The term “trigger” in addiction recovery refers to something that can lead an individual in recovery to relapse. A trigger can be something that causes a person to have the direct thought that they want to use substances, or it could be an uncomfortable emotion that leads the person down a path of discomfort that inevitably leads to picking up a drink or a drug. In the 12 Step fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), the idea of a trigger is really described as an obsession- an overriding thought of picking up drugs or alcohol that overpowers all other thoughts to the contrary.


The idea of triggers for someone who is sober or actively in recovery can be difficult, as triggers are not exactly cut and dry or black and white. Sure, the idea of an alcoholic going to a social gathering where everyone else is drinking could pretty clearly be described as a trigger, especially if the individual is with close friends that they previously drank with in the past. However, a trigger could also be a difficult situation, say breaking up with a significant other, that brings up difficult emotions for a person, which in turn leads them into a destructive course of depression, anger, and/or sadness, which become overwhelming and difficult to deal with, and ultimately leads the person into enough discomfort that they pick up a drink or a drug for relief from those feelings.


How to Avoid Triggers While in Addiction Recovery

The old adage of “avoiding people, places, and things” in addiction recovery, while on the surface sound reasonable advice, actually is very difficult. Why? Because while certain people, places, and things can be avoided (for example drug dealers, bars, or places someone used to purchase drugs), that is not always the case. What about the person that used to drink with friends, turns out to be an alcoholic, finds sobriety, but is still good friends with those same people who drink? Can they avoid them forever? Are we supposed to tell them to find “new” or “better” friends? What about the professional who purchased drugs from a co-worker? Can they avoid that person at work, or avoid work altogether? Even more difficult is the fact that most triggers are not things like bars or street corners where drugs are sold, but rather the emotions related to things or situations, or the reactions that individuals have to certain situations. For many people, the emotions or stress that comes with interacting with their family can be triggering. Are we to tell them rather than learn to deal with the situation instead they need to avoid their family altogether? Emotions cannot be avoided, so it is virtually impossible then to truly avoid triggers.


Therefore, rather than avoid triggers, the solution is to learn how to manage them or overcome them. The solution to navigate triggers is to gain a strong foundation in active recovery.


Through recovery, an individual can learn to deal with life on life’s terms and handle difficult or uncomfortable situations as they arise, as well as the emotions that may come up or be associated with discomfort. Rather than avoid the party where people are drinking, wouldn’t it be better to be able to happily attend the party without alcohol looking enticing? Wouldn’t learning to handle and deal with emotional reactions be better than having to avoid situations that may cause them? Life is full of ups and downs, so more important than avoiding negative situations or experiences that may cause negative feelings and emotions that may be a trigger is the ability to face life head-on with the ability to manage triggering emotions. It is important to get to a place in recovery where no matter the emotions and feelings that come up from a given situation, the individual in recovery can walk through them without seeking relief, comfort, or escape through drugs and alcohol. The purpose of recovery is not to avoid life, but rather to learn to live life comfortably so that when discomfort or fear come up, the answer is not found in drugs and alcohol.


If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at