Addiction Triggers

Addiction triggers are the unique cues in an addict's world which encourage the addict to think about and obsess about the thing they are addicted to. These thoughts can be so potent that the addict believes that they must adopt their addictive behaviour to change how they feel. To best help an addict to beat their addiction and fully recovery it is vital to learn as much about the process of addiction so that you can help them understand their behaviour and to help them to break the cycle.


People who try to support addicts are often unaware of the power of triggers and how these brief thoughts can snowball into cravings which lead to the more potent urges or compulsions to act.
Despite this, people who want addicts to stop use the best strategies they can find to support those in addiction.

Why do they carry on when it makes things worse?

Carers of addicts often try to use logic or reason to convince people to stop using. Addicts already know reasons to stop, and so these reasons alone are not enough to override their need to deal with how they feel.


A smoker knows all the reasons to stop, yet they continue to smoke. Likewise a problematic alcohol user knows they are damaging their health, that they are making their situation worse.

Addicts also know that they are upsetting others and yet they continue to drink  or use or gamble because this helps them deal with how they feel, whether it is stress, anxiety, a general sense of fear or self loathing.

How are people triggered?

So what are these addiction triggers which, if left unmanaged, lead to such devastating effects? A trigger is just an external experience which when absorbed by the brain rekindles a thought. It is just a reminder about something. Triggers can come from anywhere, and originate from any of the five senses; for example if someone was trying to lose weight they may think about food if, they saw it, either on tv, on a billboard, in the text of a story they were reading or in front of them in real life. But it could also be triggered by sounds like someone’s name if their name sounded like food, hearing food mentioned on t.v, hearing it being eaten on the radio. All the senses remind the brain and then the brain learns to give these memories feelings. Some smells are things to like whilst others are things to avoid. For addicts, just like those who are on diets, they notice the thing that they want everywhere.

The trigger is found in almost every stimulus in their world as everything they do involves preparing for the next experience of their addictive behaviour. A drug user associates everything with acquiring or using drugs, an alcohol user associates every aspect of their life with drinking and an addicted gambler does the same. this is because of the repeated associations an addict has taught themselves.

Repetition gives  Addiction Triggers more power

The more that a brain makes a connection, i.e. drink of tea reminds them of drinking, drinking makes them think of alcohol,  then the easier it is to restore this link (any drink triggers a thought of alcohol) in the future.


The brain remembers things much easier if it has already remembered it recently, than if it has not tried to access a certain memory for some time. So thoughts which lead to a triggered thought, when acted on, by using alcohol by an alcoholic, or betting for a gambler, will result in those thoughts being more prevalent, more intense,  and powerful.

Addiction triggers are reminders of the thing an addict is addicted to. They come from all the sensory information that we experience through our lives and, for an addict, cause them to think about their addictive behaviour. For many addicts almost anything can lead them to thinking about what they are addicted to.


There are a range of techniques to avoid acting on triggers. Acknowledging that you are triggered can be enough for some people  who are very established in their recovery. For others who are vulnerable to acting on a trigger distraction techniques are the most accessible. This can be simply thinking about something else, doing a mundane task or having a chat with a friend.


Time is the key to building new ways of thinking, along with creating new associations. If you have taught your brain to associate money with opportunities for gambling, then until you do something other than gamble with money you will continue to make the trigger occur and each time it will be stronger. To break that cycle you must stop gambling but also use money for other things.

By using the range of techniques described throughout this site to do something other than acting on the triggers the person in recovery will diminish the effects of the triggers until they stop completely.

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