Relapse is a very common situation among recovering alcoholics. While a relapse can be prevented, it does require the individual with the addiction to be attentive and proactive so that they can avoid temptations and triggers to the best of their ability. Of course, it is not possible to avoid them all, but with care an individual will be able to take steps to make the right decision when confronted by a potential trigger.
During alcoholism recovery, cravings are an expected occurrence which are more usual than not. In early recovery, cravings can pop into a person’s consciousness out of nowhere. Although cravings do not have to necessarily lead to relapse. Join us as we explore some of the reasons cravings occur and how to work through them to avoid relapse with the right support.
Cravings can occur seemingly out of nowhere but urges to drink do not spell relapse. Sometimes cravings happen in a person’s sleep such as dreams about drinking which feel vivid and realistic. A person may even smell or taste alcohol. The important thing to remember is cravings are just a natural part of recovery; the body’s way of working through the transition after addiction.
Cravings can occur early in recovery or long after a person goes through withdrawal. A life event or situation can bring back memories of how drinking made a person feel.
Triggers to consume alcohol can happen anytime, some of the more common triggers for relapse among those in recovery include:
Exposure to Alcohol
- Being exposed to even a small amount of alcohol is enough to trigger a relapse. Exposure can be a very powerful trigger; even if it was unknowing, like through food cooked with alcohol. Or if the individual feels they have been sober for a long time and can therefore have just one drink, it will almost certainly trigger a relapse.
- Often people, places and activities that an individual associated with drinking or having fun while drinking can be compelling triggers. Such a trigger also includes social pressure to drink again. Environmental triggers are very hard to avoid and successful recovery should consist of training to make the right decisions when faced with these triggers.
- Stressful events can be a trigger, and many turn to alcohol abuse as a course of action to battle those stressful feelings. It is not possible for life to be completely stress free, so it is important to find ways to cope with strain without resorting to drinking.
Some other common relapse triggers include:
- Connection to people, places or situations associated with the drinking habit
- Stopping drinking (part of alcohol withdrawal)
- Seeking escape from unpleasant feelings (depression, anxiety, etc.)
- Mood enhancements (elevated mood, sense of happiness when drinking, etc.)
- Hunger, anger, loneliness and feeling tired can trigger cravings
Coping Strategies and Recovery Options
Alcohol relapse is a very real threat for individuals in recovery, and there are many treatment options available to help.
Learning how to cope when these cravings occur is a process which takes time.
While it may not happen overnight, it is possible to work towards feeling less triggered and likely to experience cravings.
The following are our tips for how to avoid craving another drink during recovery:
- Avoid anything which triggers the urge to drink. People, places, social situations or other activities may trigger alcohol cravings. Changing one’s social and private life may be required along with moving away from a certain area and giving up old activities to start fresh.
Practice Saying ‘No’
- In social situations, a person who does not know you may be in recovery might offer you a drink but it is on the addict to say ‘no’. Practice being firm, yet polite by turning down the drink (without offending).
- Methods of distraction can switch a person’s attention away from cravings and towards more pleasant thoughts. Going for a walk, practicing meditation or doing a hobby can be positive distractions and effective means for curbing cravings.
- Finding a trusted individual to share thoughts and feelings can be helpful. Speak with a therapist, sponsor, counselor or supportive family member for the support you need. Learn to relax feelings of tension or anger which are common triggers for cravings. Learning to stay calm can lower anxiety and feelings of desire to drink.
- Medications for alcohol addiction recovery works in tandem with a holistic treatment program which provides psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral support and more. It can train the individual’s mind and body to identify alcohol’s harmful effects, and break any positive association with it. Acamprosate, Disulfiram and Naltrexone are common drugs approved by the FDA in the United States for treatment of alcohol dependence and cravings.
12 Step Programs
- Alcoholics Anonymous is a renowned 12 step program which provides assistance for individuals who want to recover from their alcohol dependence. It is an anonymous structured program which offers support and encouragement. Members are encouraged to go through each step slowly, one after the other, and not attempt them all at once. The program also has a sponsor element to it, whereby long time members can sponsor new members. A sponsor must have finished the 12 steps and been sober for a long period of time.
- Therapy can help teach the necessary skills to avoid relapsing. It is a proactive step, which helps the individual learn how to respond to environmental and stress based triggers. Therapy is also useful when an individual has had a single slip and does not want to slide into a full relapse, as well as deal with any feelings of shame and guilt.
Recovery is hard work but you don’t have to do it alone. If you or a loved one are struggling with sobriety, there is hope. The Villa provides individualized treatment plans focused on the whole person. Recovery is possible. Call us to find out how we can help you achieve your goals.