Get Help Now: (888) 576-0222
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Recognizing Your Trigger Warnings

Recognizing Your Trigger Warnings, Managing Your Triggers Effectively

Whether you’re managing addiction recovery or a dual diagnosis, understanding the actions and emotions that incite an unwanted response is important for building resilience and reinforcing wellness. While researchers can point to a few common factors we all share, knowing your specific trigger warnings is essential for avoiding relapse.

Follow the Trigger Path

Triggers related to addiction, trauma, grief, and mental health are external, internal, or a combination of the two. 

  • External triggers include certain environments, social situations, or sensory cues like specific smells, sights, or sounds that may remind you of particular circumstances–like walking past a bar where one used to drink or hearing a song associated with a loved one. 
  • Internal triggers, on the other hand, include emotional states such as stress, anxiety, depression, wanting to feel “normal,” or even feelings of happiness and excitement. These emotions can prompt an urge to use substances or default to unhealthy habits as a coping mechanism or as a method to enhance positive feelings.

Author and physician Steven M. Melemis is a specialist in addiction and mood disorders. In an article for Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, he notes that relapse happens gradually—sometimes weeks or even months before you alter behavior. “Recognize the early warning signs of relapse and develop coping skills to prevent it early in the process, when the chances of success are greatest,” he advises. 

He adds that “there are three stages to relapse: emotional, mental, and physical. The common denominator of emotional relapse is poor self-care. If individuals do not practice sufficient self-care, eventually they will start to feel uncomfortable in their own skin and look for ways to escape, relax, or reward themselves.” 

How to Recognize Your Trigger Warnings

Melemis also states that once you’ve completed the “repair” stage of your health journey, you can embark on the “growth” stage, which is about “developing skills that individuals may have never learned and that predisposed them to addiction” and mental health issues. Usually within three to five years after your initial recovery, you learn to build a better self-awareness that will alert you to potential triggers before you react in an undesired way.

Most people find their trigger warnings appear in the following categories: 


  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Frustration
  • Loneliness
  • Mental health issues
  • Self-esteem/self-worth
  • Stress


  • A frequent social setting, such as a bar, club, or recreation center
  • A childhood home
  • A particular neighborhood
  • A workplace
  • A place of worship


  • A call or visit from a family member who sparks negative emotions
  • A setting where you once had to use substances or act a certain way to feel accepted
  • Meeting with people who continue to misuse substances
  • An encounter with someone who either uses or prompts feelings in you to engage in maladaptive behavior
  • A recurring situation that makes you want to react or behave a certain way because of the ease of availability

If your recovery is complicated by a major loss, grief may become a powerful trigger, especially at particular milestones like an anniversary, a birthday, or the holiday season. While most people can learn to cope with these circumstances in a couple of years, unresolved complicated grief or PTSD may compound negative responses. 

Some therapists offer detailed worksheets that allow you to pause and identify what might be happening at the moment so you can more easily define particular triggers. You might have used something similar in your addiction or mental health treatment program, or maybe this is a new concept you’d like to try. 

Managing Your Triggers Effectively

Consistent self-care is a valuable tool for giving you the ability to recognize and move past your triggers. Unfortunately, it’s not always something we adapt to easily. “Self-care is difficult because recovering individuals tend to be hard on themselves,” Melemis says. “This can present overtly, as individuals who don’t feel they deserve to be good to themselves or who tend to put themselves last, or it can show up covertly as individuals who say they can be good to themselves but who are actually ruthlessly critical of themselves.” 

While preferred self-care techniques differ for each of us, the National Institute for Mental Health offers these tips to help you manage triggers before they escalate,  which we provide verbatim: 

  • Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes of walking every day can boost your mood and improve your health. Small amounts of exercise add up, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t do 30 minutes at one time.
  • Eat healthy, regular meals, and stay hydrated. A balanced diet and plenty of water can improve your energy and focus throughout the day. Pay attention to your intake of caffeine and alcohol and how they affect your mood and well-being—for some, decreasing caffeine and alcohol consumption can be helpful.
  • Make sleep a priority. Stick to a schedule, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Blue light from devices and screens can make it harder to fall asleep, so reduce blue light exposure from your phone or computer before bedtime.
  • Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs or apps, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy activities you enjoy, such as listening to music, reading, spending time in nature, and engaging in low-stress hobbies.
  • Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Try to appreciate what you have accomplished at the end of the day.
  • Practice gratitude. Remind yourself daily of things you are grateful for. Be specific. Write them down or replay them in your mind.
  • Focus on positivity. Identify and challenge your negative and unhelpful thoughts.
  • Stay connected. Reach out to friends or family members who can provide emotional support and practical help.

Fair Oaks: Your Partner in Wellness

The board-certified professionals at Fair Oaks Recovery Center in Sacramento, California, understand how challenging it can be to pursue better health. However, we’ve earned the status of a licensed Chemical Dependency Recovery Hospital, issued by the California Department of Public Health to addiction rehabilitation and dual diagnosis treatment facilities that provide high-level acuity care. With evidence-based applications such as whole-person holistic care, Trac9, and Tactical Recovery, we encourage your continued growth and rewarding wellness in every way possible. Reach out to our admissions team to learn more.

Fair Oaks Recovery Center of california - sacramento alcohol and drug addiction treatment center

For more information about programs offered at Fair Oaks Recovery Center, including our intensive outpatient program in Sacramento, please call us today at (888) 576-0222.
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