The ”trouble” with addiction relapse triggers: Are you just making excuses?

Does labeling objects and situations as “triggers” give them more power over you? It can be scary to live in a world where you are surrounded by relapse triggers. Good news: You may be able to beat them by viewing them differently. Learn more here.

minute read
By Matthew Rupert, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

A trigger? Or are you making excuses?

Many people may not realize that when you leave treatment, you’re going to re-enter a world in which you’re bombarded with things that remind you of the lifestyle you once held dear. Temptation will surround you!

Q: Can you avoid these encounters?
A: Not really!

It’s difficult to walk or drive anywhere in the United States and not see a billboard, sign, or advertisement or hear a radio or television ad for alcohol. Plus, alcohol and some types of drugs – especially marijuana – are becoming more socially accepted.

It can be scary to live in a world where you are surrounded by relapse triggers. Good news: You may be able to beat them by viewing them differently. More here, with a section at the end for your questions. In fact, we’ll try to respond to your personal question ASAP!

Can triggers really push you into relapse?

Many people discover mundane items can stir certain thoughts and feelings. These things that stir up thoughts and feelings of wanting to use again are often called “triggers.” In common parlance, a trigger is:

“…any stimulus, event, or condition that can lead to someone abusing substances again.”

One problem with the notion of triggers is that they’re presumed to be absolute. In other words, once a trigger, always a trigger. Therefore, people warn and threaten you that if you don’t avoid exposure to triggers, you’ll relapse.

No evidence exists that so-called triggers exist. As a matter of fact, at Adams Recovery Center, we don’t call them triggers. We instead refer to them as “excuses.” Take a beer bottle, for example. A beer bottle has absolutely zero influence over you. It cannot make you drink. It cannot do anything to you.

The mundanity of triggers

We do not agree with the notion of so-called triggers, because once you believe something is a trigger, you give that thing power and control over your life. We are convinced that people do not want mundane objects to hold such sway over them, including:

  • a beer bottle
  • a needle
  • a cotton ball
  • steel wool
  • tissue paper
  • hair ties

Despite that, so many people are convinced that they are surrounded by these so-called triggers that life becomes terrifying. These people are afraid to engage in activities because they will be surrounded by their triggers. They think they’ll be tempted to use and will go back to using.

How can I beat triggers in addiction recovery?

How to avoid relapses in a crises? Removing the power from triggers and identifying them for what they really are—excuses—empowers you. If you see a beer bottle, you see a beer bottle. Otherwise, you might never leave your house. Think about the myriad things that are associated with drinking alcohol:

  • the bar where you used to drink
  • the smell of a cigarette
  • neon signs
  • someone named Fred (because he was your bartender)
  • brown coasters (they were used for your beer at your favorite bar)
  • mahogany (the type of wood your favorite bar was made from)
  • four-legged barstools

…The list goes on!

You can see how the excuses can pile up and how you might be tempted to start avoiding living life. Instead, you live based on a fear reaction, not a thought response. You are saying you do not believe in yourself and you do not trust yourself to maintain the strength you have.

Are your triggers absurd?

In the ARC program, we run an exercise every three or four months in which we ask every client to come to the whiteboard and write down his or her so-called triggers. We see the usual suspected triggers, and then the board starts to fill with what we consider absolutely absurd triggers. We spend time dissecting these and explain that the client will never be able to re-enter society and never be able to go outside his or her room because everything is a trigger. The client will have to live in a sterile bubble, ostracized from society, to avoid succumbing to temptation due to all of these triggers!

Clients then start to understand the sheer absurdity of the huge list on the whiteboard. They start to understand that these things have no power. The power is in your intent to use or not to use. You can come to understand that if you accept the existence and power of triggers, this is enabling. If you come to understand the power remains completely with you, this is empowerment.

Take back the power triggers have over you

Consider how trigger excuses might keep you from living your life. Will you keep yourself away from events such as barbecues, holiday gatherings, and social outings out of fear? We recognize that the fear of using again is real. But you own your fears and strengths.

We believe being cautious, observant, and vigilant is appropriate when you are in sustained sobriety. We believe knowing what could trip you up is valuable information to keep in mind. We also believe you need to live your life and enjoy the life you have.

Remember, for every excuse you create as to why you’ll use again, you can list at least ten reasons why you will not use. The strength is within you to make the right choice.

Relapse triggers questions

Do you have anything that you’d like to ask or add? We welcome you to post your questions and comments in the designated section below. We try to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries, or we will refer you to professionals who can help.

About the Author: Addiction, Recovery, Change: A How-To Manual for Successfully Navigating Sobriety is the current book by Adams Recovery Center, an in-patient treatment facility based near Cincinnati, Ohio. You can learn more at, and you can order the book at and on Amazon.
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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