How to Help Clients Effectively Defuse Craving Triggers

By Guy du Plessis, MA

An important tool for individuals in substance abuse recovery is learning to manage high-risk situations (external or internal situations that cause cravings) and its accompanied triggers. Each high-risk situation has one or several potential triggers. From a mind-body bridging perspective a trigger is a specific event or thought that activates a “requirement” (rules of how oneself, others and world should be), and consequently resulting in an overactive “I-System”.

A premise of mind-body bridging is that all activities related to addition are a result of an overactive I-System. The I-System is an operative process in the mind-body that regulates and maintains the integrity of our self-identity. Self-identity is given phenomenological continuity by requirements. When others or the world fails to live up to these requirements, the cohesiveness of the self-identity is threatened, and painful affect states result. The I-System reacts in turn to counteract painful affect states to maintain the homeostasis of self-identity.

Any event or thought is a trigger if, and only if, that event or thought violates a requirement. Every coin has two sides, and even when flipped, it’s still the same coin. Triggers and requirements are the opposite sides of the same coin. From a mind-body bridging perspective, it’s not the event, thought, or someone else’s behavior that activates the I-System; rather, it’s a requirement that has been violated about that event, thought, or behavior. Let’s look at the following example:

Jeremy was a thirty-six-year-old recovering cocaine addict. When he got home after work, he and his wife would often get into arguments. These arguments were more common when he had a stressful day at work, which would often lead him to experience intense emotional distress and cravings. He discussed this issue with his therapist, who suggested mind-body bridging techniques. Jeremy began to realize that there were certain triggers that set him off when he came home to his wife. One of these triggers was his wife’s tone of voice when she asked him to do something around the house. He saw that this triggered a requirement: “My wife should not use that tone of voice.” After realizing it was not his wife’s tone of voice that upset him and made him angry, but his unmet requirement about how she should talk, the arguments decreased. It shocked him to realize that small bits of his wife’s behavior (tone of voice, critical gaze, use of words) had such a great impact on him. By recognizing his requirements for her behavior, they became closer than even before.

As therapists, we can help our clients to see that life is full of events that upset them and cause cravings, and when they can recognize the requirements associated with these events, they will be less vulnerable to exaggerated emotional responses. We can help them see that when someone’s action toward them activates a very strong emotional response, it helps to ask, “What was the trigger that made me respond in this way?” Then next, look for your hidden requirements that go with each trigger action.

This article is based on the mind-body bridging techniques outlined in Mind-Body Workbook for Addiction. The mind-body bridging substance abuse program (MBBSAP), as outlined in Mind-Body Workbook for Addiction, is certified as an evidence-based intervention by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and listed on the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs (NREPP). For more information, visit

Guy du Plessis, MA, is a faculty mentor in the School of Behavioral Sciences at California Southern University, faculty member at the Wayne Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy at Bellarmine University, and a board-certified counselor. He has worked in addiction treatment for over 15 years as a counselor, head of treatment, program and clinical director, and researcher. He is author of the book An Integral Guide to Recovery, coauthor of The Mind-Body Workbook for Addiction, and developer of the Integrated Recovery Program.

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