Environmental Triggers

Factors of Relapse: Triggers

friends drinking at a club

In the field of drug rehab, the word ‘trigger’ means a place, a person, a type of event or any experience that activates a craving for drugs or alcohol. A smell, like the odor of alcohol or marijuana, can serve as a reminder of past drug abuse in the same way that the sweet sugary smell outside a bakery stimulates a desire for a pastry. A sensory experience all by itself can trigger a strong craving for drugs.

Drug rehabs have varying methods of helping a person deal with triggers. Some rehabs encourage a person simply to avoid triggers, but this is not always possible. One has to return to real life. Consider the diversity of common triggers:

Common Triggers

kids using drugs on the street
  • Locations where one bought or used drugs
  • Locations, where one was arrested or watched someone else, get arrested for drugs
  • Locations where someone overdosed or got sick from drug or alcohol abuse
  • Places where crimes were committed to get money for drugs, for example, family members’ or parents’ homes
  • Former places of employment where drugs were abused or crimes took place
  • Former drug-using associates
  • Former drug dealers
  • Former drug-using girlfriends/boyfriends or spouses
  • Stressful situations that used to be solved by drug or alcohol abuse
  • Entertainment venues where drugs or alcohol used to be used or are currently being used
  • Drugs, alcohol or drug-using paraphernalia
  • The smell of drugs or alcohol or sight of other people using them.

Some of these triggers might be avoidable, but some people are highly sensitive to trigger situations. A woman who resembles a former wife might be enough to trigger cravings in a man struggling to stay sober. Music or smells that remind one of past events can be enough.