6. Triggers, cravings and slip-ups

When you stop using chems, you will likely have to deal with triggers, cravings and slip-ups, especially after prolonged and heavy use. The temptation will be particularly great in the beginning. The blip of an app notification, hearing the phrase “chm fr” (chems-friendly) or feeling momentarily alone—it doesn’t take much to long for chems again. Fortunately, this will diminish naturally over time. There are also things you can do to get through the process better and prevent relapse.


A trigger is something that releases a memory of drug use. That memory often gets you thinking about drugs. Especially in the beginning, such thoughts can lead to intense cravings. If you do not take action, you may be snorting a line, lighting up a pipe, or sticking a needle into your arm before you know it. Remember that the worst cravings usually subside after a few minutes. Experiencing craving does not automatically have to lead to use!




Triggers can be classed as external or internal. External triggers are environmental factors that trigger a memory of use. This could be a certain smell, a dating app notification tone, running into someone you know from sex parties or cycling through the neighbourhood where your regular dealer lives. An internal trigger is something within you that reminds you of using. These are usually emotions. When you are feeling down or sad, you may be tempted to repress those feelings by using. On the other hand, some people feel like using when they are happy; they want to celebrate and reinforce those feelings. Any strong emotion or feeling can be a trigger if it has become linked to using drugs. Horniness can also be a strong trigger.


How do you avoid triggers?

  • Make sure you do not have any drugs in the house.
  • Make sure you cannot receive messages from sex buddies.
  • Make sure you have no idle weekends ahead.

If you find that you are easily triggered, try rearranging your home, listening to new music, walking different routes or shopping somewhere else. This changes your routines and avoids memories of chemsex. You will not be able to avoid ever being triggered again.

Sometimes, you may not be aware that something is a trigger and suddenly find yourself thinking about using. That one thought can quickly lead to more sex and chems-related thoughts, and you can suddenly have huge cravings. Stop your thoughts before you get into a state of craving.


How do you stop your thoughts?


If you are very visually oriented, you can visualise your drug use as a TV programme or a movie in the theatre. Imagine watching yourself using drugs. Then, grab the remote and switch to another programme or movie. For example, visualise a great holiday or someone you love dearly.

Evoking strong emotions

If you feel strong emotions, you can try evoking emotions that do not lead to drug use. By evoking these emotions, thoughts of drug use will fade into the background. Think of something that can make you angry (e.g., politics) or scare you (e.g., spiders or heights).

Physical distraction

A common distraction method is wearing a thick elastic band around the wrist. Whenever you think about using, stretch and release the rubber band to give yourself a pain stimulus. This helps interrupt the thought. If you are at home, squeezing ice cubes for a few minutes can help.

What to do if you still experience cravings?

Being unable to stop the thoughts and feeling strong cravings is annoying and can be frightening. However, if you stick to it and do not give in to it, the craving usually subsides within a few minutes. Keep reminding yourself: craving does not automatically have to lead to use!


Tips & Tricks

Surf your craving

Craving is a lot like a wave. It gets bigger and bigger at first until it reaches a peak and breaks. After that, it rolls out and disappears back into the sea. The same is true of cravings. If you do not take steps toward using, each craving will break and disappear. Imagine surfing on top of the wave of craving instead of being caught up in it. Surf the wave all the way to land, and it slowly disappears back into the sea.

Be honest about your craving, and talk about it!

Many users are embarrassed and try to keep up appearances or keep it to themselves. In secret, your craving will take on a life of its own. You will be amazed at how much relief talking about your craving can bring. Find someone with whom you can be completely honest. This could be a friend, family member or sponsor. It is important that the person listens and does not immediately panic or judge. Try sharing the information on this website with them, especially about triggers, cravings and relapse. Both of you must understand that craving is normal and does not immediately mean you are relapsing.

Tell someone as soon as possible!

Don’t give your feelings of craving time to develop. If you feel craving rising, do not wait but call someone you can talk to about it right away. If you go to NA (narcotics anonymous) or CMA (crystal meth anonymous) meetings, there is usually a list of people you can always call if you are having a hard time.

Attend a support meeting

Do not give your feelings of craving time to develop. If you feel cravings coming on, do not wait; call someone you can talk to about it immediately. If you attend NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or CMA (Crystal Meth Anonymous) meetings, there is usually a list of people you can always call if you are having a hard time. Go to a support meeting Don’t wait until your favourite meeting; go to the next available meeting. If you have never been before, this is the time to start. Listen or share your story. The most important thing is to surround yourself with level-headed people who can support you. If no CMA or NA meeting is scheduled, you can always go to an AA meeting.

Fast-forward your thoughts

Thoughts that lead to craving are usually thoughts of “good” times. You will often remember your first time having sex on chems, having sex with people you found attractive or other intense moments. Force yourself to think about the “bad” times, too. For example, the people you would never have considered having sex with while sober, the frightening psychoses, the terrible comedown, the things you lost and how you felt when you decided enough was enough.


If you feel cravings coming on, intense exercise can provide distraction. Take a brisk walk. Go jogging, swimming or running, or visit the gym. You will find that physical movement also moves your mind.


Quitting chems is a learning process; relapse is often part of that. It is a bit like learning to ride a bike. It involves falling, getting up and moving on again. How you handle slip-ups matters a lot. Stop as soon as possible, do not be too hard on yourself, and learn from your slip-up!  


Get up and move on

Relapsing into drug use can evoke feelings of despondency, shame, guilt or anger. Do not get too caught up in these feelings—they are unproductive. Instead, focus your energy on getting up and moving on again. Take the time to examine what led to your relapse. What can you do differently in the future?


Learning process

When you relapse, you may think everything has been in vain. However, you can also look at it constructively. If you used for one day again after six weeks, that is still five weeks and six days sober—probably much more than in the six weeks before you stopped. It may not be perfect, but it still marks significant progress. You do not lose everything you learned in the process of quitting. You may also find that getting up and moving on again becomes easier and easier. Keep going until you succeed.


Quit again ASAP

It can be tempting to go all out once you have relapsed. Don’t think: now that I have started again, I might as well continue using for a while. The sooner you stop, the easier it is to pick up the thread and turn the slip-up into a learning moment.