Dismantling the Common Causes of a Relapse
Relapse can be so devastating and tough to understand, and if not halted it can plunge you back to former levels of use in no time and things can quickly spiral out of control. When we relapse, we often over-drink almost as if we are making up for lost time and our drinking appears to be even worse than before we stopped. When we come back out of it, (if we do), we may feel like we have not just gone back to square one, but we have taken a gigantic leap backwards! How could this happen?
Yet, we pushed on thru and decided to get sober again, and that is HUGE!!!
Now the work begins! I would recommend first taking some time to figure out what made you drink in the first place. Understanding your relapse will help you prevent a future one and it will help you build a strategy to do something different. Because the way to avoid a relapse is to learn how to maneuver the triggers that are the causes of our drinking, and then develop a plan for stopping the chain reaction of those triggers.
So what causes a relapse? The simple, but often not clearly understood answer is that we are addicted to alcohol and we have spent many years managing life with the bottle in hand, and putting that bottle down is not as easy as it may seem. We drink because we have developed a dependency on alcohol and we have lost all control when it comes to being able to drink responsibly. We seem to have no defense against the first drink and once taken all bets are off as to how much we drink and when, and if we can stop at all. Once we take a drink it wakes up the disease, and the phenomenon of cravings or the powerful “hunger” for alcohol begins and attacks us with a vengeance. There is also the compulsion – that very powerful and immediate must for a drink! Most often the two combined deliver a very powerful punch that we cannot resist!
Relapse is usually preceded by other problems that make a recovering alcoholic vulnerable. Most relapses among us can occur when we are in a “negative mood,” but I have relapsed in positive mood too, when seemingly nothing was going wrong in my life. Sometimes positive situations can be just as risky. Birthdays, parties, holidays and celebrations can be times when we feel happy and in control – and even might think that we can handle that one drink.
I also think that we often drink at things that then cause us certain emotions, but the reasons are often not clear. I drank because I was tired, I was mad, I was sad, I was happy, because I found love or I lost love. Because I got a promotion or I lost a job. I drank at any change of what I thought should have been my normal emotion. And then sometimes I drank because nothing was going on. In other terms, I just drank.
So what might have lead us astray?
Here are the 4 main reasons that I continued to relapse:
- I did not make sobriety my number one and before anything else. This was a huge open passage to a relapse for me. I did not want recovery to be number one, I wanted it to be something that I was just kind of doing… on the side you know, so no one would really notice. But as my friend finally explained to me – recovery from alcoholism is just like recovering from being sick – you must take the time and care to get better, otherwise you continue to be sick.
- I did not pay attention to my triggers such as hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness (these can be remembered using the acronym HALT). A trigger can be a person, a place, certain types of events, or unresolved psychiatric issues, such as depression or anxiety. The most common triggers are old friends who still abuse substances and significant stressors, such as job or relationship problems. For alcoholics, a trigger might be a bar they used to drink at. Some people in recovery will try to revisit their old haunts without the conscious intention of drinking or using drugs; they will claim they just miss their old friends. This is rarely a good idea in recovery!
- I believed that I could do this all by myself, yep me and my disease, we can conquer it all! Well… that did not work for me either, and today I cannot stress enough the importance of having a support network in recovery. It is the pivotal point that will make your recovery powerful! I know you are thinking, who would want to be my support network and where do I find these people? Well, they are all around us, 12-step meetings, Facebook, In The Rooms, Sober Mommies, and SMART Recovery Web Site! (For a full list of support groups, click Find Recovery Support) I also know of several accountability groups on Facebook, if you would like I will gladly add you in. Most importantly a support network will make you feel like you are never alone as you trudge through all the different stages of recovery.
- I kept my behavior in my little cocoon of secrecy! Yes, the secrecy that is born in our addictions is single-handedly the one piece that has to be dismantled because it will take us out every time! No, this does not mean that you have to shout from the roof tops about getting sober, (it might help if you choose too though,) but, having some group of people that you can connect with and let them know how you are feeling and what you are struggling with, especially in those fuck-its moments when you want to drink – that, will save your life! Holding yourself accountable to someone, anyone, that is not you is super important! And why is that so important? Well, because if you were anything like me when I was in active addiction – if I was “allowed” to do whatever, and no one knew about whatever I was going to do, and I could do it however I wanted to do it, I would do it and do it to the max! So, telling on myself has saved me from drinking many times! A simple text or call to let someone know what you are thinking, will most often be just enough to deter you from picking up a drink! (You can read about how my support network saved me while I was on vacation HERE.)
Most recovering people periodically experience some warning signs of a possible relapse; this is normal. And if you have relapsed and are coming back, please do not beat yourself up. You have made it back and that is HUGE! Now take a little time to understand what might have gone wrong and what you could have done differently, and in what areas of your recovery there may be some room for improvement. Believe me, just a little work will help you stay sober and on the right path to get ready and be prepared for when the next episode of the fuck-its arrives!
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), please click the Find Support link under Recovery Tools for an extensive list of support groups. Also please check out the links to many useful Resources in the sidebar