Emotional Triggers

Recovery Can Be a Roller Coaster: How to Deal with Emotional Triggers

Last updated on July 1st, 2019 at 01:40 pm

Relapse is a common part of the recovery process. In fact, 40-60 percent of individuals who struggle with substance abuse or addiction will relapse at some point.

Often, when people relapse, it is because they were faced with a trigger (or series of triggers) that they could not handle.

The more you know about your triggers and what kinds of coping mechanisms help you to deal with them, the less likely you’ll be to deal with relapse yourself.

Read on to learn more about common emotional triggers and the steps you can take to handle them in a healthy way and reduce your risk of relapse.

What Are Emotional Triggers?

An emotional trigger is anything that causes you to feel uncomfortable or experience any other kind of emotional reaction.

An example of an emotional trigger might be feeling angry or defensive when someone makes a comment about your past behaviors or feeling jealous when you see someone posting about an experience they had on social media.

Virtually anything can be an emotional trigger to someone.

Learning to identify emotional triggers is an essential part of the addiction recovery process.

Often, people turn to drugs or alcohol to help them cope with difficult emotions like jealousy and anger. In order to attain and maintain your sobriety, you need to find other, healthier ways to handle these feelings.

Common Emotional Triggers

A variety of different feelings can act as emotional triggers for folks who are in recovery. It’s important to note, too, that not all of these feelings are negative, although they certainly can be.

The following are some common emotions that can be triggering to people struggling with addiction:

Negative Feelings

When most people think of feelings that trigger a desire to use drugs or alcohol, they think of these kinds of negative feelings:

  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Irritation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Hate
  • Overconfidence
  • Jealousy
  • Sadness
  • Neglect
  • Overwhelm

A person might also become emotionally triggered when they feel that they’re being criticized or that they’re being viewed as inadequate.

Neutral Feelings

Neutral feelings can be emotional triggers, too.

For example, if someone is feeling bored, they might feel an urge to turn to alcohol or drugs just to give themselves something to do. They might turn to alcohol or drugs when they’re feeling relaxed, too, or if they want to feel more relaxed.

Positive Feelings

Positive emotions can even be triggering to some people. This is where things get really tricky.

For some people, celebrations might trigger a desire for alcohol or drugs as a way to let their hair down and enjoy some good news. Excitement, happiness, and passion can also be emotional triggers.

Tips for Recognizing with Triggers

Emotional triggers are often more difficult to deal with than other types of triggers. You might be able to avoid certain situations and people when you’re in recovery, but you can’t avoid all emotions.

Instead of trying to stay away from emotions when you’re recovering from addiction, it’s important to learn healthy ways to deal with all the different emotions you might experience.

Before you can deal with emotions and emotional triggers, though, you first need to figure out what your emotional triggers are.

Here are some tips that can help you start to identify your emotional triggers:

Notice Physical Reactions

Does your heart start beating rapidly when you get angry? Do you clench your fists when you’re stressed?

When you experience reactions like this, work backward to figure out what kind of emotion you’re feeling. Then, work backward some more to figure out what’s causing that emotion.

Notice Your Thoughts

Pay attention to the thoughts that run through your head, too. Have you suddenly started thinking irrationally or in extremes? What happened that brought on those thoughts?

What Happened Earlier?

You might not always experience emotional triggers when someone says or does something. You might be more prone to them, though, after a long day or after something else went wrong.

When you start experiencing physical reactions or negative thoughts, think about the context of the day and what kinds of situations might have contributed to them.

Tips for Dealing with Triggers

Once you’ve identified your emotional triggers, the next step is to learn to deal with them. Everyone handles their triggers differently, so you’ll have to do some experimentation to figure out which approaches work best for you.

The following are some ideas to help you get started:

Focus on Your Breath

When you start feeling physical reactions or negative thoughts in response to an emotional trigger, it helps to focus on your breath. This can calm your body down and get you out of a “fight or flight” state.

Try to Find Humor

It can be helpful to try and find humor in the situation, too. Often, we make issues more serious than they need to be. If possible, take a step back and try to find a way to lighten the moment.

Write Things Down

Many people also find that they can cope with triggers better if they write down how they’re feeling and nail down exactly what caused the feeling. Writing also gives you an opportunity to reflect and pause instead of reacting in an unhealthy way.

Take a Break

Sometimes, you just need to separate yourself from the situation altogether.

Whether you take a break to go write in a journal or engage in a hobby, taking a break before you respond can help you avoid losing your temper or saying or doing something you’ll regret later.

Get Help with Recovery Today

It’s not always easy to identify and cope with emotional triggers. The more you learn about yourself and the more you practice, though, the better your coping skills will become.

Remember, too, that you do not have to go through the recovery process alone.

If you need support from addiction recovery professionals or others who are also in recovery, we can help at Addiction Treatment Services.

Contact us today to learn more about different recovery programs in your area.

We have compassionate, caring admissions specialists available 24 hours a day to answer all of your questions and point you in the right direction.

References

Mojá, C. A., & Spielberger, C. D. (n.d.). Anger and Drug Addiction – Carmelo A. De Mojá, Charles D. Spielberger, 1997. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/pr0.1997.81.1.152

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

About Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.