Triggers: Excuse or Reason?

Recovery is a precarious thing. There are as many experiences of recovery as there are people who have attempted it. Though no two are ever exactly alike, there are indeed similarities between them.

While some people may build a strong foundation and go on to do amazing things, others will have a tougher time. Each step of them way for them may be hard, with situations that, at times, bring them to the brink of relapse. We often refer to these situations as ‘triggers’. But what is a trigger, exactly? Is it a reason for relapse or an excuse for behavior?

What is a Trigger?


The exact term relapse means: “to fall or slide back into a former state.” In terms of sobriety, this means that a chronic alcohol or drug abuser has gone back to abuse after a period of being sober. A trigger, then, is a situation or event that leads the individual to a state where they are able to justify the behavior of going back to picking up drugs or alcohol again. So this begs the question, is a trigger an excuse or a reason for relapse?

Is a Trigger an Excuse or a Reason?


You may often hear that addicts or alcoholics are not at fault, that they are victims of a disease and cannot control their behavior. In some cases, there is an amount of truth to this. I didn’t know why I behaved the way I did, why I made the choices I did or why I felt the way I felt. Yet I also did not know there was a solution all along.

While a trigger may be a culminating event or situation that inevitably leads to a relapse, a relapse is still a choice. I know should I go out (God forbid), that it would have been my decision. I know that I did not take the necessary action to curb my thoughts and feelings and change my perspective enough to remember why I decided to stop using in the first place. Ultimately, I am powerless over drugs and alcohol. I know that when I start, I cannot stop and that my life will become unmanageable. I know exactly how it will end should I decide to use again and that is reason enough for me to not put myself into situations where triggers are a possibility and relapse is an inevitability.

Relapse and Step One


Personally, I do not have experience with relapse. I was fortunate enough to be put in an environment where I was forced to take a look at my behavior for such a long period of time that I reached a full understanding of step one–in time. Yet there are many people in 12 step programs that did not have the opportunity I was given and, inherently, their experience of step one was much different. Some come into sobriety knowing they are alcoholics or drug addicts before ever opening a recovery book or attending a meeting. Others come in with a lot of denial, much like I did.

Whatever the case may be, if they are armed with information about themselves and their disease or not, many of them go out for the same reason. They are not done. I planned on drinking and using again for the better part of a year before I realized I was acting on the same defects and engaging in the same behaviors in sobriety as I was when I was using. I did not have a full understanding of step one and in turn had not conceded to my innermost self that I was an alcoholic and a drug addict.


  • Debbie O-A
    Posted at 10:44h, 08 April Reply

    Very interesting post, Derek. Early in my son’s sobriety, I used to be concerned about any triggers. I believed his sobriety was so fragile, any little thing could shatter it. Over time, I realized not only was his sobriety HIS and not mine (I had my own emotional sobriety to maintain), but he was doing the internal work that was affecting a change within his state of mine. As long as he was continuing to do the work and believed in the work he was doing, he was placing himself on solid ground. Thank you Derek.

    • Derek Free
      Posted at 13:30h, 08 April Reply

      You’re welcome! And thank you for being so supportive of our blog. I can tell at times that my parents are worried too, they still ask me questions about my personal program and how I spend my days. But since I stay close to the New Life House fellowship and attend meetings more often than not, I can tell that it puts their minds at ease!

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