A trigger in the context of addiction recovery is any object, person or activity that poses a risk of relapse by eliciting strong urges or cravings to use drugs or engage in addictive behaviors. Triggers are highly individual, varying from person to person and can include specific environments, social settings, emotions like stress or sadness and people or places linked to past drug use. Recognising these triggers is a critical step in recovery, as it enables the development of coping strategies to effectively manage them.

The concept of triggers, first introduced in the 1970s by psychologists studying relapse in substance use disorders, has become a key focus in addiction treatment. Professionals in rehab centers assist individuals in identifying their triggers and learning healthier responses to them. Understanding potential relapse situations helps in creating plans to avoid or positively manage these triggers.

Recovery from addiction is an ongoing journey with triggers potentially arising years after sobriety is achieved. Learning to navigate these triggers is a continuous process, essential for maintaining long-term sobriety. Facing and overcoming triggers not only presents challenges but also opportunities for personal growth, resilience building and reinforcing commitment to sobriety.

Types of Triggers

In recovery from addiction, triggers can be categorised into environmental, emotional, behavioural and psychological types, each playing a important role in the risk of relapse.

  • Environmental triggers are external factors like certain locations, people who use substances, financial stress, relationship conflicts and substance-related media. To avoid these, awareness of surroundings and limiting contact with certain people or places is key, alongside engaging in stress-reducing activities like exercise or meditation.
  • Emotional triggers include feelings like loneliness, stress, rejection and intense emotions, which can inadvertently lead to substance use. Managing these triggers involves practicing self-care, building a supportive network and attending regular therapy sessions to develop coping skills.
  • Behavioral triggers are related to habits and routines, such as spending time in places associated with addiction or having too much idle time. To combat these, forming new, healthy routines and setting clear boundaries with others who use substances are effective strategies.
  • Psychological triggers are negative thoughts and beliefs, often stemming from unresolved trauma or stress, leading to relapse. Addressing these involves acknowledging and working through underlying issues, changing negative self-perceptions and developing coping skills like relaxation techniques and mindfulness.

Recognising and managing these various triggers is integral to maintaining long-term sobriety in the recovery process.

Common triggers include

  1. HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)
    Basic unmet needs can intensify triggers. Addressing these through meal planning, mindfulness, social support and regular sleep can help.
  2. Challenging Emotions
    Negative emotions like sadness or guilt, often drivers of initial substance abuse, can re-emerge, necessitating coping skills learned in therapy.
  3. Stress
    Both chronic and acute stress can trigger relapse. Managing stress involves preventive self-care and coping skills.
  4. Over-Confidence in Recovery
    Mistaking recovery for a ‘cure’ can lead to risky behaviors. Maintaining humility and avoiding all substance use is crucial.
  5. Physical or Mental Illness
    Underlying mental health issues or physical illnesses can increase relapse risk. Non-addictive treatments and informed medical care are important.
  6. Social Isolation
    Avoiding social interactions can lead to loneliness and rationalisation of substance use. Building a support network is essential.
  7. Romantic Relationships
    The emotional upheaval from relationships, especially in early recovery, can be triggering. Avoiding new relationships in the first year is advised.
  8. New Jobs and Promotions
    Positive events like job changes can induce stress or celebratory substance use. Planning sober celebrations and managing new responsibilities are key.
  9. Nostalgia for Substance Abuse
    Reminiscing about past substance use is a significant trigger. Engaging support systems during these times is important.
  10. Places and Situations with Available Substances
    Being around substances like alcohol at social events, can trigger relapse. Avoiding these situations and having a plan for unexpected encounters is crucial.

Identifying triggers involves recognising both internal (emotional) and external (people, places, things) triggers. Studies like one on visual triggers in former cocaine users, show that subconscious responses can reinforce cravings. Avoiding reminders of past substance use is key in maintaining recovery.

Relapse prevention includes redefining fun, learning from setbacks and becoming comfortable with discomfort. Acknowledging the difficulty of recovery while avoiding negative, all-or-nothing thinking helps manage cravings and discomfort.

Relapse often progresses through emotional, mental and physical stages with each stage having specific warning signs. Recognising and addressing these signs early is key to preventing relapse.

Founded in 2008, WeDoRecover has evolved from an advisory service for addiction treatment into a comprehensive provider of care, following its 2019 merger with Changes Addiction Rehab in Johannesburg. Specialising in connecting patients to top-tier addiction treatment centers in the UK, South Africa and Thailand, WeDoRecover supports individuals globally, including those from the United Arab Emirates and Europe. Accepting both South African medical aid and international health insurance our organisation facilitates access to high-quality treatment for substance and alcohol use disorders, offering individualised care that addresses the physical, mental and social needs of patients.

Our team, led by Gareth Carter, offers empathetic and professional support, guiding you through every step of the treatment process. Whether you're in South Africa or abroad, our acceptance of various insurance plans makes quality care accessible, providing a platform for lasting recovery and a healthier future.

Inpatient Rehab

Rehab care is a good option if you are at risk of experiencing strong withdrawal symptoms when you try stop a substance. This option would also be recommended if you have experienced recurrent relapses or if you have tried a less-intensive treatment without success.


If you're committed to your sobriety but cannot take a break from your daily duties for an inpatient program. Outpatient rehab treatment might suit you well if you are looking for a less restricted format for addiction treatment or simply need help with mental health.


Therapy can be good step towards healing and self-discovery. If you need support without disrupting your routine, therapy offers a flexible solution for anyone wishing to enhance their mental well-being or work through personal issues in a supportive, confidential environment.

Mental Health

Are you having persistent feelings of being swamped, sad or have sudden surges of anger or intense emotional outbursts? These are warning signs of unresolved trauma mental health. A simple assesment by a mental health expert could provide valuable insights into your recovery.

Finding the right rehab close to you is simple with WeDoRecover. Our network includes the finest rehab centers, ensuring personalised, quality care for your recovery needs. Let Gareth Carter and our empathetic team help guide you to a center that feels right for you, offering expert care and support. Start your healing today by choosing a rehab that's not just close to you, but also that truly cares about your loved ones recovery.

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