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Why Do Good Things Sometimes Feel Triggering?

Have you ever had something great happen to you, only to feel more down and even somewhat empty afterward? You may even feel compelled to drink alcohol. You’d think that you would be able to revel in your victory or whatever accomplishment you just experienced, but it doesn’t always work out this way. Sometimes, alcohol triggers can come from positive experiences.

Not only can triggers be incredibly upsetting, but you may wonder why this happens, why you feel this way, and if there’s something wrong with you for experiencing this. While it may not be a great feeling, it might help to know that you’re not alone, and it’s very common. If you can understand why you experience these feelings, it might help you be nicer to yourself and find ways to cope. So why do good things sometimes trigger us?

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What is a Trigger and How Does it Relate to Recovery?

When someone is in recovery and tries to reduce their alcohol consumption, or they try to maintain total abstinence from alcohol, a trigger typically represents any person, place, or event that gives them the urge to drink alcohol.

Triggers are very different from person to person. For one person, seeing their family might be a trigger, while for another, spending time with family might enhance their recovery. Walking past a certain neighborhood could be a trigger if they used to drink there or there are other memories associated with that area that cause them to want to drink alcohol while someone else could walk by that same spot and feel absolutely nothing.

Since triggers are so individualized, it’s vital for everyone in recovery to become aware of their triggers and to learn how to deal with them when they arise. Triggers can be intrusive thoughts, anxiety, stress, or even physical manifestations such as an increased heart rate and sweating. Many people also separate internal triggers from external triggers. This can help us prepare for all possible situations that might lead us to want to drink alcohol. Once we figure out what our triggers are, we can either try to avoid them or try to cope with them if they can’t be avoided.

An internal trigger is typically an emotional trigger—something inside of us that creates cravings or the desire to use alcohol because of certain thoughts, feelings, or emotions that are triggered. Interestingly, it’s not only negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions that can be triggering. It’s very common for good events to act as triggers as well.

External triggers are those events or experiences caused by specific locations or even people we run into that give us the urge to want to drink, like seeing certain old friends, going to someone’s house, smelling an old familiar smell, hearing a song, or a certain time of year.

Good Things That Can Trigger Negative Feelings

It may seem like triggers only relate to native experiences and negative feelings, but this isn’t always the case.

Everyone has different activities they enjoy that can lead to them feeling triggered. For some people, it can be quite confusing when something positive makes them feel triggered. It may seem like triggers only relate to negative experiences and negative feelings, but this isn’t always the case.


Celebrations—like birthdays, holidays, get-togethers, or other parties—can be difficult in sobriety since they often involve alcohol. Even though you’re there celebrating and having a good time, this can still trigger a desire to drink. Many people who struggle with their alcohol consumption and staying sober often consumed alcohol to celebrate in the past. Just because you are sober doesn’t mean these associations just disappear. Recovery will be full of beautiful and amazing times, but it can be hard, even in the good times. Studies have shown that being at a party can increase alcohol cravings. Triggers and cravings often come from social cues around us, so even if we’re experiencing something positive, it can lead us to want to drink.

Positive Events—Promotions, Getting Married, etc.

Any positive event can cause you to feel triggers. It’s so common for people to experience something positive and to drink alcohol as a way to celebrate. When people receive promotions, they want to celebrate, which almost always includes drinking. When someone gets married, people expect everyone to drink alcohol. If you’re at someone else’s wedding especially, it’s very likely that alcohol will be involved. Even though this is a happy time, it can trigger various negative feelings, making it very difficult to maintain sobriety. Even if you’re the one getting married and there’s no alcohol at your event, it can still bring up the urge to drink. We often feel that we’re “supposed” to be doing something—such as drinking at our wedding—and we feel like we’re missing out if we are not doing what is expected. Additionally, alcohol-related stimuli are known to cause alcohol cravings. Simply being in an environment where alcohol is available or sometimes even just hearing glasses clink together can lead to alcohol cravings.

Another complication to positive events is the feeling that we’ve made it this far in our lives and accomplished so many positive things while spending a great deal of our time drinking. Not everyone feels this way, but it’s not unusual. If you were “that bad” when you were drinking, how could you have made it this far in your life and your career?

Going on vacation

Vacation is often a huge trigger for some people, especially if there are a lot of memories of past vacations that involve drinking. What many people who aren’t in recovery don’t realize is that even though drinking brought us a lot of pain, there were also good moments we had while consuming alcohol. Some of these good moments were probably had while on vacation for a lot of people. Anytime you’re somewhere that contextual cues lead you to think about alcohol, it can trigger the desire to drink.

Why Can Good Experiences Trigger Individuals in Recovery?

There are several theories as to why good things can trigger individuals in recovery. One explanation lies in how alcohol addiction occurs in the first place. Many people who find themselves struggling with substance use disorder started drinking for fun and as a way to seek pleasure. At the beginning of this person’s alcohol use, their drinking is largely motivated by the positive effects of alcohol; nothing bad happens, and drinking feels good. Alcohol then interacts with many of the neurotransmitters in their brain, leading them to feel happy or excited when they drink. As a person realizes that alcohol feels good, they continue to drink, which causes them to associate the feeling of drinking with feeling good. When something good happens, then, it makes sense that they’d turn to alcohol as a way to seek a reward and feel even better.

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Managing Triggers

If you find yourself being triggered due to celebrations, vacations, weddings, or any other happy event, the first step is to try and be prepared to feel this way before you attend whatever event or celebration there is. Once you identify what it is that can cause alcohol cravings, then you can ask for help and start managing your triggers. Make sure you go to an event or on a vacation with a friend or family member who knows that you are sober and that you are trying not to drink alcohol and ask them to keep an eye on you. Figure out what they can do to help you and ask for the help; no one can read your mind, so you must be vocal about what you need. If you’re going to an event alone but you know people there and are comfortable talking to them, you should do the same thing. Make sure they know that you aren’t drinking and that you’d like them to help make sure you don’t drink. Ask if they can check in on you every so often throughout the event.

Managing triggers in general

Another way to handle triggers is to avoid them if you don’t feel safe engaging with them.

You have to be aware of your triggers in order to manage them. You can’t help yourself or ask for help if you don’t even know what triggers you. While it can be easier to just avoid everything that makes you want to drink, this may not be the most effective way to handle it. Things are always going to come up, and it’s so important that you learn how to deal with the hard times if you want to stay sober.

Another way to handle triggers is to avoid them if you don’t feel safe engaging with them. If you’re not feeling that you’re strong enough to be around alcohol without giving into temptation, don’t go to the wedding. Don’t go to the party. Don’t go on vacation. Yet. Do what you need to do for YOU. While you might have people who are disappointed in you for failing to attend their party or event, the most important thing you can do is take care of yourself, which means knowing when you can and can’t handle certain situations. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to put yourself in a dangerous situation. You should be proud of yourself for knowing what you need and being willing to take care of yourself.

Prevent Feeling Triggered in the Future

Understanding your triggers is important because without being aware of them, it would be impossible for you to prevent feeling that way in the future. One of the best ways to prevent feeling triggers is to avoid them in the first place. To do this, you must name your triggers. Figure out what makes you want to drink, or what puts you in a bad psychological space that can then cause you to have an urge to drink alcohol. If being around alcohol or going to a bar causes you to want to drink, don’t go.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to avoid triggers. Sometimes our triggers include family and friends that we don’t necessarily feel the need to cut out of our lives. If a trigger can’t be completely avoided, you need to learn how to deal with it. One way to do this is to truly understand it by talking about your triggers with a therapist or in AA meetings. Get advice from other sober people on what to do when you experience a trigger.

Whether you’re sober, trying to reduce your alcohol consumption, or you just have questions, we can help. We understand how difficult recovery can be, even when things are going well. Set yourself up for success by planning. If you’re going to be around alcohol, develop a safety plan before you go. Help is always available, and you deserve it. Contact us today at 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak with a treatment specialist who can help connect you with the treatment you need.

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