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What are triggers? And how should we deal with them?

A “trigger’ apart from Roy Roger’s horse, if you are old enough to remember that – a trigger in the context of drinking and trying not to drink – is an event, situation, person, feeling – anything in fact that sets off an urge to drink.

Some common triggers could be

  1. This is a common one. Either daily stress, or an ongoing period of stress – or one of those unforeseen life events that smack us round the head (figuratively speaking) can cause the strongest of us to want to reach for the bottle.


  1. Certain people can drive you to drink. But more likely, social situations, drinking buddies can either knowingly coerce you to drink – or all of that drunken socializing can be a trigger to join in – especially if we can conveniently put out of our minds the inevitable hangover that follows the aforementioned drunken socializing. It may be people online. A certain blogger or social media site.


  1. Certain activities that we associate with drinking can be a ‘trigger”. For me, a big trigger was cooking. Standing in the kitchen, chopping away with a glass of wine on the counter. But it could be book club night, ladies night at the golf club – any activity that you used to do accompanied by booze.


  1. This is a trigger that maybe we don’t really want to acknowledge. After all, it does really present us in a better light if we say “Oh I’m so stressed , that’s why I drink” ….rather than, I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I just got drunk in front of Netflix.But, facing your truth is a big part of this – I’ll go first – BOREDOM was a HUGE trigger for me. Being left alone in the house, for a day or two – big ‘ol solo wine fest for Jackie.
  1. Fake booze. I was a wine drinker, so I’ve found that non-alcoholic beer was a great help at the beginning, and now I’ve found a really nice one that I drink regularly. This may not work for you.


The first thing you need to know about triggers is this:

“All triggers are created equal”. And although certain triggers may cause a more powerful urge to drink than others – there are no triggers that are “better” than others, or that give you ‘special dispensation”. And the consequences are exactly the same – a hangover and self- loathing.

The second thing you need to know about triggers is this:

The response to triggers is “learned behaviour”. We were not born with an urge to drink every time we are faced with an afternoon’s ironing, or we have an argument with a co-worker. We have LEARNED to do this. And the best part? Everything that we learn can be “unlearned”.

If you want to read an really useful book about HABIT , which talks all about triggers – except that he calls them ‘cues” – Charles Duhigg wrote one  called ‘The Power of Habit”. I recommend it.

My tips – apart from reading that book are as follows:

  1. Know your triggers. Be truthful with yourself, even if the triggers don’t seem “worthy”. Like boredom. This doesn’t mean hours of justification for drinking – treat it as a science experiment here – don’t be judgmental. Just be truthful.
  2. Once you have a list of triggers – you need an alternative list of ways to respond to them. And this gets tricky. You will need to have a sober toolbox of distractions – but this is where the hard choices and heavy lifting comes in.

If one of your triggers is book club – then you have to decide how to deal with that – and it might mean not going to book club, or finding another one that involves tea and biscuits. My trigger was cooking.  So I only cooked stuff that needed minimal preparation, or my husband cooked.  These choices won’t be easy. If you find yourself getting resentful or having an internal debate with yourself – well, it’s your choice.

  1. Plan and organize. If you can’t avoid going to that trigger social event – have a strategy in place. If you have time on your hands, have a project ready, if you start to hear the wine witch whisper in your ear. If you are feeling resentful that everyone else’s beverages are special – look up some mocktail recipes.


The main cause of failure is not trying. That sounds harsh I know, but regularly I get emails from people who have relapsed, and I ask them about the event that triggered the relapse, and how they had planned to deal with it, and what went wrong. So often, the answer comes back – I didn’t plan. There was no strategy. And didn’t even look into my sober toolbox.

If you would like some more help with this, check out my Break up and Quit kit 

The Sober Summer Survival Guide

Summer’s here….and the living is easy..
Er, No. It’s not easy. If you are newly sober, or want to be sober, then the words of the song should go..”Summertime…..What Fresh Hell is this?” (except it doesn’t rhyme). Summer brings all it’s own special brand of torture – Boozy BBQ’s, visits from the Mother-in-law, All Inclusive ‘retreats” to Cabo…..not to forget that little Jimmy and Janey are home for an entire six weeks…..

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