance? Even if you tell friends and loved ones to avoid mentioning certain things that might trigger you, you can’t tell every stranger you encounter the same thing. What if you have a business meeting with someone and they unknowingly drop a trigger right in your path?
These are real concerns for recovering addicts, and not ones with easy answers. But managing triggers is, in essence, managing stress. Where once you may have used substance abuse itself to manage stress, now you must find management techniques to handle stress without substance abuse, even when the specter of substance abuse is among what’s causing you stress.
There are various coping mechanisms one can try to handle such triggers and the stress they cause. Meditation or prayer can help some people, or even just setting aside a quiet time of rest for decompression and purging your mind of troubling thoughts and temptations. Some people may need social interaction instead, with quality time with friends or family helping.
Indulging in a favored hobby, from cooking to exercise or simply doing something constructive with your hands, can help. Spending time at the gym or playing a sport can be an extension of this.
Setting aside time for continued individual or group therapy sessions is also a vital weapon against triggers. Even if you don’t have a regular schedule, having an outlet where you can attend a meeting whenever you feel a trigger is an excellent resource against relapse.