A trigger is defined as any element—be it a person, place or activity—that heightens the risk of a relapse by provoking strong desires or impulses to indulge in drug use or addictive behavior. These triggers are deeply personal and can vary significantly among individuals, encompassing a range of factors from emotional states and social interactions to specific locations or memories associated with past substance use. The identification of these triggers is a central component of the recovery process, as it allows for the creation of effective strategies to manage and mitigate them.

This notion of triggers was initially introduced in the 1970s by researchers focusing on the patterns of relapse in substance use disorders. It has since become a focal point in the field of addiction treatment. Rehabilitation professionals play a vital role in helping individuals recognise their unique triggers and develop healthier methods to respond to them, thereby crafting strategies to either circumvent or positively handle potential relapse scenarios.

Recovery is a lifelong process and the possibility of encountering triggers can persist even after years of sobriety. The ongoing mastery of dealing with these triggers is fundamental for sustained sobriety offering not only a challenge but also an opportunity for personal development, enhanced resilience and a strengthened commitment to sober living.

Different Types of Triggers

Triggers in addiction recovery are broadly classified into four categories: environmental, emotional, behavioural and psychological, each contributing significantly to the risk of relapse.

  1. Environmental Triggers
    These are external factors such as specific places, individuals who use substances, financial pressures, conflicts in relationships and media related to substance use. Mitigating these involves being conscious of one’s surroundings, minimising contact with certain individuals or places and engaging in activities that reduce stress like exercise or meditation.
  2. Emotional Triggers
    These encompass feelings like loneliness, stress, rejection or intense emotions that might inadvertently lead to substance use. Managing emotional triggers is possible through self-care practices, nurturing a supportive social circle and regular therapeutic sessions to acquire coping mechanisms.
  3. Behavioural Triggers
    These relate to habits or routines linked to addiction or excessive idle time. Counteracting behavioural triggers involves establishing new, healthy routines and setting firm boundaries with others involved in substance use.
  4. Psychological Triggers
    These include negative thought patterns and beliefs, often rooted in unresolved trauma or stress, which can pave the way for relapse. Confronting psychological triggers means addressing underlying issues, altering negative self-perceptions and adopting coping techniques such as relaxation methods and mindfulness practices.

Recognising and managing these diverse triggers is integral to maintaining long-term sobriety.

Common Triggers and Coping Strategies:

  • HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)
    Fundamental needs, if unmet, can amplify triggers. Addressing these needs through meal planning, mindfulness, social support and regular sleep is beneficial.
  • Challenging Emotions
    Coping skills developed in therapy are essential for managing negative emotions like sadness or guilt, which are often precursors to substance abuse.
  • Stress
    Managing stress through preventive self-care and coping mechanisms is vital, as both chronic and acute stress can lead to relapse.
  • Over-Confidence in Recovery
    Maintaining humility and refraining from substance use are key to avoiding overconfidence that could lead to risky behavior.
  • Physical or Mental Illness
    Awareness of one’s mental and physical health is critical with a focus on non-addictive treatments and informed healthcare.
  • Social Isolation
    Building a network of support is key to counteract the loneliness and rationalisations for substance use that can arise from social isolation.
  • Romantic Relationships
    The emotional turmoil from relationships, particularly in early recovery, can be triggering. It’s advisable to avoid new romantic relationships in the first year of recovery.
  • New Jobs and Promotions
    Positive life changes like job transitions can be stress-inducing or lead to celebratory substance use. Planning sober celebrations and managing new responsibilities are crucial.
  • Nostalgia for Substance Abuse
    Recalling past substance use can be a significant trigger. Engaging with a support system during these times is important.
  • Places and Situations with Available Substances
    Avoiding environments where substances are present is fundamental for relapse prevention.

Triggers involve acknowledging both internal and external factors.

Research, such as studies on visual triggers in former cocaine users, indicates that subconscious responses can intensify cravings, reinforceing the importance of avoiding reminders of past substance use.

Preventing relapse includes redefining concepts of fun, learning from setbacks and becoming accustomed to discomfort. Recognising recovery’s challenges and avoiding absolute thinking are essential for managing cravings and discomfort. Relapse typically unfolds in emotional, mental and physical stages, each with distinct warning signs. Early recognition and intervention are key to averting a 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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