“Is This a Crisis?”: Knowing Your Triggers and Warnings

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“Is This a Crisis?”: Knowing Your Triggers and Warnings

One of the most critical aspects of recovering from addictions and trauma is understanding your triggers and warning signs. Knowing triggers can help to prevent symptoms from coming on and are a way of avoiding relapse. Warning signs tell us that we have been triggered and are potentially in danger of a crisis. Below, we define each of these in more depth with some examples of each and some ways that you can identify your triggers and warnings.


In recovery from addiction, trauma, or other mental health issues, a “trigger” is defined as anything that brings about symptoms. For example, a person struggling with addiction to alcohol may be triggered by being in proximity to someone else drinking alcohol. Someone with a history of trauma from childhood might be triggered by visiting their family.

For those in recovery, identifying triggers is important. We need to know how to manage our wellness when confronted with our triggers. While some triggers can be avoided, others cannot. In fact, using avoidance to deal with all triggers could impede our quality of life.

As an example, let’s think of someone struggling with alcohol abuse, who is triggered by other people drinking. If this person avoids all situations where others may be drinking, they could be missing out on important social events, such as weddings or celebrations. What are some of your triggers?

Warning Signs

“Warning signs” in recovery refer to behaviors, thoughts, and feelings the person in recovery experiences that indicate things are going wrong. Where triggers are typically external factors from the environment or our surroundings that make us feel a certain way, warning signs tend to be internal or things that we do in response to those triggers.

For example, let’s continue thinking of a person recovering from alcohol abuse. Let’s say this person went to a wedding and is surrounded by other wedding guests, who are drinking. This person has developed some coping skills to manage themselves around people drinking; however, they are now finding themselves thinking, “what if I just get one beer?”

They are no longer focused on conversations and socializing, they are only thinking about drinking. These thoughts can be a warning sign, and indicate that some intervention must take place before relapsing. Warning signs can also be behavioral, like approaching the bar at the wedding and asking the bartender about what beers are on tap. What are some warning signs that indicate to you things are not going well?

Dealing with Relapse and Crisis

Relapse is a common fear of those in recovery. After all, relapse is what we are all seeking to avoid. The best approach to avoiding relapse is to use proactive strategies. This includes identifying triggers and developing coping skills to manage our behavior when triggered.

Proactive strategies also include understanding our own warning signs and how to recognize when we are in danger of losing control. While in recovery, many of us participate in therapy and group sessions to discuss our behavior and to get feedback from others.

The feedback we get might help us identify these triggers and warning signs. Recovery, however, is a process, and sometimes triggers come up outside of our awareness and we find ourselves relapsing. Sometimes, the coping skills we have used in the past are no longer effective.

Typically, when we are in relapse or a crisis, we need our support network to help us out. We may need other people to be cognizant of the changes in ourselves that mean things are going wrong. To help your support network know when you are struggling, take some time to describe yourself when things are NOT going well.

Think about it, write it down, and share it with your support network. Taking the time to reflect on your triggers, warning signs, and relapse signs will help you prepare for the unexpected. Letting those supporting you know what you look like when things are going wrong will let them know when they may need to step in to keep you from spiraling.

As you graduate from recovery programs, you may find new things that trigger you or different behaviors that indicate things are going wrong. Remember that recovery is a process and not a destination! As you learn more about yourself and your symptoms, periodically re-evaluate your triggers and your warning signs.

The things triggering you today may not even impact you in the future. New challenges may come up as you continue to grow. Engage in the life-long learning process of recovery to manage triggers and avoid relapse.

Are you currently struggling in your recovery and finding that your coping skills are not as effective as they once were? Are you facing changes in life that could put you at risk of relapse? Sometimes, during our recovery journey, as we move forward in life, we face new challenges, which might trigger our past behaviors and feelings. While we cannot completely avoid being triggered, we can continue to identify our triggers and warning signs to build our repertoire of preventative coping skills to avoid a crisis. If you find yourself struggling right now with addiction and trauma symptoms, reach out for help! You may benefit from a supportive environment to learn new skills to manage your symptoms. The Kimberly Center offers a program with various approaches to recovery in a safe and healthy environment. Call us today at (855) 452-3683 for more information on our comprehensive recovery program.

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