The New Social Network: managing triggers and connecting online in early recovery.

-Kelsey Crowe, LCSW, LCAS, CCS

Identifying and managing triggers is an important part of overcoming addiction. A trigger can be anything that starts the process for a person going back to use alcohol or drugs after they stop. This can sometimes include people, places, things, or even feelings. Trigger management includes avoiding certain friends or family, places, and events that are strongly connected to alcohol and drug use. Triggers often prompt cravings, which can start a cycle that is difficult to stop without support. Triggers are highly personal and unique to individuals. Once a person identifies their triggers, usually with the help of a therapist or sponsor, they can begin to make a plan for how to handle them. It is common in early recovery for something as simple as bumping into a using friend or passing a bar they frequented can leave those in recovery in a place of vulnerability. In learning how to manage triggers, it is important to have a plan in place. Unfortunately, all triggers cannot be avoided.

In the last ten years, technology has added an additional layer of complication for people in early recovery learning to manage triggers. Most people rely on cell phones or laptops to complete day-to-day tasks at home and work. Cell phones hold a significant amount of information and history that can be difficult to avoid. Cell phones store photos, music, messages, and access to a person’s entire social network in one place. In just a few swipes, we can connect with almost anyone in the world. It can be particularly damaging for those who have entered recovery by way of residential treatment and do not have access to their phones during that process. Having support in accessing social media, photos, and contacts can be a critical factor in early recovery.

Consider evaluating each of the following areas for possible triggers:

  • Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other profile based social media applications.

  • Photos located on the cell phone or in a cloud based storage.

  • Contacts for dealers, using friends, or anyone not supportive to recovery.

  • Messages that may recall difficult emotions.

  • Dating applications that were used for seeking out drug or alcohol use.

Many applications provide the option to “block” specific people, preventing either party from interacting on social media. It is also possible to delete accounts and profiles permanently, which may be a better choice for those wanting to make more of a permanent change. These decisions are personal and should be made with the support and guidance of a therapist or sponsor. It may make sense to change a cell phone number permanently to create more of a boundary with previous contacts.

Social networking sites can also be an asset to people in recovery. The nature of social networking makes it available to a recovering person 24/7, and there are recovery-specific applications and websites available. Some sites offer the ability to create a profile, chat, and connect with others in recovery. These sites allow people to post as much or as little information about a person as they feel comfortable with in an effort to preserve anonymity. Most sites include resources and recovery tools. These applications can be installed on a person’s phone for easy access and can replace many of the applications that could be considered triggers. In addition to social media applications, there are numerous applications that allow you to find meetings and connect with others in recovery around you. Some applications allow connection to an online 12 Step meeting. These applications utilize location services to show you meetings that are close by and beginning soon. There are goal setting applications that are specifically geared towards recovery and meditation applications to help manage stress or anxiety. These serve as excellent replacements for social media applications that are no longer in service of the recovery lifestyle.

Social media and our ever evolving technology present new challenges for those in recovery. Social media applications that were once a potential pitfall can be replaced by applications that are recovery oriented. The ability to connect with others who have similar experiences and struggles is a key part of addiction recovery. Connection and support from others has been proven to enhance recovery. With insight and support in identifying triggers in technology, those in recovery can manage this new terrain. In conjunction with managing your presence online, it is important to remember the importance of continuing to make connections in person with those in your community.

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