How to Manage Triggers to Use Drugs and Alcohol

If you identify yourself as an addict, alcoholic or as someone who may have a problem, there are many things you can do to pull through this. First of all, know that what you are experiencing is normal. Every alcoholic and addict experiences the urge to use at some point, regardless of how long they have been sober. The good news is that you don't have to act on those urges. They will pass.


  1. Image titled Manage Triggers to Use Drugs and Alcohol Step 1
    Take a deep breath and close your eyes. Inhale slowly to a count of three, then pause. Hold for three seconds. Exhale slowly through your mouth to a count of four. Repeat.
    • Envision, in as much detail as you can, the most beautiful place that you can imagine. Perhaps it's a tropical paradise where you are standing on a beach watching the sunset. What colors do you see? Notice all the colors and name them to yourself. Maybe you see a vibrant array of crimson, indigo, azure, and the pale golden light of the sun. Be here as fully as you can. Be present in every way. How does this place feel? Feel the cool breeze rushing through your hair and tickling your skin. Imagine you are standing there, with bare feet pressed firmly upon the shore, as sand squishes between your toes. What sounds do you hear? Maybe the sound of seagulls passing by or the crashing of the waves that gradually calm to a gentle ebb and flow. What smells or tastes do you notice? Perhaps the salty sea breeze leaves its taste upon your tongue. Savor it.
    • When you have a crystal clear image of this place, with your eyes still closed, squeeze the space between your thumb and index finger with your other hand and hold firmly until the count of ten. Release. This is known in psychology as "anchoring." This secures the image in your mind. Anytime in the future that you feel a craving or experience stress, close your eyes and squeeze the space between your thumb and index finger. The image of your safe place will come to mind.
  2. Image titled Manage Triggers to Use Drugs and Alcohol Step 2
    Grab a pen and paper (or a computer) and make six columns:
    • Situation: What is going on right now? For example, you could write, "I want to get high" or "My boyfriend broke up with me." Move to the next column.
    • Thoughts: Write down what thoughts are going through your mind at the moment." For example, "I can't stay sober," "I am weak," "I hate my boyfriend," and so on. The thoughts may even be negative ones you have toward yourself. Write them all down. It's important to get them all out.
    • Feelings: Write what feelings are coming up for you - anger, sadness, loneliness, and so on. If you list "anger" as one of your emotions, go deeper. Anger is what is known as a "secondary emotion." This means that it is the result of other underlying emotions. Usually underneath anger is fear, sadness/pain, guilt and/or shame. Identify all of them. Move on to the next column.
    • Actions I Took: List what actions you have taken or currently are taking to deal with the situation. For example, "I'm about to call my dealer," or "I hung up on my boyfriend after calling him awful names."
    • Other Ways of Seeing This: Come up with some other ways of looking at the situation. For instance, in your "Thought" column, if you wrote down, "I'm a weak person for wanting to use," you could reframe by saying, "I'm a strong person for wanting to get better," or "I am in control of the actions I take in this moment."
    • New Actions I Can Take: List what other actions you could take instead. For example, "I can apologize to someone I hurt," "I can delete my dealer's number," or "I will reach out for help." This step is important because this is where your power lies. We can't control other people or situations, but we can control how we respond to them. Be brutally honest with what you write down. No one has to see this list. It is for your eyes only. You can tear it up afterwards or keep it in a safe spot to look at later on.
  3. Image titled Manage Triggers to Use Drugs and Alcohol Step 3
    Take contrary action. This means doing something positive that we would not normally do in that situation. For instance, your natural tendency may be to call your dealer. When you take contrary action, you not only decide not to call your dealer, but you do the opposite. This may mean deleting him or her from your phone, calling a friend, or going to a meeting. Whatever you do, reach out to healthy people.
  4. Image titled Manage Triggers to Use Drugs and Alcohol Step 4
    List what you are grateful for. It seems like the last thing that may be on your mind - finding something to be happy about. However, this can go a long way in changing your current state of mind. Maybe you are grateful for your family, the job you got that you really enjoy, the new man/woman you just met the other day. It could be as simple as the sunshine, a brand new day, and the chance to start over and do things differently. There is always something to be grateful for, even if it doesn't seem like it.
  5. Image titled Manage Triggers to Use Drugs and Alcohol Step 5
    Consider the people or things that you have in your life that you would lose if you were high. What blessings do you have as a result of being sober? Maybe it's a loving relationship that depends on your health and sobriety. Maybe it's the opportunity to pursue your dreams. You can't make them come true when you're high.
  6. Image titled Manage Triggers to Use Drugs and Alcohol Step 6
    Call someone for help. Call a friend for support - a sober friend who has your best interests at heart. Call a sponsor if you have one. If you don't, it is highly recommended that you find one. A sponsor is there to help you in emergency situations in case you are having cravings to drink or use.
  7. Image titled Manage Triggers to Use Drugs and Alcohol Step 7
    Go to a meeting. Alcoholics Anonymous has a listing of meetings in your area.[1] There is also Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Love and Sex Addicts Anonymous, among many others. Meetings will help you meet and connect with others who understand what you are going through and will be there in times of need.
  8. Image titled Manage Triggers to Use Drugs and Alcohol Step 8
    Look into non-12 step alternatives. If the 12 step programs don't appeal to you, there are other options available. SMART Recovery is a program that helps people with substance abuse get sober, and the meetings are set up much like a therapy group, where you can openly talk about what you are experiencing.[2] Unlike AA, "crosstalk" is allowed, so others can offer you feedback if you are open to hearing it.


  • Identify what gives your life meaning, a greater sense of purpose. What have you always loved to do? What did you love as a kid? Rekindle those passions and pursue them. You have the ability to make your dreams come true. Don't allow self-doubt and fear to stand in your way.
  • Remember that you are not alone. Millions struggle with addiction, and they are people from all walks of life. Connect with others who will carry you through the hard times. Do not think you have to do this on your own. Everybody needs people.
  • Identify the people, places and things that trigger you. Then avoid them. Maybe this means changing your friends or avoiding dangerous places. Do whatever it takes to protect yourself from negative outside influences.


  • Research treatment centers in your area, including those that are covered by insurance. There is help out there for you.
  • Seek out a trained professional if you feel your addiction has progressed beyond what you feel you can handle on your own. If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm, call the Emergency Services and seek for help immediately! If necessary, call 1-800-SUICIDE, the suicide hotline, where you can reach out to professionals for help.

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