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Handling Triggering Coworkers in Recovery

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Early on in recovery, it can be particularly difficult to work with coworkers who trigger your desire to use addictive substances. Whether the trigger is your coworkers using drugs and alcohol, a lack of support for your sobriety, or behaviors that trigger your emotions, it takes time to learn how to deal with these situations. When you are reentering your normal life after treatment, you often need to adjust many things. This includes how you’ll respond in situations with co-workers. 

Coworker Triggers in Recovery

Investing effort and time into your treatment is a vital first step in recovery. However, it is important to recognize how your environment impacts your recovery as well. When you return to work, you will have to deal with situations and coworkers who can trigger you. This means that some aspect of them and/or their behavior elicits an urge to use drugs or alcohol.

You may or may not have noticed these triggers before treatment. However, as you reenter the office, you are likely to notice how others impact you and your cravings. While there are many ways coworkers can trigger you, below we will explore three common behaviors that are likely to impact your recovery. 

Expecting You to Use With Them

Although you have taken the steps to get treatment and make a change in your life, this does not mean others have. Coworkers who also use drugs or alcohol are likely to expect you to jump right back into the way it was before.

This behavior may be justified by saying it’s not a big deal, or it’s “just one.” However, addiction is a disease that takes effort and time to recover from. Using “one more time” is often a gateway to a return to addictive behaviors. When coworkers expect you to go out and use drugs or alcohol with them, this can cause a moment of pause and has the potential to trigger a relapse. 

Stigmatizing You for Being in Recovery

While it differs in every community, there is commonly a stigma for drug use and addiction. Being sober can lead to judgment from others. Some may say you are not any fun anymore, or you’re bringing them down. Change is challenging and the adjustments you make in your life often result in a wave of reactions from others. Many of these reactions are not positive.

The stigma of being newly sober can be triggering due to the changes in how others treat you. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Other people in your life, coworkers included, will get accustomed to you not drinking or using. What’s more, you may find other relationships in the office that are more nurturing. 

Behaviors That Are Emotionally Triggering

Substance abuse is a common coping behavior to deal with emotions—negative emotions in particular. Learning how to manage them while maintaining sobriety means learning new skills to cope. Everyone knows individuals who create a negative emotional response. While these so-called emotional triggers differ for each individual, it is not uncommon to have contact with a coworker who impacts how you feel.

Learning how to manage these emotionally triggering coworkers is very important in preventing relapse. Bottling up emotions is considered one of the first steps toward relapse. Thus, when someone in the office triggers a deep and likely negative emotional response, it can impact relapse if not addressed. 

Tools for Managing Triggers in Recovery 

Entering a treatment program is the first step to managing triggers in recovery. It is the place where you will learn about the disease of addiction, your own story with addiction, and ways to manage it. Fortunately, multiple tools can help you manage triggering coworkers. 

Learning to Remain Calm

Being calm is important. When you are calm, you are more capable of engaging your frontal cortex, the part of your brain used for critical thinking. This means that you are more likely to consider the consequences of your choices. Keeping calm does not mean ignoring the situation; rather it is how you interact with the situation itself. Methods to help yourself stay calm may include the following:

  • sStepping away from the situation 
  • Taking a few deep breaths
  • Focusing on your breathing, in and out
  • Noticing how you feel in your body

Remaining calm when you’re frustrated is a skill that takes practice. With time, you will find methods that help you feel calm and collected regardless of your frustrations. These calming methods can help you notice urges to use and even help you to notice when you need to find support. 

Getting Help With Triggering Coworkers to Improve Recovery

While in the first stages of recovery, you will learn many skills to deal with coworkers who are triggering for you. You’ll find that getting help with triggers can be vital in maintaining sobriety.

Help can come in many forms. It may include approaching your boss or HR department to talk about coworkers and situations that are problematic for you. The HR department and superiors are there to help you find ways to be better at your job. Helping you to deal with triggering coworkers is part of that.

You may also look for support from peer groups or your mental health professional. A variety of resources exist to help you manage your emotions without relapsing. 

Integrating back into a work environment can be challenging. While in a treatment center, you are surrounded by others who understand your addiction on a very deep level. However, this is often not the case with coworkers. Dealing with triggering coworkers starts in treatment as you learn how to manage your own emotions and deal with situations differently. At Pacific Sands Recovery Center, we offer individualized treatment plans for professionals. You will be surrounded by other working professionals who are like-minded and have likely dealt with similar situations. If you are interested in learning more about our programs and how we can help, call (949) 426-7962 today to speak with our staff. 


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