Diminishing the Power and Persistence of Addiction Triggers

By Wendi Friesen CHT 07/21/16

Steve quit his 13-year cocaine addiction in just the first hypnotherapy session, realizing that his brain felt like it just flipped the switch.

Diminishing the Power and Persistence of Triggers
Lock the triggers.

The environment plays a critical role in maintaining addictive behaviors, and the list of “people, places and things” that can serve as cues or triggers for relapse is really infinite. Normally we might expect the power of such triggers to diminish over time, but they can be extremely long-lasting for some people in recovery. Hypnotherapist Wendi Friesen describes her work with clients, designed to change the relationship between triggers and the brain…Richard Juman, PsyD

New Study About Relapse - Alcoholic individuals may form stronger memory associations with alcohol-related environmental stimuli. (From the Research Society on Alcoholism.)


We know how the brain works with the struggle with relapse. Drugs and drinking create hardwired responses that associate drugs and alcohol with pleasure, specifically the rapid release of dopamine. Cravings happen as a result of the brain being triggered when a person sees, smells, or is reminded of the drugs/alcohol. Maybe they are driving by their favorite liquor store or seeing wine bottles in the grocery aisle, or watching a TV show where people are doing drugs or drinking. The brain finds the most powerful and reinforced pathway to fire up the response, and you are flooded with a massive craving.

IS RELAPSE INEVITABLE? This study states: "Drug-cue associations can have a powerful influence over individuals with drug and alcohol use disorders, often leading to relapse in those attempting to stay abstinent." 

WIRED FOR GOOD? Hypnotherapists change the way the brain is triggered. Change the associations made in the brain, and you instantly feel different. While this new study is good news for giving more credibility for the use of hypnosis for Addiction Freedom, it does not address the most important issue. How do we change the response to environmental triggers to help stop people from relapsing?


Brain science tells us that if you fire it you wire it, meaning that every action, thought, emotional reaction or, in the case of addiction, the dopamine release causes the neural networks to grow and strengthen the connection to the result. With an addictive substance, that result is the release of dopamine, the pleasure response in the brain. 

Repetition creates a super highway of neural networks that connect to the massive need to get more of this response, since the sight, sound, smell or memory automatically forces the brain to want and need this result. 

This is still not groundbreaking news. Everyone with a habit, addiction or compulsive behavior knows that they are being triggered by their environment and their memories. The real problem with addiction relapse is making the triggers stop affecting us. And that is where the addiction battle is lost, even in those with a massive commitment, multiple months in rehab and severe consequences for relapsing. 

DERAILING THE BRAIN'S TRIGGERS Ask any addict. Quitting might be hard, but that is not the hardest part. Staying quit is the real struggle. Addicts know it is due to the triggers, and the only relapse prevention they get in AA is being told to stay away from the people and things that trigger them. The brain is constantly seeking the deep need for pleasure that it knows it can get instantly from a drink or drugs. An addict tries to have great willpower while struggling with the deep issues of guilt, anger, loss, punishment and failure. Addicts quit all the time. They relapse because their brain continues to be triggered, and their subconscious mind sends massive messages to the brain and body, seeking the most immediate solution. That solution is to get a fix, fast. 

NEW TRIGGERS? What if the response to the trigger in the brain can be changed? 

It can take years to make it happen through normal repetition. And even then, it might not stop. As one of the expert speakers at a 12-step meeting stated to his eager audience, "Even after 20 years of being sober, I still have to struggle to make it 'til midnight. I am still white-knuckling it every day."

AHA! He has been continually reinforcing those triggers to need alcohol due to his environmental associations. And since he never changed his beliefs about addiction, or his identity about being a struggling alcoholic, he is continuing to get cravings. While the triggers are flying through his brain, he thinks only of needing a drink. To make the triggers even more powerful, he reinforces the brain's pathways by speaking about his problem for years to AA and 12-step groups, and describing it in great detail! Twenty years seems like a long time for these associations to stay stuck in the brain, when the triggers really should lessen over time. Unless, like him, you do something to re-live it and reinforce it frequently. 

THE ANSWER? When I do hypnotherapy with clients, we intentionally start rewiring the brain's triggers. The addict rarely has a positive resourceful state to work with. The goal is to make the sight, smell, memories, situations and associations all trigger a new, powerful state of mind. This new state is anchored into the brain's neurology. When a person encounters the trigger, the brain is now forced to react in an entirely new way. Intentionally bypassing the connection that created the cravings, the brain is connecting instead with the powerful new belief that is stored in the brain and body. Suddenly the person is flooded with beliefs about being powerful, free, strong and healthy.

IS IT REALLY THAT EASY? Hypnotherapy can make it seem easy. The skills, training and methods used by hypnotherapists can vary, but the basic concept works fast. A hypnotherapist will release and resolve the negative states that drive an addict to relapse. Next, the addict is put into powerful, positive states using the Addiction Freedom method and Future Time Line therapy. While in this future, you create an identity of a person who does not use or need drugs or alcohol. In this new identity they are no longer an addict, no longer powerless, and no longer struggling. Taking the client into several of these future states, experiencing massive confidence, freedom and strength creates the new wiring in the brain's neural networks that eliminates the relapse triggers. 

DOES IT WORK? Studies like this one continue to support my success in the last 20 years with thousands of clients. My client Jennifer says she does her happy dance in the grocery aisle full of wine bottles. Seeing them makes her feel strong, powerful and free. After decades of alcohol abuse, with no hope of getting sober, Ken became a triathlete and found that his new belief and identity drove him to become the strong, powerful man he experienced in his future time line. 

Steve quit his 13-year cocaine addiction in just the first hypnotherapy session, realizing that his brain felt like it just flipped the switch. 

When George quit drinking, even though it had only been two months, he had a powerful revelation. His friend bought him a glass of whisky at the bar, not knowing that George had quit two months earlier. His well meaning friend waved it under George's nose. The smell triggered just what he expected—the strength, freedom and power of being free from alcohol. No cravings! Instead, it triggered the deep knowledge of who George is and what he now believes about himself. He told me that the smell of his favorite whisky triggered his freedom from alcohol. He instantly felt his conviction and identity as a man who has no need for alcohol. He said the whiff of that whisky actually did trigger him. It triggered his belief that he is powerful, strong, health, and free. 

Wendi Friesen is founder of The Addiction Project, training therapists, coaches, counselors and treatment centers to use The Addiction Freedom method, a proven and powerful way to stop the struggle and prevent relapse. www.theaddictionproject.com 

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Wendi Friesen is a hypnotherapist and founder of The Addiction Project,  an organization that trainsn therapists, coaches, counselors and treatment centers in the use The Addiction Freedom method to help addicts stop the struggle and prevent relapse. You can find Wendi on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.