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Learning to Manage Triggers and Cravings

Contrary to what many people believe, addiction is not a choice. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” The “chronic” part of this definition means there is no cure, but that you can learn to manage it for the rest of your life. Meanwhile, “relapsing” means any setback you encounter on the road to recovery, including backsliding into self-destructive behavior. Some people amass years of recovery experience without any problems, but two possible incentives to return to substance use remain lurking behind the scenes: triggers and cravings.

What Are Relapse Triggers?

Triggers can be almost anything an addict’s brain associates with the “reward” of being intoxicated. For some people, a trigger might be situational, such as a conflict with a co-worker or family member. For others, it could be a specific location, such as a spot where they formerly drank or used drugs. Triggers can come in any form, and they’re difficult to avoid. Merely driving by a billboard advertising a brand of wine can be enough to tempt you into drinking. Likewise, getting a text message from an old drug buddy inviting you to hang out could push you into dangerous territory.

What Are Addiction Cravings?

Cravings are physical compulsions or urges that result from the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that creates feelings of satisfaction, and it’s part of the reward system in your brain. When cravings strike, they can represent a significant obstacle to your progress in recovery, which is why you should proactively develop techniques to avoid them.

How to Get Triggers and Cravings Under Control

Here are three straightforward strategies for regaining control of your triggers and cravings.

1. Recognize Triggers

Because triggers can be so unpredictable, you should carefully consider people, places, emotions and situations that make you want to relapse into drug or alcohol use. With experience in recovery, you may discover triggers you weren’t even consciously aware of. It can help to write down a physical list of your triggers and any constructive coping mechanisms you have for dealing with each one.

2. Make a Plan

Once you’ve established a grasp on your triggers, create a plan for the ones you can control. For example, if you had a habit of stopping by the same bar for happy hour every day on your way home from work, find a new route that doesn’t take you past that familiar setting. If you get invited to a party where you know people will be drinking alcohol, ask your sober sponsor or a family member who supports your recovery to attend with you, and have an exit strategy mapped out before you get there in case your cravings become too intense.

3. Find a Distraction

Distractions are an excellent way to retrain your brain’s reward pathways when cravings become overwhelming. Have a list of healthy distractions as go-to activities, so you can automatically start doing them when you need that mental break. Physical activity makes an excellent distraction because it helps clear your mind, while providing the bonus of endorphins.

Navigating the Challenges of Sober Living

Addiction recovery is a lifelong process, and it’s normal to experience triggers and cravings along the way. If you have a setback, it doesn’t mean you have failed, or that you should lose hope. Instead, dust yourself off and remind yourself of all the positive progress you’ve made toward a healthy, sober lifestyle. At Segue Recovery Support, we can help you avoid relapse by serving as a bridge between traditional residential addiction treatment and a return to your normal daily life. We understand this transition can be a hurdle, which is why we offer three levels of housing for people in recovery who need extra accountability. If you think this structure would help you achieve your goals, contact us today.