How to Become Aware of Personal Triggers

If you are in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD), you are no stranger to the word “trigger.” Identifying and processing substance use and other emotional triggers plays a key role in your ability to sustain your sobriety. Becoming aware of personal triggers is not only a task for those in recovery, however. It is a task that everyone must intentionally work on to promote personal growth and well-being throughout their lives. Fortunately, there are many ways you can work toward becoming aware of your personal triggers both in and outside of treatment.

12 South Recovery is an addiction and mental health treatment facility that has expertise in helping people become aware of and address their triggers. We recognize that your ability to establish and maintain recovery depends upon whether or not you can navigate environmental and emotional triggers effectively. If at any time you find yourself seeking additional assistance in becoming aware of your triggers, know that you can use us as a resource.

Understanding Personal Triggers

If you are in treatment, you likely already have some experience naming and taming your personal triggers. A “trigger” is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of stimuli that, when you encounter them, elicit an uncomfortable emotional response. Individuals in early recovery from addiction share some common personal triggers, such as being in an environment where people are drinking and using drugs. However, triggers can also be subjective.

An article by Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience explains that while external stimuli are often the culprit of a trigger, the experience of being triggered is actually an internal response. The article states, “The change from outside to inside is also justified by discovering that due to the high subjectivity of addiction, it makes no sense to ‘blame’ something outside.” Therefore, by recognizing a trigger as something that happens internally, you can better understand why triggers must be identified and processed as means of instilling lasting healing and recovery.

Identifying Personal Triggers

As you learn how to become aware of your triggers, it can help to understand the types of triggers that can surface. According to, personal triggers fall into one of the four following categories:

  • Emotional
  • Pattern
  • Social
  • Withdrawal

Emotional Triggers

The emotional types of triggers are some of the most prominent types associated with recurring alcohol and drug use. Like many others, you may have used alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate challenging emotions. On the other hand, you may have used substances because you liked how they made you feel. Some examples of emotional triggers include situations or circumstances that cause you to experience intense feelings, such as:

  • Negative feelings, including:
    • Stress
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Boredom
    • Loneliness
  • Positive feelings, including:
    • Happiness
    • Satisfaction
    • Excitement

Pattern Triggers

A pattern trigger includes any behaviors or activities you may associate with substance-using behavior. These triggers will vary depending on the types of substances you use and when. Some examples of pattern triggers may include:

  • For alcohol use:
    • Returning home after work with the intention to unwind
    • Binge-watching a television show
  • For smoking:
    • Before going to bed
    • Driving
    • Drinking alcohol
    • Talking on the phone
  • For prescription drug misuse or abuse:
    • Experiencing physical pain

Social Triggers

The triggers in the social category are associated with occasions that bring together other individuals who party or use alcohol and other drugs. Some examples of social triggers may include attending:

  • Family events
  • Bars
  • Parties
  • Concerts
  • Celebrations

Withdrawal Triggers

Finally, withdrawal triggers surface as you try to cease alcohol or drug use after long-term, frequent use. Withdrawal triggers can be both physical and psychological, including:

  • Craving the taste of a drug
  • Being in a room with drug paraphernalia
  • Feeling restless
  • Experiencing headaches, nausea, and other uncomfortable physical symptoms

Bringing Awareness to Personal Triggers in Addiction Recovery

After becoming familiar with the different types of personal triggers, you can engage in a variety of personal reflection techniques to help you bring awareness to the triggers you experience in your life. Some suggestions that can help you become aware of your personal triggers include:

  • Practicing journaling: Keep a running list of all circumstances and situations that foster intense emotional reactions. As you work through each of your triggers, you can visually cross each trigger off that no longer affects you.
  • Talking with loved ones: Consider asking your loved ones about some of their own personal triggers as well as pondering why these triggers exist. This can help you better recognize different types of triggers that may exist in your life.
  • Practicing mindfulness: Set aside time to practice mindfulness, such as meditation, to promote better self-awareness. Likewise, mindfulness practices are valuable coping strategies for navigating emotionally intense situations.

After you feel confident in your ability to identify your triggers, you must move to the next step, which is effectively processing and overcoming them. If you feel daunted by this step, know that 12 South Recovery is here to help. We offer a wide range of therapeutic options that can help you better navigate your triggers throughout your healing journey.

A trigger is an internal response that often occurs from an external stimulus. If you are in addiction recovery, you must learn to become aware of your triggers and overcome them to prevent relapse throughout your healing journey. Fortunately, 12 South Recovery can help you to effectively process any personal triggers that may arise during recovery. We offer several outpatient programs and a wide variety of therapeutic interventions to help individualize our client care. Additionally, we provide whole-person healing to strengthen self-awareness through holistic interventions, including meditation, yoga, breathwork, and more. If you or a loved one could benefit from professional assistance, give us a call today at (888) 830-8374.

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