Managing triggers in a time of quarantine

Last Modified: 5/05/2020


This post was written by Mary Etheart, PhD, LCAC, student assistance counselor, Parkview Employee Assistance Program.

Triggers are those cues that create urges to use alcohol or drugs. They can be internal (thoughts and feelings) and external. One of the first tasks of recovery is to identify your triggers, and everyone in recovery is familiar with the phrase, “Stay away from old people, places and things.” This means a person doesn’t go back to bars or hang out with drinking buddies or drug-using friends, nor does he/she frequent parts of town or engage in activities that stir up those memories of substance-using times.

During this period of quarantine, it may be relatively easy to avoid the people and places associated with substance use. However, the internal triggers are much harder to manage, particularly since one of the biggest ones is stress. It’s incredibly difficult for anyone to avoid stress right now, which makes those in recovery especially vulnerable. The important social support and peer-driven recovery meetings are no longer available in their normal venues and you can’t just go for coffee with a sponsor.

Learning to lean on new resources

That said, what can be done? First, acknowledging and accepting what you are feeling is important. Instead of trying to deny, push away or criticize yourself for having those feelings, admit, “I am stressed out/angry/scared/bored/etc.” You are not alone in experiencing those feelings. Being honest with yourself and recognizing that the emotions are very possibly triggering a desire to return to substance use gives you the space to breathe and think clearly.

There are many Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings being held online now. Here are a few resources:

Healthy distraction

The two traditional methods for dealing with triggers are distraction and avoidance. Reaching out to others via the online meetings above is one way to distract. Other methods of distraction may be less available right now while in quarantine, so you might have to get creative. YouTube has both AA and NA speakers you can listen to. This is a good time to try the journal you were always going to start. There are online meditations to follow, as well as apps like Calm and Insight Timer. Coloring or doing puzzles, like jigsaw, crossword, word search, are distracting activities.

Taking care of yourself is the best thing to do; both emotionally and physically. Take breaks from watching the news and social media. Try to maintain a routine and keep regular sleep hours and healthy eating habits. Take some deep breaths. Sometimes you just need to get through one moment at a time.

You can call the Parkview Behavioral Health Helpline at 260-373-7500 or 800-284-8439, anytime 24 hours a day, to talk to a healthcare professional about how and where to find support.


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