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Triggers and Cues

The various triggers and cues to use alcohol can cause recovering addicts to relapse, so understanding the mechanism is integral to staying clean. Alcohol triggers and cues are external or internal circumstances which you have come to associate with alcohol use, and these will crop up throughout your sober life. Learning to deal with triggers is therefore extremely important if you want to be free from your alcohol addiction. Many alcohol rehab programs will explain the effect these triggers can have on your recovery, and it’s important to remain aware of the factors which could tempt you into using again.

Simple conditioning is responsible for the effect of triggers and cues to use alcohol. This can be understood through Pavlov’s famous dog experiment. A bell was rung just before a meal was brought for a dog. Over time, the sound of the bell alone caused the dog to salivate in expectation of food. This shows that factors such as the ringing of a bell can cause the brain to anticipate previously unrelated rewards such as food if the association is firmly established.

For a alcohol user, simply passing by a location previously used to meet their dealer can become a alcohol trigger. The external stimulus has been linked to the reward of alcohol, and just like the salivating dog, the alcohol user feels cravings. The individual nature of triggers and cues to use alcohol makes them difficult to predict, but things like hearing people talk about the alcohol or seeing people using are common triggers. Depending on the person, the triggers could also include things like specific pieces of music or television programs – it all depends on the individual’s habits when they were a user.

Emotions can also be cues for alcohol use. These are wider, over-arching concepts which cover a range of specific situations, and are therefore more useful to identify. Envy, rejection, perceived lack of control and being criticised are common emotional triggers for alcohol use. Identifying these emotional patterns in yourself or your loved one can help you determine which feelings are triggers. Alcohol rehab programs can help identify specific triggers, but emotional ones should be a constant focus throughout your recovery.

Psychologists disagree on the best way to deal with triggers and cues to use alcohol. One school of thought is that avoiding triggers is most effective. If you accept this theory, you would avoid the street corner where you bought alcohol, people you used to take alcohol with, and even things such as music which you associate with alcohol use. These triggers are never encountered, and therefore you never experience the effects of conditioning.

The other prevalent idea is that you have to meet your triggers head on and dilute their effect. Theoretically, if Pavlov would have continued to ring the bell and not give the dog food, it would cease to salivate at the sound of the bell. The stimulus would become disassociated with the reward. This theory applied to alcohol addiction means that you shouldn’t avoid triggers, but just fight to not succumb to the cravings. In time, the association in your mind will degrade, and you will be free from the triggers and cues to use alcohol. This is difficult to achieve, however, and dedication is required for success.

We provide free advice on alcohol addiction and the various treatment options that are available for you or your loved one. Different alcohol rehab centres have different facilities and the choice you make effects the lessons learned from the experience. We can help you with the decision free of charge, and also offer telephone counselling for a fee. If you are having trouble with addiction, please get in touch and see how we can help you.

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