Triggers are objects, people, and events that cause emotional reactions based on past experiences. In many cases, triggers can cause strong negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression, pain, and frustration. In the context of drug rehabilitation, triggers refer to things that cause a recovering individual to want to use substances.

Learning how to manage triggers is a crucial part of the addiction rehabilitation process. Not learning how to handle triggers appropriately can lead individuals to relapse or attempt to cope in a way that can harm their health and relationships.

Trigger management is a basic part of most residential and outpatient therapy at most rehab centers. However, there are several techniques and approaches anyone can try to manage their relapse triggers that don’t necessarily involve entering a rehab program.

Below are some things you can try to manage triggers without entering rehab. Note that addiction trigger management is only one part of substance use recovery. If you’re in the Greater Boston Area, check out the Boston Drug Treatment Centers directory for a comprehensive listing of inpatient and outpatient substance rehab programs.

1.) Individual therapy or counseling

Not all triggers are immediately identifiable, even to the people who are directly experiencing the emotional response. If possible, talking to a therapist should be the first step so that triggers are better identified and contextualized. Your therapist should also be able to give you specific advice on how to manage your triggers as well.

2.) Mindfulness or meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are similar practices that help practitioners become more aware of internal and external factors that might be at play with their lives. Both can be practiced virtually anywhere by one’s self or as part of a group. These practices have also been shown to be effective at reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety which are both common in people recovering from substance use.

3.) Moderate exercise

Exercise can level off hormone levels in the body, which can make a person feel better and be less susceptible to extremely strong emotional responses to triggers. Moderate cardio and aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes at least three times a week have also been shown to be beneficial for reducing anxiety and depression symptoms that can exacerbate trigger responses.

4.) Getting enough sleep

Getting more sleep is an essential component of good decision-making. Not getting enough sleep or having sleep of insufficient quality can make it more difficult to actively manage addiction triggers. Ways you could improve sleep include taking natural supplements such as melatonin and chamomile extract, getting better pillows and mattresses, setting up your bedroom to block out noise, and a lifestyle change that allows you to sleep at a better time. Seeing a therapist can also be an option in cases that these other options don’t work for you.

5.) Joining substance recovery support groups

Hearing other people’s stories about their struggles with substance misuse can be enlightening and help you come up with coping ideas of your own. Joining these groups can also go a long way into reducing feelings of isolation you might have in your attempt to stay clean.

6.) Getting proper nutrition

Eating a balanced and healthy diet will, over time, help you to feel better as well as to think more clearly. Unhealthy diets can worsen a recovering individual’s mood and self-image and can make them more vulnerable to their addiction triggers. 

7.) Drinking enough water

Many common withdrawal symptoms can be at least partially alleviated by drinking enough water. Symptoms like dry mouth, sluggishness, lethargy, and dizziness are just some of the few that could be relieved by adequate hydration. Drinking more water also helps flush out any lingering toxins in your body. Some treatment experts also suggest that it can be a helpful habit to reach for some water whenever you’re feeling cravings. 

8.) Changing your lifestyle

Sometimes, the only realistic way that you could cope with triggers is to avoid them until you’re able to heal, preferably through therapy and counseling. It may be worth checking to see if you can find new work arrangements until you’re able to better cope with your cravings. This may be especially desirable if you’re trying to recover from a serious substance use disorder.


Whether it involves gambling, nicotine, alcohol, or hard drugs, managing triggers is an important part of recovering from any addiction. While a rehab program might be important for those with serious compulsions, these ideas may be helpful for anyone trying to change their behavior for the better. Good luck with your recovery!