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Triggers and Cravings: Understanding the Cycle that Leads to Urges

Triggers and Cravings: Understanding the Cycle that Leads to Urges

By understanding the cycle that leads up to feeling urges and recognizing patterns, you can catch yourself and reject the urge. Find out how in this article from Confidant Health.

There is a cycle of thinking attached to urges. By understanding that cycle and recognizing patterns, you can catch yourself and reject the urge. 

Triggers to Use 

The first step in the cycle is a trigger. Triggers can be social, environmental, or emotional.

External triggers involve things that remind you of certain behaviors. They might include people, places, or an item like a needle or a pipe that you associate with the act.

Internal triggers are feelings. They can be negative feelings like loneliness, anger, or sadness. They can also be positive like happiness, passion, or excitement -- even boredom can be a trigger. 

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Craving and Fantasy

Once you've encountered a trigger, you start to crave. You may fantasize about the behavior. In many cases, the fantasy is more exciting and pleasurable than the act.


After the trigger, craving, and fantasy, you feel the urge to use.

Distorted Thinking

Once you have the urge, you might engage in distorted thinking to help justify it. For example, you might think: 

  • I need to smoke weed after work to relax.
  • I’m no fun if I don’t snort cocaine before going out. 
  • I’m too old to stop drinking.
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Seemingly Unimportant Decisions and High-Risk Situations

At this point in the cycle, you start making small decisions that seem unimportant but put you in a high-risk situation. For instance, you could walk by a liquor store on the way back from work. You could decide to go to a friend's house who you know probably has drugs.  


Finally, you evaluate whether you should take the drug. However, you've already close to giving in to it. 

If you know what to look for and recognize the stages in the cycle, you can take steps to control the urge. You can learn to avoid triggers or realize your fantasies aren't likely to be completely accurate. The earlier in the cycle, you can stop yourself, the better. 

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

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