Overcoming External Drug Triggers

Because drug use likely played a significant role in your life before addiction treatment, the world around you may still be filled with things that remind you of using. These “triggers” are different for each person, but tend to cause hard-to-control cravings that may threaten abstinence. During your addiction treatment program, learning your triggers and how to control, anticipate and avoid them will be a valuable step in avoiding relapse.

It may take time to assess all of your personal triggers and learn how they affect you. However, it will help to start by dealing with common triggers like:

  • Drugs and drug-related supplies. Seeing the drug itself is an especially potent trigger, and for this reason, you should make absolutely sure that you have disposed of all remaining drug supplies in your possession. This includes any paraphernalia involved in drug use, like pipes, syringes and razor blades.
  • Dealers and users. It can be extremely difficult to maintain abstinence if you stay in contact with dealers and people you used with. Changing your phone number and avoiding places where these individuals tend to hang out may help. Breaking off contact can be hard if you consider dealers or users good friends, but this may be a necessary step in your recovery.
  • Bars, parties and other places where you used or purchased drugs frequently. Even driving by a favorite bar or club can elicit strong urges to stop back in. Many recovering addicts take strides to avoid whole streets and neighborhoods that remind them of using. You may even find that being in your own car or home is a strong drug trigger.
  • Certain holidays and anniversaries. You may associate specific holidays, like New Year’s Eve or St. Patrick’s Day, with frequent past drug use. There may also be anniversaries of important events that make you more likely to use. It’s best to have a plan on how you’ll approach these occasions before they happen.
  • Unstructured free time. Drug use may have taken up a substantial chunk of your time before addiction treatment, and the idle hours left behind by sobriety can make your thoughts shift to using. This is why it’s so important to fill your time with healthy activities and new hobbies during your recovery.
  • Portrayals of drugs or drug use in the media. Images of drugs and drug use in magazines, newspapers, movies, TV shows and online can spark the desire to use and should be avoided whenever possible.
  • Payday, ATMs and cash. Having a significant amount of cash on you, or a credit card or checkbook, can be a strong trigger to purchase drugs. If this is true for you, think of ways you can impose limits on your access to money.
  • Music you listened to while using. Certain songs may have strong associations to drug use, and may need to be avoided as you recover.

External triggers like these can bring back vivid memories of your old habits and spell serious problems for your sobriety. Talk to an addiction specialist about the best strategies for overcoming the external triggers in your life, and don’t forget to also assess your internal triggers.

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