Coping with triggers

A friend who you used to get high with calls and suggests you meet up. A colleague who was once a supplier tells you he’s just got a new prescription. You’re crossing town and your route takes you past your ex-dealer’s place. You’ve had a fight with your partner. It’s Friday, and you’ve got the whole weekend ahead of you… Sometimes it feels like the whole world is trying to make you use.

A “trigger” is anything that starts a craving for an opioid. It’s a very personal thing. For many people it will be an emotion, like feeling anxious, stressed, or bored. It could also be a place, like a bar, club, or someone’s house; or a time, like a Saturday night or a holiday weekend. People can be triggers too; perhaps it’s a person you used to use opioids with, or someone who causes one of your trigger emotions. Some people even find that certain sounds or smells are triggers. The important thing is to recognize your triggers. It can help to write them down and then work out a practical plan for how to deal with them.

Understanding your triggers

Try to think of the situations that lead to your triggers and work out ways to manage them as much as possible.

You may want to plan activities to avoid boredom, keep your workload under control, or talk to your family about avoiding stressful conversation topics. If certain people act as triggers for you, you may have to accept that you can’t see them for a while.


“Treat yourself when you are feeling stressed. I like to go out for coffee or breakfast – that’s a treat for me and helps lower my stress levels.”

Personal experience

“The key to dealing with triggers is to plan, plan, and then plan some more. Don’t get caught out. You always need to be prepared.”

Personal experience

Managing your cravings

Sometimes you can’t avoid your triggers and will experience cravings.

Craving an opioid can be an overwhelming feeling, but it will pass. It has been compared to a wave that builds to a peak and then gradually falls away again. The trick is to find the ways that work best for you to manage cravings when they happen.

You may find it helpful to do something to distract yourself until the craving passes. For some people, it’s watching television, reading a book, surfing the internet, writing a blog, phoning a friend/support person, or playing a video game. For others, exercise works best. Some people feel they need to “ride it out” or focus on setting timers, knowing that the craving will pass. If you are on medication this should help to keep your cravings under control but, if you continue to have cravings, talk to your doctor because your treatment plan may need adjusting.


“It’s important to have a couple of things that you know will work to help you get past a craving – have the Level 1 things you do, and then if that doesn’t work, go to the Level 2 and then to the Level 3 things you do. What I do depends on my spiritual condition and level of willingness at that moment.”

Personal experience

“Sometimes I’ll think of a fun memory or a good time from when I was using, and then it’s so easy to start romancing it, thinking I can do drugs again, just once… but I have to make myself remember how bad it got. Before you know it, you’ve talked yourself out of it.”

Personal experience

“When you’re dealing with a craving, be thankful and think of the good things that you have right at that moment. You can say, ‘Ok I really feel bad right now and I’m having a big craving but it could be worse. At least I have a roof over my head, have 10 bucks in my pocket, have a job, or whatever it is.’ Use this to center yourself.”

Personal experience

“Cravings can lead to panic-like anxiety. When I get to a panic level of anxiety or stress, I tell myself, ‘Just take it 15 minutes at a time.’ During a panic attack, you don’t really have a sense of time passing and the attack can seem never-ending. In reality, it usually lasts for only a few minutes. The body cannot sustain the intensity of the panic state for very long and will move to balance itself and relieve the panic feeling. Just wait 15 minutes and reassess the situation and see if you still want to give into the craving. And then after that 15 minutes, do it again.”

Personal experience

Know your triggers.

Keep track of your triggers, cravings, and mood by


Downloading these trackers


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