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Addictions start as casual habits, but, with continued use and time, compulsion grows. Suddenly, what began as recreational drug use becomes a need. The power to choose slips away, often unnoticed, because compulsion takes its place. At this stage of addiction, despite negative consequences—such as poor health, financial ruin and wrecked relationships—users are consumed with a drive to chase the next high.
Like trained lab rats or Pavlov’s salivating dog, addicts often live at the mercy of stimuli that trigger cravings. With little to no warning, people, places and things can serve as cues to use drugs. Learn how certain triggers fuel your drug use, because then you can stay clean.
Triggers: The Biochemical Basis
Researchers published in Harvard Health Publications maintain that the biochemical basis for addiction resides in a cluster of nerves called the nucleus accumbens. When someone performs an act that satisfies a need or fulfills a desire (for instance, smoking crack or taking high doses of benzos), dopamine releases into the nucleus accumbens, which produces pleasure. This response creates a reward pathway that becomes stronger the more someone activates this reward system; in other words, the more someone abuses drugs, the more she will want to do so later.
This biochemical pleasure process is a key element in the development and maintenance of both substance and process addictions. Repeated use of addictive drugs teaches the brain that ingesting more of it is a fast track to pleasure. In time, the brain becomes hardwired for drugs. In effect, the brain connects intoxication with spending time in bars, so anything from a bar stool to a shot glass can suddenly make an alcoholic “thirsty.” The deeper roots of addiction sink, the stronger triggers become.
Strategies to Help You Steer Clear of Triggers
Any stimuli that makes you desire clonazepam can be a trigger. Usually, triggers are linked to memories or situations that connect to prior experiences of substance abuse. As the addictive cycle kicks into high gear, people with whom you interact, places in which you spend time and situations such as holidays or parties can become strongly associated with getting high. Several common triggers include the following list:
The key to staying sober—especially during early recovery—is to limit exposure to these triggers as much as possible. Sometimes, this task means stepping away from relationships, especially those that revolved around drug use. Other times, moving to a different side of town, far away from dealers or drug-using buddies, can put you in the safe zone. Core aspects of most addiction recovery programs include learning to identify triggers and develop strategies to manage cravings.
Addiction specialists working for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration say the first, most important step of recovery is identifying threats to sobriety. You cannot avoid what you cannot see, and triggers are highly personal, so be prepared to spot yours quickly so you can take proper action. Threats often appear within the following categories:
- Environmental triggers – Going to a bar, being in a certain neighborhood or celebrating holidays can evoke unpleasant memories associated with substance abuse
- Social triggers – Getting a phone call from a family member, meeting with a fellow user or running into a former flame may send you reaching for a drink or a drug if you have not developed healthy coping skills
- Emotional triggers – Underlying emotional and mental health issues (such as anxiety, depression and loneliness) can trigger substance abuse, especially if you used a benzo to numb uncomfortable feelings such as anger, loneliness, anxiety, fatigue, frustration and depression
Once you have pinpointed your triggers, the next step is to develop a plan to cope with exposure. Unless you move to another continent, you will probably collide with your past at some point. In this vulnerable state, you need protection, and an accountability plan can help, as it could include calling a sober buddy in your support network, journaling or simply removing yourself from the situation before it gets the best of you.
Neutralizing Triggers: Long-Term Tips
Most people with strong recoveries say that triggers become less intense as time passes. At the same time, they caution against growing complacent: just because you no longer salivate when a beer commercial comes on television, that does not mean you are cured from addiction. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a chronic, progressive disease, so it can be managed, but not cured. Moreover, recovery rarely occurs spontaneously; once dependence develops, professional help is often required to break the cycle.
Once you have sidestepped the minefield of triggers so characteristic of early recovery, you can walk forward with confidence. The key is sharpening tools you already possess. If attending 12-Step support groups gives you strength, then double your meeting attendance during stressful periods. Experts at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health also encourage monitoring of moods. They suggest keeping a list of personal warning signs that signal trouble. If you become isolated or sleep too much in response to stress, then look for changes in these areas of life. Shifting sleep patterns, intrusive and hopeless thoughts or appetite fluctuations could signal the slow slide into relapse.
Help for Addiction, Triggers and Cravings
If you or someone you love struggles to stay sober, then know that help is available. Admissions coordinators at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can guide you to wellness, so do not go it alone when help is just one phone call away. You never have to go back to a life of addiction if you have professional assistance.