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Relapse prevention: triggers & cravings

If you're trying to break an addiction, making a plan to overcome the triggers and cravings related to your substance use is crucial to preventing relapse.

What is a trigger?

Most people will experience a trigger to drink alcohol or use another substance before they actually 'pick up'. Sometimes these triggers are easy to pick but often they can build up slowly and subconsciously until you 'snap' and before you know it, you've relapsed.

Common triggers for most people include:

  • Stress – a hard day at work, conflict in relationships and family pressures.

  • People and places – drinking or using buddies, pubs, festivals or restaurants.

  • Being in close proximity to the substance – having it in your house or being in the same location is often too much temptation to resist.

  • Special occasions or regular events, such as celebrations, weekends or holidays.

  • Big emotions, which are common in early sobriety. When your feelings resurface after being numbed by substance use, they can be overwhelming.

  • HALT – hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

Dealing with triggers starts with being aware of them as they arise anticipating them when possible. For example, if you know that you usually drink a lot on a Friday night, and you are likely to be tired after working all week, you may be easily triggered to want to drink on a Friday morning or afternoon.

Overcoming triggers involves being hyper-aware of them and making an alternative action plan. Maybe you can do something completely different on a Friday night, such as meeting a non-drinking friend for a walk, or going to a movie instead of swinging by the bottle shop to drink at home, or going to the pub to meet friends. Having a healthy and positive option up your sleeve will set you up for success.


Cravings are unwelcome physical, emotional and mental longings to use the substance you're addicted to. They are normal in the early stages of recovery but can be powerful and hard to resist. They are also closely linked with triggers, so it makes sense that in order to avoid cravings, avoiding and mitigating your triggers helps prevent them.

Relapse prevention dealing with triggers and cravings
Sometimes all it takes to shift a craving is drinking a glass of water.

Here are some of our recommendations on managing cravings:

  • Distract yourself physically – keep your hands busy, do something strenuous like weeding the garden, going for a walk or taking a shower. Sometimes eating a snack or drinking a large glass of water helps.

  • Contact another person in recovery or a supportive loved one or friend to share how you're feeling – this often alleviates the craving substantially.

  • Write down how you're feeling and reflect on why you don't want to act on the craving. Think about how awful you feel after using and survey the damage it's done in your life. Make a record of all the bad times your addiction has caused and look back on it regularly to keep the negative associations of drinking or using fresh in your mind.

  • Know that cravings pass and become less frequent and intense the longer you stay sober. If you sit with the craving and do some deep breathing, you might be surprised that it goes away pretty quickly.

  • Congratulate yourself when the craving has gone and know that when the next one comes, you will be able to handle it with more skill, confidence and experience.

If you'd like to find out more about proactively dealing with triggers and cravings, please give Elaine a call on 027 573 7744.

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