Emotional Triggers: Anticipate, Identify, Counteract

When it comes to emotional sobriety, AA emphasizes the importance of understanding your emotional triggers. Emotional sobriety is the ability to cope with your emotions in a healthy way rather than turning to alcohol or other drugs to numb, mute or express them. In order to reach this crucial step in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) journey, you must first identify your emotional triggers, then plan for how you will deal with such situations productively.

Identify Your Triggers

Emotional sobriety is all about being able to experience your emotions without running away from them. This is challenging for anyone, but especially for individuals recovering from alcohol or drug use disorders. Some emotions are painful, overwhelming and downright unpleasant. It’s natural to want to run away from those feelings, but it’s also unhealthy to do so. To begin identifying your triggers, think about past times when you’ve run from certain situations and turned to drugs or alcohol for escape. Some people find it helpful to talk through this stage of emotional sobriety with a counselor or therapist. A mental health professional may be able to identify patterns that you cannot (or don’t want to) see in yourself. It may also be beneficial to journal. Start by writing down any situation you can think of in which you found yourself getting emotional and turning to an addiction. Begin to look for patterns in your behavior. For example, some people are triggered by confrontation, such as getting into a fight with a loved one or even anticipating a fight or disappointment. Others are triggered by anger, grief, feelings of loneliness or social anxiety. Every person is different so you must spend time understanding yourself to identify your unique emotional triggers.

Anticipate Challenging Situations

Once you’ve identified which emotions are challenging for you to experience, consider when you are most likely to experience these emotions again. For example, if you find that you used to turn to alcohol when you were triggered by feelings of grief, you can begin to plan for such situations and set up new ways of coping with that emotion. Make sure to consider every aspect of your life, including relationships, work responsibilities, school, daily routines and life goals that you want to accomplish. Make a list of the times when you feel you might encounter your emotional trigger. It’s better to plan for something that never happens than to be in a difficult situation without a plan to protect your sobriety.

Counteract Past Habits With Healthy Choices

Now that you know when you’re most likely to be triggered, you can begin to put together a list of healthy coping strategies to use in tough situations. For example, if you are triggered by loneliness, you can turn to an AA sponsor, close friend, neighbor or even social media to help counteract your loneliness and avoid relapse. If you are triggered by more unpredictable emotions such as confrontation, anger or sadness, consider meditation and breathing techniques to help you in the moment. A counselor or therapist can work with you to help you identify more coping skills to use to counteract your specific emotional triggers. In order to protect your emotional sobriety, AA teaches you to recognize your weaknesses and turn to a higher power to gain control over them. This includes identifying emotional triggers that may weaken your resilience so that you can protect your sobriety. Sources Association for Psychological Science. (2011). The Nuts and Bolts of Emotional Sobriety. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/were-only-human/the-nuts-and-bolts-of-emotional-sobriety.html#.WG_297YrIkg Conyers, B. (2013). The Recovering Heart: Emotional Sobriety for Women. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing. Mathieu, I. (2011). What is emotional sobriety? https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-sobriety/201107/what-is-emotional-sobriety  

Scroll to Top