8 Steps for Effectively Managing Triggers in Recovery

The best thing you can do for sobriety success is effectively managing your triggers in recovery. In fact, identifying and handling triggers is critical to your recovery’s growth.

What are Triggers?

Triggers concerning addiction are anything that initiates thoughts, feelings, or memories of when you were an active user. These physical and emotional cues are what cause you to want to use substances. Or your drug of choice (DOC) again.

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1. Managing Triggers in Recovery by Identifying Them

Identifying what tempts you is the first step towards effectively managing your triggers in recovery. While there are several obvious triggers for drug and alcohol users, there are often inconspicuous things or circumstances that can cause you to relapse.

Start by making a list of your personal triggers. Without a doubt, this is an important part of the recovery process. It forces you to think about it and prepare before you’re unexpectedly confronted by them.

Examples of External Triggers

Eternal triggers are anything in your environment that causes you to want to use them again due to their attachment to your past. When I quit using heroin, my external triggers included tin foil, elastic headbands, and sunglass cases. All being part of my junkie kit. Here are a few other examples of external and/or physical triggers:

  • Movies & TV Shows that depict drug and alcohol use.
  • Clothing or artwork with alcohol brands, drugs, or 4:20 memorabilia.
  • Music or songs associated with that time in your life.
  • Smells that remind you of using.
  • Drug Paraphernalia (bongs, torch lighters, pipes, needles, etc. )
  • People or the sound of someone’s voice.
  • Exposure to the substance itself.
  • Cash/credit cards.

Examples of Environmental Triggers

One of the most detrimental factors of relapse is returning to the environment that you were using in. If you have a choice or the ability to relocate, I would (and did). Here are a handful of environmental trigger examples:

  • Driving through the neighborhood you used to score or get high in.
  • Driving/walking past your old watering holes.
  • Seeing or entertaining relationships with people you used to get drunk or high with.
  • Working where there is easy access to drugs and alcohol.
  • Using the same ATMs you used to get cash.
  • Businesses and parking lots you waited to score dope in.

Examples of Emotional and Internal Triggers

Internal triggers are thoughts and overwhelming feelings that cause an addict to want to feel whole and accepted. Or to fill a void. Some examples of these include:

  • Trauma and/or painful memories.
  • Undiagnosed or Untreated Mental Illness
  • Loss of a loved one.
  • Stress.
  • Financial Hardship.
  • Getting fired or passed over for a promotion at work.
  • H.A.L.T. (hunger, anger, loneliness, tiredness).
  • Family issues/bad breakup/divorce
  • Overwhelming emotions (sadness/anger/boredom).
  • Intrusive thoughts and a feeling of inadequacy.

2. Managing Triggers in Recovery by Throwing Them Away

Once you’ve identified any physical triggers that will hinder your sobriety, it’s time to throw them away! Don’t donate them. Something is liberating about physically placing them into the garbage. It gives you confidence and the power over something that once controlled you.

Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend this method for cash and credit cards. Perhaps, a valid solution for those triggers is to deposit your money into the bank and use Apple or Google pay. Fortunately, these weren’t my triggers. So I’m sorry if I can’t be of more assistance here.

Consider replacing a handful of triggers with sober recovery medallions to celebrate your sobriety time. Or check out these sober recovery gifts.

Sobriety Coin
Recovery Medallion
Recovery Chip

3. Silence Them

Managing triggers in recovery by silencing them is important for keeping temptation minimal. So what do I mean by silencing them?

First, take inventory of your movie collection and toss out any films that may trigger you with drug and alcohol depictions. Or any movies or television shows that you associate with using. For example, if you have a problem with marijuana, then it probably isn’t smart to watch Cheech and Chong. Also, watching shows such as Intervention could be problematic.

Second, clean up your music playlists by removing songs that cause you to reminisce or fantasize about using again. For example, I listened to Techn9ne to pump myself up before committing crimes to support my habit. So I choose not to listen to those songs anymore and have tossed his CDs out.

Third, unfollow any internet content that may trigger a relapse. For example, YouTube channels, blogs, Discords, Facebook groups, or subreddits that glorify drug and alcohol use. Also, don’t forget to unsubscribe to email subscriptions if applicable.

4. Delete and Block Them

Indeed deleting and blocking people is part of the elimination process. Obviously, keeping drug dealers and old using buddies in your contact list is a big no. Because you can revisit blocked contacts, I encourage you to delete the contact information before blocking the phone number.

Alternatively, if you’re certain these people will not contact you (I never had dealers calling me), delete them. It’s that simple. Furthermore, it’s liberating and demonstrates your authority in recovery.

Additionally, permanently block these dealers and drug buddies from your social media feed. As well as any negative influences. Or people who post about drugs and alcohol.

Alternatively, taking a complete break from social media is remarkable for mental health. I highly encourage setting a goal of at least three to six months off social media. So that you can focus on your sobriety and feel confident with some time under your belt.

5. Managing Triggers in Recovery by Avoiding Them

Now that you’ve identified places, persons, and things that trigger you, avoid them when possible. For example, if the bar on your way home is a temptation to you, then find an alternative route.

If you know that you will run into drug acquaintances at the casino or the supermarket, find a different venue to fulfill those needs.

Creating a relapse prevention plan for managing triggers in recovery is crucial for remaining successful. Undoubtedly, you will be faced with challenges and obstacles along your journey.

6. Be Honest About Them

Do you have an accountability partner or a sponsor? That’s vital to holding and keeping yourself accountable. Being honest about what triggers you starts with making your list. Also, doing the work helps to keep you truthful. Be sure to grab a book and work through the steps to build your confidence and strength.

NA Recovery Set
AA The Big Book

If you feel tempted or find yourself in a triggering situation, reach out to your sponsor or accountability partner and be one hundred percent with them.

Additionally, be honest with your healthcare providers. Especially if you have an opiate dependency. The last thing you want is to be prescribed something that may trigger a relapse.

It can occur many years down the road. For example, I had an arterial dissection six years into my recovery and was on IV narcotics for close to two weeks. However, I was honest about my former opiate use, and my doctor helped me create a pain management plan.

My accountability partner dispensed my medication at home during aftercare. So that I couldn’t abuse them. This practice kept me honest and well. I know that if I’d not taken this course of action, I’d have abused those pills and been searching for more. Once the drugs are in you, it’s more difficult to maintain sobriety. Or to say no.

7. Don’t Assign Them Power

A big part of not assigning triggers power over you is by being honest about them. So you’ve got this! When you find your mind drifting to thoughts of using, reach out to your sponsor or accountability partner.

Don’t allow yourself to dwell on these temptations. When you find yourself facing an intrusive thought or obstacle, practice self-care. Engage in your passion or hobby that will distract you from being alone with your thoughts.


8. Managing Triggers in Recovery by Practicing Self-Care

Practicing self-care helps reduce stress and alleviates anxiety. Which are two internal triggers for relapse. Thus making self-care a crucial component for managing triggers in recovery.

Furthermore, neglecting self-care demonstrates not loving yourself. Which is a key component to successful sobriety. What does self-care look like to you?

Examples of Self-Care

  • Going to an NA meeting or an AA meeting
  • Taking prescribed antidepressants/meds (if applicable)
  • Taking a walk
  • Getting a massage/spa day
  • Participate in therapy in person or online
  • A relaxing soak in the tub with bath bombs
  • Journaling
  • Prayer/meditation
  • Yoga/exercise

That concludes this list of effective ways for managing triggers in recovery. Do you have anything to add? Please do so in the comments below. Also, will you hit that social share for me? Thanks! That always makes me smile.


Popular Reading:

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Elizabeth Ervin

Elizabeth Ervin is studying to become a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor. She overcame heroin addiction and is passionate about helping others with recovery. She writes regularly about addiction, recovery, and mental health at

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  1. I think triggers might be as hard to deal with as the craving for whatever you’re addicted to. There are so many things that we can associate with our addictions.

  2. Good advice on how to handle triggers and respond appropriate. It is very easy to allow these triggers to bring out the worst, and knowing how to spot them and stop them matters a great deal for recovery.

  3. This is a wonderful guide. It’s so easy to forget that triggers can be based in both positive and negative emotions. The things that traumatized you that made you turn to something and the things that you enjoyed while you were engaging in that activity.

  4. This is really helpful advice. Recognizing triggers is so important when you are in recovery but others can translate this knowledge to help with other issues. Triggers exist in many situations. Thank you for sharing!

  5. So honest and thoughtful! I love this laydown about triggers. Sadly, so many of us fail to go past identifying our triggers and why they trigger us! Valiant effort, Lizzy. Thanks for sharing.

  6. These are really excellent tips. I think one of the factors that led to my success in quitting smoking and staying smoke-free was to avoid triggers in the first few months like alcohol, going out in bars, etc.

    1. Congratulations on quitting smoking! I’ve done it and it was a difficult feat. Definitely had success by avoiding and managing triggers. So awesome you were able to successfully quit!

  7. Yes, I have heard about addiction triggers. That is true for so many things too (even things outside of drugs).

  8. Thank you for the details on addiction triggers. I have a friend that is an addict and just started AA. I will see if I can talk to her or send your article to her without offending her. Just want to help her.

  9. Staying away from social media can be effective. Reading motivational
    Stories about people who beat addictions are also helpful. I had an uncle who wanted to beat smoking addiction, and he used these to succeed.

  10. Mental health is so important, so this post about managing triggers in recovery is amazing. There are so many useful self help tools and ideas good on you for writing this xx

  11. Great post about managing triggers in recovery. I enjoyed reading this and you helped provide a lot of helpful tips and info. Thank you!

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