Drug or alcohol addiction rarely results from an easily identifiable root cause. Factors playing a role in addiction can include genetics, epigenetics, neurobiology, psychology, cognition, and environment. But regardless of what leads a person to develop substance dependence and addiction, everyone can make the decision to take back control of their health and reach out for help.
Once someone enters addiction recovery, they learn to be careful of “relapse triggers.” Relapse triggers are traditionally defined as people, places, or things that tempt the person to return to substance use. Once you understand what triggers your cravings, you have a better chance of resisting them.
While some triggers are external, and therefore more obvious (a bar where you used to drink, a group of people you used drugs with, a particular time of day), others are internal (certain thoughts and emotions) and trickier to pin down.
Frustration as an Addiction Trigger
Recent advances in the scientific understanding of addiction triggers prompt an interesting question: what role does frustration play in substance use disorders?
At a molecular level, frustration is a globally experienced feeling of mismatched expectations. For example, when you expect to get out of work on time and then are stuck with some extra last-minute work that will keep you in the office longer, you get frustrated. If you are in addiction recovery, frustration might lead to a feeling of helplessness or anger and anxiety that could prompt cravings for your substance of choice.
Frustration is clearly an internal trigger, even though it might be caused by external circumstances. After all, someone else in the same situation at work might simply accept the extra work and adapt to the change.
Tiredness as an Addiction Trigger
Let’s consider another example. A woman in alcohol addiction recovery wakes up feeling tired and worn-down one morning. Upon arriving at work, she’s told that her company is going to lay her and a handful of other workers off at the end of the month. Because her car is in the shop that week, she walks home, passing a bar. The sight of people inside laughing and watching TV with a relaxing cocktail triggers an unrelenting urge to enter, sit down, and order a martini.
Is the trigger the bar, the bad news, or the tiredness? It seems clear in this case that all of these things work together to create the strong cravings. But if so, how can anyone in a similar situation possibly resist a craving when so much is working against them? Are some triggers more powerful than others? Which ones should be given priority?
The triggers that stress, anxiety, disappointment, or fatigue can incite are endless. At the wrong time and in the wrong places, anything could potentially feel like a trigger. But the more you get to know yourself (and working with a therapist is a crucial part of this process of self-awareness), the more you understand which triggers are most powerful for you.
Maybe you realize that tiredness is the main culprit–that as long as you feel rested and healthy, you can manage the circumstances life throws at you. So, in this case, you would do your best to prioritize consistently good sleep. You would have the courage to say no to anything that would interfere with your good sleep, whether it be staying out late with a friend on a work night, drinking or eating anything with caffeine late in the day, letting your pet sleep with you (if their presence keeps you wakeful), etc.
At St. Gregory Recovery Center, we know that our healthy environment, strong value system, and full continuum of care provide powerful resources for managing triggers involved with addiction and relapse. One of the most integral resources we can offer is cognitive behavioral therapy, a collaborative process that gives our residents tools to combat feelings of frustration with coping strategies and the ability to detect self-defeating responses before they take over.
Feel free to contact us at any time to discuss our recovery programs and approach to tackling addiction triggers. As a trusted organization for recovery and addiction treatment in Iowa, we are proud to help people become more educated about—and less vulnerable to—substance use triggers.