By Eric Dean JD, MBA, MA, MA, LPC, CADC

In the first part of this series, I laid out some common triggers for those in recovery from substance abuse. In this post, I will describe some additional triggers and explain the differences and relationships between internal and external triggers. Another acronym for triggers is BIRD: BIRD stands for:

Bored: Feeling bored is common in early recovery. Getting alcohol, using alcohol, and recovering from the effects of alcohol was a full-time job. Now that you are no longer drinking you may have a lot of free time on your hands. Idle and unstructured time is typically a risk factor for those in early recovery. To combat boredom, try to inject some novelty into your daily routine – watch a show you wouldn’t normally watch, eat somewhere you have never been before, read an article from a publication that is outside your primary area of interest, or even lay down in the opposite direction on your couch than you are accustomed to. In addition, having some structure to your day could help – plan to meet a friend for coffee, keep up with appointments, clean your living space.

Irritable: Irritability is associated with feeling nervous or agitated. You probably can recognize when you are irritable by noticing that, even trivial issues seem to upset, frustrate, or bother you.  One way to combat irritability is by doing guided breathing exercises – focus on your breath and not what is making you frustrated. Another possibility is to be of service to others. By helping someone else, we can take our mind off our own issues. 

Restless: When are feeling restless, we are more likely to think about drinking. Restlessness is a form of anxiety plus boredom. It is kind of like having excess energy and lacking a channel through which to process it. One way to manage restlessness is to do physical exercise which reduces cortisol (stress hormone) and epinephrine (adrenaline). Even doing a few pushups or taking a walk can go a long way toward assuaging the feeling of being on edge.

Discontented: Feeling discontented is like being unhappy or unsatisfied. This is a common feeling during early recovery when the brain is low on certain neurotransmitters due to chronic substance abuse. To combat this feeling, remind yourself that the body does repair itself and people in recovery do feel better the farther they get from their last use. If you take good care of yourself, you will feel better sooner. Related to this emotion is anhedonia, which is basically an inability to experience pleasure in activities that once brought you joy. For example, many people in early recovery have trouble finding joy in playing sports, which is something they used find pleasurable. 

The four triggers listed above are internal triggers, or emotions, as opposed to external triggers such as smells, places, or news articles. Keep in mind, that internal triggers and external triggers are closely related. For example, I may feel discontented (internal trigger) because someone posted a picture of themselves drinking on Facebook (external trigger). In this situation, an external trigger, or stimulus, caused an internal trigger, or feeling. Since the external trigger preceded the internal trigger, a strategy may be to first address what caused the internal trigger, which in this case is a Facebook post. Perhaps, this individual would be better off avoiding Facebook during early recovery and focus on other activities and hobbies. We cannot avoid all internal triggers though, so learning coping skills to manage these emotions is essential to a happy and healthy life. Work with your therapist to identify the emotions you experience and what you can do about regulating them. We are here to help! Give Symmetry Counseling a call today, or reach out to us for online counseling in Chicago.