The Two Types of Triggers Everyone Should Know About

triggers Jan 19, 2023

Triggers are unique to each individual as they differ from person to person. While the distinctiveness of triggers can be unmatched, typically they maintain two common factors. Triggers can be presented both internally and externally.


Internal triggers refer to cognitions, feelings or actions that are linked with substance use or unhelpful behaviour. Feelings of stress, excitement, sadness, or boredom, as well as behaviours such as withdrawing socially or engaging in risky or impulsive activities can be linked with unhelpful behaviours. Being aware of the thoughts, emotions and behaviours which increase our susceptibility to use or act out is crucial.


External triggers are situational stimuli or the environmental surroundings that can trigger cravings or a lapse. These can include seeing drug paraphernalia, being in places where you previously used or engaged in unhelpful behaviours, or being around other people who use, drink, or act out and enable unhealthy interactions with the substance or behaviour. Other external triggers include social situations and events such as weddings or celebratory parties, as well as environmental cues, such as driving past a place where you used to buy drugs or alcohol.


The most common triggers for addiction are stress and other big emotions. Stressful events, such as a job loss or the end of a relationship, can increase an individuals’ propensity to use or act out as a way to cope. However, it is the specific feeling, sensation or location which acts as the trigger for use. The event itself is triggering however can be unpredictable. Finding ways to manage the triggering feeling or sensation can increase our resilience and capacity to manage adversity more effectively.


It is important for people in recovery to be aware of their triggers and to have strategies in place to cope with them. This may include seeking support from a therapist or a recovery group, practicing relaxation techniques, or finding alternative ways to cope with stress and other big emotions.