Your Trigger Finger

In the May/June 2013 issue of the University of Chicago Magazine, Emma Childs, an assistant professor and research associate of the Human Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory says “Drug users often form a very strong positive associations with places where they use drugs.” She found these environmental cues or reminders (a phenomenon known as incubation) are often triggers for relapse for people who had abstained from nicotine for some time. These could be photos of people smoking, the scent of smoke, and the act of holding a cigarette. One women was triggered into a binge by driving past eateries where a past binges would occur.

Alcoholics Anonymous use the acronym HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. This helps people identify the triggers that make them want to reach for a drink. Other triggers can be sad, anxious, scared, cold, hot, or overwhelmed. A memory of a former situation in which you felt frustrated or helpless may be haunting you. If you struggle with an ancient feeling that you’re basically bad and an inevitable failure, even a success might cause an addiction attack.

Which triggers kick off your cravings? People, objects, events, or particular times of day that you connect with your addiction? Triggers may be places: bars, fast food joints, clothes outlets, massage parlors, the house where you first tried heroin, a casino ad on a billboard. Or the smell of cigarette smoke, pot, or coffee.

Were you in a high-risk situation? Or set off by a harsh word from your spouse, no word from your sister for ten days, a frown on your supervisor’s face, an argument with your teen? Illness or physical pain is a trigger, too. Jacob would dive into an Internet craps game after his dysfunctional family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Eventually he politely declined his family’s invitation and celebrated Thanksgiving with a group of friends.

So next time you’re tempted to follow your addiction in its downward path, take a deep breath and count up to 50 (or 69 or 100!). Then home in on the trigger and breathe it away.