It happened again. You’re at a party for a co-worker and the next thing you know, you are oversharing with Judy from Accounting. But you aren’t alone. You look around the party and see others who are glassy-eyed and talking too loudly. You’ve all been triggered somehow…

Have you ever found yourself taking a sip of a drink and not being quite sure how it happened? Somewhere along the line, there was a trigger that caused you to pick up that drink. If you find yourself unconsciously opening a bottle of alcohol, you likely didn’t notice the trigger. But it sparked a sequence of events that led to you taking a drink.

Notice your triggers

Ask yourself simple questions to begin to pay attention to what’s going on when you drink more than you want to. All of us respond to different situations differently. Some circumstances make drinking harder to avoid than others. But starting to notice those situations is the key to understanding your triggers.

There is no right way to drink

If you’re trying to cut back on your drinking, paying attention to your triggers can be helpful. But it’s also important to remember that there is no “right” way to drink – everyone has a different relationship with alcohol, and what works for one person may not work for another. The most important thing is to find what works for you and stick with it.

Triggers come in three parts:

External stimulus

In order to change your drinking habits, it is important to identify the triggers that lead you to drink. External stimuli, such as being in a certain place or being around certain people, can often be the catalyst for drinking more than you want to. By identifying these triggers and avoiding them, you can take control of your drinking and make positive changes.

It is important to realize that you cannot change yourself via sheer force of will. Change must come from outside yourself, and by making small changes in your environment, you can create lasting changes in your drinking habits.

Internal state:

Think about the last time you had a drink. What led up to that point? Chances are, there was something that triggered you to drink. It could have been a stressful day at work, or an argument with a friend. Maybe you were feeling sad or anxious. Whatever the case may be, there was likely an external stimulus that led to your drinking. Triggers can be different for everyone, but they all have one thing in common: they affect us in some way.

Triggers might lead to uncomfortable or unpleasant feelings. Or they might set off an unhelpful train of thought. Either way, a trigger gets to us in some way and leads us to drink. If we want to cut down on our drinking, it’s important to identify our triggers and find other ways to deal with them. Otherwise, we’ll be at the mercy of our triggers and more likely to give in to our cravings.

Learned response

In a ground-breaking experiment, Alan Marlatt, an American-Canadian psychologist, demonstrated how your expectations and experiences of drinking determine your response to alcohol.

You may have learned to use alcohol to deal with the changes in your internal state caused by the external stimulus of your triggers. You drink when triggered because your experience tells you that’s the best way to deal with the situation, so you expect it will work again.

However, one sip doesn’t make it inevitable that you’ll drink the bar dry. Alcohol itself doesn’t lead to loss of control. Your expectations and experiences do. Therefore, if you want to change your relationship with alcohol, you need to change your expectations and experiences. This may require some trial and error, but it is ultimately up to you.

Why you should understand the three different types of triggers

We often think only of the external triggers for drinking, like being at a party or seeing someone else drink. However, triggers can also be internal, like feeling stressed or sad. And finally, triggers can be learned responses to certain situations. For example, you may have learned to drink when you’re feeling anxious because it helps you relax. Understanding the three different types of triggers can help you manage your drinking and avoid situations in which you might drink more than you want to.

How to deal with the three types of triggers

External triggers are often the easiest to avoid. If you know that being around certain people or being in certain places will trigger your urge to drink, then you can simply avoid those situations.

Internal triggers are a bit more difficult to deal with, but there are still some things you can do. If you know that certain emotions will trigger your urge to drink, then try to find other ways to cope with those emotions. And finally, if you have learned to drink in certain situations, then try to find other activities that can provide the same relief or satisfaction.

Learning different approaches to dealing with triggers for drinking can help you control your urge to drink and make better choices about when and how much you drink.


It’s not always easy to avoid triggers for drinking, but with a little effort you can learn to cope with them in healthier ways. If you just want to cut back on your drinking, explore the Reframe app. It is designed specifically to help people deal with their triggers for drinking with a wealth of support and small daily activities. Join the community today!