In recovery, you probably heard very early that you should avoid high-risk situations, or you could find yourself in a position where your cravings consume you. Something as simple as going to a favorite bar with old friends can tragically undo months of recovery work. Perhaps you thought you were past your addiction; you even assigned yourself the designated driver. Now, you’re knee-deep in drinks.
Knowing to avoid high-risk situations can certainly help you refrain from having a relapse, but what about other triggers you never thought of? They do exist and will work against your recovery efforts if you don’t prepare for them. In recovery circles, we call them HALT.
What is HALT?
There are four particular triggers that can sneak up on you. Really, they are not triggers that affect everyone. However, those dealing with addiction are more vulnerable because when these triggers occur, they typically fall back to their addiction to carry them through.
Halt stands for:
At this point, you might not see the connection, but think to the times you were overly hungry, angry, lonely or tired. The body and mind are in sync. The brain sends signals to the brain, and the brain reacts to dispositions of the body. When you are overly hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, your defenses are low and you could be more prone to start entertaining how good a drink or cocaine may taste. When you are under the influence of a substance, hunger, loneliness and fatigue seem to not matter. Depending on the substance, your anger can be relieved. Or, it could be heightened—you never know.
For example, let’s say that you’ve been a bit tired lately so you haven’t been hanging out with anyone. You’ve just been going to work and then going home. You’ve opted out of support meetings and perhaps cancelled your counseling appointment. You’re not in bad shape, but you are feeling a bit blasé.
After about a week you start feeling lonely. You’ve isolated yourself and now you are in a high-risk situation of being tired and lonely. This being the case, you could be more apt to entertaining thoughts of doing substances again and actually picking it up. You have not recognized the HALT triggers or, if you have, you just haven’t done anything about it.
Stop Triggers in Their Tracks: Pay Close Attention
In order to avoid high-risk triggers that may cause you to use again, make a preventative plan now! Take some time to really think about the things that make you feel hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Write them down in a journal—and be specific. Remember specific times you were hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. How did you feel in that moment? Think of the build up.
You can best avoid triggers by writing when you feel the triggers and then revisiting your journal daily to consciously remind yourself of what those triggers are and when they usually arise. Preparation is key. If you are focused on your triggers, you’ll be more aware and better prepared to stop them when they come.
For example, if you tend to get overly hungry at 3 p.m. and this brings on irritability, make a decision to bring a snack to work every day and eat at least an hour before. This will keep you from getting overly hungry and cranky, two stressors or triggers you know feed into your addiction.
Also, if staying up until the wee hours of the morning watching television causes you to be extremely fatigued and irritable during the day, make a decision to cut the television off at a reasonable hour. In general, our bodies need about 8 hours a day to function properly.
When it comes to loneliness, make a commitment to regularly get together with people who care about your well-being or simply understand the difference between loneliness and being alone. You can also hit up a 12-Step meeting regularly and connect with others who are on the road to recovery.
Recognizing HALT signs will certainly increase your chances of staying sober and helps you feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically. If you find that you’re struggling with recovery on your own, returning to rehab or getting help for the first time can strengthen your commitment.