According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60 percent of people with a substance use disorder will relapse. One of the reasons it’s so common has to do with brain chemistry, and the way your brain comes to associate drug use with pleasure and reward. When you think about using, you might not remember all the negative effects – the problems it caused in your job and relationships, the unpleasant symptoms when you went too long without – but you will remember the way it made you feel relaxed, euphoric, energetic, or whatever other emotion you got from using. It’s made all the more difficult by the presence of triggers, or people, places, and things that remind you of your substance abuse. Some people view triggers are hurdles that need to be overcome and things that we can learn to cope with. To others, however, triggers are little more than excuses.

A trigger can be anything that reminds you of your substance use. It might be a person who you always went drinking with or a group of friends who always got high when they partied. It might be your favorite bar, or a house where you spent a lot of time using drugs. It could be paraphernalia, like pipes, rolling papers, needles, spoons, etc., or just everyday objects. It’s hard for anyone to avoid occasionally spotting a beer bottle or a bit of rolled up paper, which is why some people emphasize learning how to cope with these triggers.

On the other hand, some people believe that the very fact that these items can be so mundane means that triggers are really just an excuse for a relapse. If you believe something is a trigger, they say, then you give it power over you. You can walk through everyday life pointing at things and saying, “That’s a trigger. That’s another trigger,” and when you relapse it’s almost like, of course you did. How could you not, with all that temptation around?


Whether you believe that triggers are just excuses or not, it is important to not let them control you. If you find yourself avoiding leaving the house or interacting with people because you’re so afraid of being triggered, you need to ask for help. You can’t spend your entire life being afraid of relapsing, because that’s no kind of life at all. You went to all this trouble to get clean so that you could enjoy living again. Maybe it’s not a great idea for you to hang out in bars or spend time with people who are still using drugs, but you can’t refuse to ever visit your mother again because she has shot glasses in her house. Try to remember all of the reasons you decided to quit in the first place and all the reasons your life is better now. If you do find that your triggers have too much power over you, talk to a psychiatrist or therapist.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.