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The Three States of Responding To Triggers

We are most familiar with the two states of anxiety, or responding to a trigger and a threat we perceive as dangerous: fight or flight. Most people aren’t aware of a third state, which makes the entire experience more accurately described as: fight, flight, or freeze. We can think of a deer as an example. Deer are known for freezing in the headlights of a car, where we get the term “a deer caught in the headlights” from. It would seem illogical for a deer not to immediately dart away from the unnatural light and approaching vehicle. Sometimes deer do run. When approached in other situations, deer also fight. At other times, deer just freeze. Humans do the same thing.

The choice we make in a moment of perceived threat isn’t simple and isn’t always logical. Recovering addicts and alcoholics who encounter a temptation or a trigger to drink and use demonstrate this best. Addiction is a disease that overtakes the brain’s ability to make good decisions. Coupled with the adrenaline-rushing experience of fight, flight, or freeze, the ability to make a healthy and normal decision is additionally compromised. Handed a drug or a drink, there could be a simple fight, by saying “no”, a flight, by running away, or a “freeze” which could include standing there, holding the substance, unsure of whether to say yes or no.

Neuroscience indicates that the answer isn’t always clear because of how the brain over-analyzes every single detail of the circumstances. Addiction runs deep, finding many different reasons to use or not to use. Recovery practices which change the neural pathways of the brain aim to rewire old programming in order to send a stronger signal toward not using drugs and alcohol instead of using. Still, the repetitive experiences, emotional recall, habit, trauma, abuse, emotional triggers, environmental triggers, and many other factors can come into play all at once- clouding the mind while adrenaline and cortisol go rushing through the body, demanding a decision. Under the pressure, there can be a shutdown, which often leads to the decision to relapse. With a longer amount of time in recovery, there is a developed strength in finding the breath as a center, cooling off the stress hormones coming in hot, and making a more rational decision.


Living sober offers a whole new world of experience. If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain control of their lives under the influence of drugs and alcohol, there is help. Enlightened Solutions offers a compassionate environment of healing and growth to men and women seeking recovery. Our harmonious blend of clinical, holistic, alternative, and 12 step therapies create healing for mind, body, and spirit, no matter the personal circumstance. For information on our partial care programs, call us today: 833-801-5483

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