Friday, July 29, 2011

Seven Days Sober: Triggers

Triggers are often discussed in early sobriety, and sometimes cause confusion.  What is a trigger?  Why is it that a trigger causes me to crave or to use?  Triggers are simply things (people, places, emotions, or times) that cause cravings based on past use.  For example, if you went out every Friday after getting paid, your triggers might be:

  • Friday night
  • Money
  • Friends who drink
  • After work
  • Being in a club

The repetition of drinking in the same situation over and over creates an association in your brain, just as your brain associates a stop sign with pressing on the brake.  This association can cause you to start the thought process that leads to drinking when a trigger occurs.  This trigger-thought-craving-use cycle can feel automatic and overwhelming.

There are three steps to take in dealing with triggers:

  1. Identify - Make a list of things that you know trigger you to drink.
  2. Analyze - What it is about each trigger that makes drinking important.
  3. Adapt - List different ways of handling each trigger that do not involve drinking.

Once you have come up with different ways of handling a trigger, you must implement your new plan when that trigger occurs.  If, for example, you have a trigger of stopping for a drink after you cash your paycheck, you could choose to deposit it instead or select a different location for cashing your check that isn't near a bar.

Trigger Exercise: External

Make a list of places, people, things, and situations that might trigger you to drink.  Rank each trigger from 1 to 5 with 1 being certain to drink and 5 being not likely to drink.  For each 1, list ways you could prevent that trigger from occurring.  If you like, you may repeat for the rest of your list.  This list can go in your toolkit for reference.  The shorter list should go in your wallet or purse.

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