Recovery is a lifelong process, fraught with many twists and turns. A friend who has been sober from alcohol for two and a half years told me a story yesterday that brought this point home. She had just renewed her Costco membership and went there for the first time since she became sober.

In addition to their famous rotisserie chicken, Costco is where she used to try to buy her alcohol since it was cheap and they carry her favorite type of wine. She would buy a case or two at a time. She told me yesterday that the minute she approached the parking lot, she noticed she immediately thought about buying those cases of wine at Costco. It was a trigger for her. She hadn’t even pulled into the lot or entered the store yet.

Your Mindset During Triggers

Thankfully she is far enough into her recovery to recognize that it was a trigger and to have the presence of mind to not allow it turn into the action of buying any alcohol. However, she did tell me that it shook her up and served as a reminder that a slip is just around the corner if she does not remain vigilant.


Triggers can be disarming, scary, and dangerous but I think that we can also look at triggers as reminders of how far we have come. When my friend was deep into her addiction, there is no way she would have made it out of that Costco without buying her wine. And now the trigger —the thought— was only that, a thought that came in to and out of her brain.

Identifying a Trigger

So what is a trigger? A trigger is an internal or external stimulus that causes someone with an addiction to want to use a substance or carry out an addictive behavior. Notice that it causes a desire, BUT it does not have to result in an action. However, triggers are very sneaky and can undermine all efforts in your recovery journey if you do not define them and have a plan to deal with them.

It is crucial to identify your individual triggers. They are different for everyone and can vary based on the substance, your genetics, your environment and a multitude other things.

Here is only a partial list of potential triggers:

  • HALT- the acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired
  • Emotions-both positive and negative
  • Stress
  • Illness-mental or physical
  • Social Isolation
  • Relationships/Dating
  • Celebrations/Sad events
  • Certain people
  • Certain Locations
  • Senses-smells, tastes, sounds etc.

What is the best strategy to manage triggers?

  • Have a relapse prevention plan which includes identifying triggers
  • Have a trigger action plan. What are you going to do when you get triggered? Call someone, take a deep breath, change your location, etc.

Find Strength During Recovery

An essential part of our program at the Coleman Institute for Addiction Medicine is our case management services. We will work with you to find the right fit for aftercare. This is where those potential triggers will begin to be identified and a plan put in place to help guide your recovery. If you want to learn more about our program, also referred to as the Coleman Method, please schedule a callback below. Recovery is a safe place where triggers do not have to lead you back into your addiction.

Deborah Reich, MD