If you’ve been exposed to trauma, there might be things you can no longer do because they bring up bad memories and feelings. There might be random triggers that make you feel angry, irritated, or out of control and you don’t know why. What you might want to consider is how these triggers might be connected to your past trauma. In the past, it is likely that you turned to alcohol and other drugs as a way to self-medicate your symptoms. Now that you are in recovery, you must identify and overcome these triggers as a way to prevent future relapses.

A trauma trigger is something that reminds you of past trauma. It may contribute to intense flashbacks, feelings of irritability, or overwhelming fears. This article discusses trauma triggers, how to identify them, and how to develop self-regulation strategies to avoid relapsing in the future.

When You Can’t Understand Your Reactions

Nearly all of us have experienced trauma at some point in our lives. Trauma often causes unconscious, conditioned responses to develop within us. There might be things that make you feel upset, overwhelmed, afraid, or angry, even if they aren’t directly related to a specific traumatic event in your past. This reaction is called a “trauma response.” Some trauma triggers are more obvious than others, such as being in a similar environment where you may have endured trauma in your past. Other triggers are not as conscious or obvious.

Think back to a time when you felt ashamed of your reaction to something. You may have been in a situation where you were told that you overreacted. There might have been an argument you had with a loved one, and afterward, you find yourself questioning why you reacted the way you did or you feel as if you reacted that way for no reason. This can feel frustrating. However, you have to acknowledge that your response was probably automatic. If you sometimes feel like your responses are controlling your behavior, rather than vice versa, you may be experiencing a recurrent trauma response.

Trauma Triggers and Trauma Responses

When a person experiences a traumatic event, or a series of traumatic events, and isn’t able to process it, it’s possible for them to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Telling symptoms of PTSD include avoiding people, places, and things that remind the person of the traumatic event or experiencing a conditioned trauma response. Most people recognize trauma responses through elements associated with the body’s stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight mode. Still, there are many different ways a person can respond when something reminds them of trauma, including freeze, fawn, and flood.

Trauma triggers cause trauma responses. Triggers are stimuli that elicit a certain reaction. Examples of less-obvious trauma triggers may include scents, sounds, and tastes, as well as times of day or time of year. Triggers can also be emotional feelings. For example, if you felt trapped, unheard, or less important during your trauma, experiences that make you feel inferior could trigger a trauma response. Feeling safe can also be a trigger to some, as conscious safety could make a person feel vulnerable or at risk of re-experiencing a trauma again.

Trauma Responses and Substance Use

Responding to a trigger can make you feel out of control or filled with shame. Sometimes when a person feels these emotions, they avoid them by turning to substance use or using substances in an attempt to lessen the intensity of these uncomfortable emotions. This can become a slippery slope as it can make an individual more vulnerable to developing an addiction. Rather than noticing your feelings and dealing with them at the present moment, you learn to become chemically dependent on substance use to cope. Ignoring your triggers can be dangerous, especially if you are in early recovery. This is because you might be exposed to triggers that remind you of a difficult event from your past, causing you to return to your substance-using habits.

How to Identify Your Trauma Triggers

Think back to a particular time when you felt like your response was unwarranted. You might feel ashamed or silly because of your response, but recognize that your brain wanted you to respond the way that you did by means of securing physical and psychological safety.

Think about the particular incident. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What was going on during that time?
  • What were people saying or doing?
  • What sensations were you feeling?
  • What did that particular sensation remind you of?
  • How did those sensations make you feel?
  • Can you connect these back to a specific trauma or difficult moment in your life?

In the Future

Learning to identify and overcome triggers is a lifelong process. Once you become aware of old triggers and do your best to override trauma responses, you can have a greater awareness of how you react to future triggers. Remember that reflecting on past trauma or working to overcome it can be uncomfortable and overwhelming at times. Fortunately, there are mental health professionals who specialize in trauma-informed care that can support you through treatment and recovery. For co-occurring substance use and trauma-related conditions, such as PTSD, it is essential to know that recovery is possible.

Learning how to heal from the effects of trauma is an essential part of the recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) and other mental health disorders. Many people that struggle with substance use initially turned to alcohol and other drugs as a way to self-medicate lingering symptoms of trauma. When trauma triggers are not addressed, and coping skills are not utilized, individuals in recovery are more likely to relapse. Bella Monte Recovery Center understands the significant role that trauma plays in the development of substance use and mental health disorders. We incorporate trauma-informed treatment into our recovery program. We know how valuable learning how to manage and overcome trauma triggers, and associated responses can be for your recovery. Our facility offers a wide range of treatment services for individuals seeking recovery. To learn more about how to identify and overcome trauma triggers, call us today at (800) 974-1938.