Triggers: How to manage and avoid them

How triggers can make you crave drugs or alcohol, and how you can start to avoid them.

What are triggers?

Triggers are things that remind you of using drugs and alcohol. They can be just about anything, and may be ‘outside’ of us or in our surroundings including:

  • people
  • objects
  • places
  • or could be times of the day or week

Triggers may also be feelings ‘inside’ of us, including: 

  • moods 
  • physical sensations 

Triggers are formed by their association with drug and alcohol use.

For example, if  you regularly use cocaine when you drink in your local pub on a Friday, by association, the fact that it’s a Friday can become a trigger. As cocaine is regularly used while drinking alcohol in the pub, then drinking alcohol, or even just walking past the pub, can become triggers.

Triggers and cravings

Through their association with alcohol and drug use, triggers can lead to craving when you are trying to stop or cut down.

Cravings may include physical feelings, for example, a feeling of tightness in your stomach. You may have increased thoughts of how you would like to feel from using drugs or alcohol. You may remember times you used in the past, even planning how you would go about getting some alcohol or drugs.

Expect cravings to occur from time to time, and be prepared to cope with them when they occur. 

You may find the following ideas helpful.

Get to know your triggers

Getting to know your triggers can help you to avoid and cope with them, as well as stay on track. In order to manage them, you first need to know what they are.

You can do this by:

Writing a list

Try to think of all the things that tend to happen before you drink or use drugs.

For example, if you always find yourself taking cocaine after arguments with your partner, this is probably an important trigger for your cocaine use.

Or if you find yourself drinking more when you’re stressed at work, stress is likely to be a trigger for you.

Keeping a cravings diary

This is a great way to get to know your triggers and understand why and when you drink or use.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just keep a few notes on your phone or carry a small notebook with you.

Write down when and where your cravings happen. Your notes could look something like this:


1.00pm - went to the supermarket in lunch hour and wanted to buy wine

5.30pm - started thinking about having a glass of wine going home on the bus

It can be helpful to make a note of time, place, who you are with, how you are feeling and what happened next.

Managing and avoiding your triggers

Once you get to know your triggers, you can start trying to manage and avoid them.

Triggers are often part of our daily routines, so consider changing your schedule and organising your life so that you’re less likely to be exposed to potential triggers.

Here are a few things you can try:

  • Go home a different way from work to avoid passing places that trigger cravings, like the pub
  • Hang out with non-using friends and family more often
  • Explore new, neutral places to socialise that you don’t associate with drink or drug use

However, we know that we cannot always avoid triggers, e.g. ‘A Friday after work’, so you need to plan how you are going to manage these. For example: 

  • Plan how you are going to respond if you unexpectedly meet a person you used to drink with and they invite you to the pub
  • Learn to effectively manage moods linked to triggers e.g. anger, stress, anxiety 
  • Learn alternative ways to meet specific needs linked to triggers e.g. hunger, tiredness, loneliness, boredom etc

Life can be unpredictable. That’s why it’s also important to plan for when triggers pop up out of the blue and cravings hit.