We receive so much information about Relapse Prevention in Recovery, everyone wants to stay clean and not be Triggered.
So…What is an Addiction Trigger?
An Addiction Trigger is something that sets off a memory or flashback placing the person back in the event of her/his original experience. Triggers are all different and very personal; different things trigger different people. Triggers can be activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.
Triggers are worrying and can be terrifying because they seem to appear in all facets of our lives. Particularly when we are new and just beginning our recovery, starting to build new friends and life in sobriety, so much of our old life and memories revolve around our substance abuse.
At first, I thought my addiction triggers were things like loud music and flashing lights, the clubs, my old bands, my old friends, neatly folded sheets of writing paper I’d use for keeping speed or coke in, the memories of valium’ing out the downers, trigger movies like Trainspotting, Blow and Candy as well as music concerts, rap and rave.
Breakdown of Personal Triggers
It seems now that I understand myself better, that my specific, personal addiction triggers are emotions. I get excited by loud music and flashing lights. Though I am never comfortable in crowds. I get anxious if I see my old friends. I am embarrassed that I had to drop out of university. These are all strong emotions for me, I either want to make them go away, or change them and get a new feeling.
That’s where drugs worked and changed my emotions and moods immediately – they could change how I felt, fantastic! The problem was that change was always only brief, the consequences unforeseen and dire, the addiction a nightmare
I don’t think we can ever eliminate our emotions, but that means we need to pay attention to the triggers that work directly on our emotions. Awareness of your triggers is important and allows you to be in control, no trigger actually requires you to get drugs.
How Emotion affects addiction triggers
Each of us has an ancient hardwired survival mechanism built into our brains that identifies threats to our well-being and sends out an alarm when we’re in danger. It’s the ancient reptile or lizard brain in us – if your hand touches something hot, it automatically pulls away without you even thinking about it. When a wolf howls in the forest your lizard brain’s first reaction is fight or flight. The mechanism is aligned with our survival – it instinctively causes us to react before our brain process data and makes a decision on how to react.
So when we experience an emotion, our lizard brain, a structure technically called the amygdala, causes us to react before we can consider the consequences of our actions. As drug addicts or alcoholics know too well when you get angry, anxious, or even excited, the first emotional reaction is to reach for a drug.
Even though our logical decision-making process reacts a bit more slowly it is responsible for and should temper and control our thoughts and judgments, helping to keep our emotions in proportion. This means giving our brain time to catch up with our basic reaction and managing our impulses.
Typical Addiction Triggers
Sometimes when we are overcome by emotion, we don’t act quite like we should our lizard brain takes over
Apprehensive and Anxious
- Getting worked up over small things, a meeting, a family get together, something as simple as talking on the phone with a parent. Your lizard brain tells you,
Your lizard brain says “Everything would be easier, we could handle this much better if we were high.”
Excuse to Party
- If things are going well, we wouldn’t really have a good reason to “self-medicate with drugs.” But possibly you could find a good reason for a “celebration” – It’s Xmas day. It’s my puppy’s birthday. It’s almost Friday. Excited and happy, it was the perfect excuse to party.
Your Lizard tells you “This is what healthy people do—they celebrate!”
Mortified and Self-conscious
- Whatever it is skipping doing that report and failing to pass, that moment when you realise your zip has been down in front of your friends –your face gets hot, hands sweat, and you don’t want to be in this space here anywhere!
Your lizard brain says “Let’s just get wasted and it will all be ok .”
Sick and Tired
- Feeling sick and tired aren’t quite emotional states, but they are feelings that you want to change with substances. Drugs could get you up if you were tired, or drugs could knock you out when you feel terrible.
Your lizard brain tells you, “Let’s do it – We deserve to feel good.”
Bored to Tears
- Boredom is the trickiest of all the triggers, boredom can creep up on you at any time. That white noise, empty space, in the day, must be filled with something to spice up your life.
Your lizard brain says “what harm could it do just a little …
Angry and Upset
- Getting angry, allows the lizard brain to think that overreacting, shouting, breaking things and hitting walls – maybe getting high will help.
Your lizard brain says “If we get high we can chill out or plot our revenge and we can forget.”
Poor Pitiful Me
- “Nothing matters,” and “What’s the point?” This is probably the most dangerous of triggers, the cynical, self-pitiful destructive reaction. The mask that is worn to cut us off from the situation we experience and justify our own self-destruction. Underlying that cynicism is self-pity—feeling sorry for ourselves, feeling like I don’t matter and it doesn’t matter.
Your lizard brain says – “why not, do the drugs, what does it matter”
We need to realise that feelings are a part of life and being human. Every feeling is temporary, emotion will pass. It might feel like it will last, but it doesn’t. Instead of acting on our lizard brain’s emotional impulses to get high, our logical brain needs to intervene. Drugs can take an emotional state and amplify it, or bury the feeling deeper down inside of you, making it more difficult to process and allow it to fester. Impulsively reaching for drugs to “feel better” often makes things much worse.
According to studies, deep, slow breathing is a strong counteraction for anxiety, fear and anger. If we become aware of how we breathe as we experience our day, we can practice more calming breathing to help us in our emotional moments. Deep breathing is used as a coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety, stress, in daily life. Taking a moment to breathe gives the logical part of your brain time to catch up with your lizard brain.
Say my Name
Well.. say Your name. Talk to yourself
With “self-talk”, we have the ability to calm ourselves down. However, research shows that using the word “I” can stress you out, but calling yourself by your own name can make you more loving and accepting towards yourself. If you use your own name you tend to be more rational and less emotional, almost like you are thinking about yourself as though you were another person. By using this technique, we gain the ability to reason with ourselves and soothe our emotional state. The brain changes when we slow down and acknowledge our emotions. Findings are if you actually name the emotion, it reduced the lizard brains reactivity and lessened the impact of the emotion on you both physically and mentally.
So take a moment to talk to yourself and label what you feel, and better control your impulses.
Release the Energy
Trying to use drugs to drown out emotions, we end up dazing ourselves to our entire range of feelings. Our emotions are made of energy, and we do need to release that energy.
Divert that emotion or craving.
Go for a drive or a run with the dogs.
Put on some music and sing a song or do a war dance.
Do some drawing or painting.
Wash the car.
Once we understand our feeling and channel our energies elsewhere, we can move on.
Emotions are made of energy, and we do need to release them.
For more information on dealing with any addiction and getting yourself help to start a new life, call Houghton House now:
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