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Triggers and Cravings

What Are Common Triggers for Drinking?

December 12, 2022
9 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
December 12, 2022
9 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
December 12, 2022
9 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
December 12, 2022
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
December 12, 2022
9 min read

It happened again. You’re at a party for a coworker and the next thing you know, you’re 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 … Why is alcohol socially acceptable?

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

What are triggers in addiction? 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 our triggers.

There is no right way to drink

If we’re trying to cut back on our drinking, paying attention to our 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 us and stick with it.

Triggers for alcoholics come in three parts:

Understanding the Multifaceted Triggers for Drinking

External stimulus

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

It’s important to realize that we cannot change ourself via sheer force of will. Change must come from outside ourself, and by making small changes in our environment, we can create lasting changes in our 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 groundbreaking experiment, Alan Marlatt, an American-Canadian psychologist, demonstrated how our expectations and experiences of drinking determine our response to alcohol.

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

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

Why we should understand the three different types of alcohol 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, we may have learned to drink when we’re feeling anxious because it helps us relax. Understanding the three different types of triggers can help us manage our drinking and avoid situations in which we might drink more than we want to.

Alcohol relapse and triggers for drinking

It’s especially important to understand how triggers work if we’ve already stopped drinking for a period of time and are worried about having a relapse — a return to drinking after a period of abstinence. What are the risks of alcohol relapse drinking? Drinking after being sober for a while can be especially dangerous for those whose drinking patterns reached the levels of alcohol misuse. In those cases, going back to alcohol suddenly can be a shock to the system. There’s a tendency to “pick up where we left off,” but if our tolerance has decreased, alcohol poisoning becomes a dangerously real possibility. 

And what are some relapse drinking triggers? There can be many, but most tend to fall into the three categories we discussed above. Let’s look at some ways we can avoid alcohol relapse — and learn to deal with triggers in general.

Dealing with alcohol triggers

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

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

Learning different approaches for dealing with triggers to drink can help us control our urge to drink and make better choices about when and how much we drink.

Summing Up

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

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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