Stay the Course: How to Cope with Your Triggers

If you’re working on changing your relationship to alcohol, it’s essential to identify your triggers - both the internal and external cues that, for whatever reason, make you feel the need to drink.

Triggers are wide and varied, unique to each individual. They can include:

External Triggers - people, places, things, and times of day

●   Peers or family members who drink

●   The drive home from work

●   Dinnertime or putting your kids to bed

Internal Triggers - negative and positive emotional and physical states

●   Stress

●   Physical pain or headaches

●   Celebrations

The decision to drink can feel automatic, but by becoming aware of your unique triggers you can develop a strategy to manage each one so you can stay on track. What’s your plan?

For many people, the easiest way to manage a trigger is to avoid it. Avoidance is much easier with external triggers since they can usually be predicted. This might mean changing aspects of your daily routine, such as intentionally taking a different route home to not pass by your local watering hole, or changing relationships in your personal life, like avoiding that friend who always wants to go out for drinks.

But there are some triggers you can’t avoid, whether it’s because it isn’t practical or it might not be what you want. In this case, it’s important to be prepared.  

Beforehand:

Practice saying no: Surprisingly, saying “no” is not as easy as it sounds. This means that practicing your “no” is key. Check out our blog post on this effective and accessible technique that will help you navigate interactions with others. Work with your Annum Coach for tips on how to make saying no easier.

Plan your drink: Your goal may be to not drink wine, but what will you be drinking? If it’s dinnertime that tends to be challenging for you, be sure to have a jug of water or another beverage on the table. If you’re stuck at a workplace happy hour, ask the bartender to fill your glass with soda water.

Commit to your limits: As we always say, if you’re moderating your drinking, commit to limits.  And spend time visualizing how you’ll feel at the end of this triggering event when you successfully stick to your established drink limit.  It’ll help you stay committed in the moment.

During:

Distract yourself: The more you focus on drinking, the more powerful the urge becomes. Instead, proactively shift your focus away from these thoughts. Distractions are particularly helpful if they are engaging and require focus, like cooking, entertaining a young family member, or playing a complex board or card game.

Delay a drink: Don’t give into the urge to drink as soon as it strikes. Commit to delaying the decision to drink for 15 minutes. Instead of fighting the urge to drink, acknowledge that urges are temporary and ride it out. You might find the urge will pass.

Pull back: “Zoom out” and look at the big picture.  Know the urge to drink will pass. Truly believe that while the urge to drink given your trigger feels powerful, it won’t feel this way tomorrow or even in a matter of hours. Remind yourself of your goals and the overall pros and cons of drinking.

Repeat your coping statements: Coping statements should be simple, direct, powerful and true. Have them on your phone or a piece of paper for easy access. Make it specific to you, i.e. “I’ve gotten through strong urges in the past, I can do it again”

Finally:

Know your exit strategy. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that exiting means running away. Leaving the scene is a great coping tool to manage triggering situations. Determine your exit in advance, such as ordering a ride from your favorite car service app, taking public transportation, or having a close friend on call to give you a ride. Knowing how you will leave will help alleviate your anxiety.

If being alone is one of your triggers: Make plans to be around other people. While it’s not possible to make social plans every day of the week, give yourself a variety of options, perhaps going to the gym, a café or the movie theater. Even connecting with people online can help.

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