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[ Opinion ]

The Most Overused Term In Addiction Treatment


It’s possibly the most overused and misunderstood term in the addiction treatment industry. You’ll hear it used on an hourly basis in rehab, both by patient and therapist. The word i speak about is “trigger”.

A trigger is something that causes someone to think about and/or want to use their drug of choice (e.g. alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling; etc.). I’ve worked in many different addiction treatment centers and I often hear clients uttering the word “trigger” after hearing or seeing something that may remind them of the life they are trying to get away from. There was one client who said they were “triggered” by the term “silver spoon” when listening to the song Cat’s in the cradle”. Another client was “triggered” by the all the snow in the animated movie Frozen.

Plainly put, a “trigger” is something “triggers” an unhealthy reaction. I don’t like to use the word “trigger” I prefer the term “stinking thinking”. “Stinking thinking” is returning to an unhealthy way of thinking that can lead to former toxic behaviors. When dealing with addiction one must first learn that it’s not a drugging or drinking problem but a thinking problem. Prior to entering recovery, I couldn’t handle life on life’s terms and self-medicated to deal with the restlessness this inability caused. A speaker I just heard had a great metaphor: It was like everyone but myself had been given an instruction manual on how to live life. I was trying to live my life without direction and thought the feeling of relief that alcohol/drugs gave me was the manual or solution I needed to life’s ills. It would take several years for me to realize that I had found a false solution.

Twelve-step recovery is all about facing life and not hiding away. I had hidden away for far too long. I hid from problems and feelings. With the tools I learned through the directions found in the Basic Text of Alcoholics Anonymous I could return to the world. I became, “happy, joyous and free” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1939). Don’t get me wrong those of us who follow a 12 Step program do not throw caution to the wind. I don’t just sit at a bar for no reason but am not afraid to go to one if I have a legitimate reason. What allows me to do this is that A – as a result of completing the 12 Steps and working them into my life I have lost the obsession to drink or drug. But as the Big Book tells us, this loss of obsessions is only, “…a daily reprieve based on my spiritual maintenance. And B – I have learned what to do when stinking thinking pops into my head.

Telling people to be wary of the triggers sounds good but, for me, at one time just waking up was a trigger. I remember in the first treatment centre I attended I was given a test called IDTS (Inventory of Drug Taking Situations). It’s supposed to let you know which areas of life are triggers for you and thus what you should stay away from. I scored over 90 per cent which basically meant everything triggered me. This is true for most alcoholic/addicts. If I believed the results of the test, then I would have to lock myself up from the world. Thank God I don’t have to do that. Saying that, there were some things I avoided when I first got into recovery as I was vulnerable to relapse. As previously stated I didn’t go hang out in bars. I chose to hang out with people who were also in recovery. The biggest thing, which may be the closest thing to a “trigger”, was I couldn’t listen to certain songs for a couple of years. When I listened to songs of my youth it would cause the part of addiction that tricks me into thinking I’m not an addict to come up – I would remember the fun times I had drinking and drugging forgetting the terrible consequences. Today I have no problem listening to any song that I want.

I’m a firm believer of not censoring what clients watch on TV or talk about in treatment (not including glorification of drug use). If something is going to cause “stinking thinking” or “trigger” someone then isn’t a treatment centre the best place of that to happen rather than that person experiencing this for the first time without support?