One of the greatest fears for many former alcoholics is the fear of relapse. A person can be alcohol free for years – yet the danger of relapse is always there. Fortunately, the understanding of what leads to relapses, and how they fit into overall recovery, is better understood than it once was. There are methods to help prevent relapses, and ways to recover from relapses when they do occur.
Part of Recovery
Humans have struggled with alcohol for a long time – likely as long as they have been producing it. Some people develop a dependency on it, and it can be a struggle to recover from that dependency. Even in the 1840s, there are records of organizations trying to assist alcoholics in their recovery, and with the struggles of living in a society that naturally encourages drinking.
For all this time, relapse has been a situation to be avoided at all costs. This makes sense, because relapse starts up the cycle of dependency again, and it can feel as though all progress has been lost. However, in the past twenty years or so, the medical community has finally come to grasp that relapse is part of the recovery process.
Studies indicate that more than 50 percent of recovering alcoholics relapse at some point in their recovery. This demonstrates what the medical community has finally come to terms with – relapse happens, and it must be taken into account in the recovery process.
To Be Avoided
This is not to say that relapse is something that one should take lightly. Relapse is one of the most difficult things for a person in recovery to deal with, and coming back to the recovery process afterwards can be a monumental struggle. However, it is important to deal with reality if one wants to achieve real and permanent progress. Relapse is to be avoided, but it does happen sometimes. When it does, it is best to get back to the recovery process as soon as possible.
An alcohol relapse will often take a long time to develop. Most people assume that it is a spur of the moment decision – one moment they are sober, the next they have a beer in their hand. But in reality, it is often a series of events that culminate in taking another drink. An emotional or a mental trigger typically begins the buildup.
When a person is upset emotionally, it can start them down the path to relapse. It may be a small thing, such as an offhand comment by another person. Or it could be something much larger, like relationship problems or the death of a loved one. The emotional symptoms that follow such events are important to watch, because they indicate problem areas that must be dealt with to avoid a future relapse.
A former alcoholic can deal with relapses most easily when they are caught early on. Feelings of uneasiness, anxiety, anger or frustration – all of these are cues that one needs to relax and slow down. One should take time to analyze the situation and to seek outside help if necessary.
Support groups are helpful in this area, because they can often provide objective assistance. Sometimes a person has every right to be upset, but he or she still does not need to start drinking again. Having someone to talk to, someone who has been there before can be useful in addressing emotional issues that often lead to relapses.
The mind is a powerful tool, both for good and ill. For some former alcoholics, the mind, when left unchecked, can lead down the road to relapse. Luckily, a person can also use the mind to avoid this.
When alcoholics find themselves contemplating the good ole days, when they had fun drinking with their friends and enjoyed their drinks without any guilt, they are treading dangerous ground. It is very easy to start justifying drinking when one only focuses on what was good about the situation.
When a person finds him or her self in this mental state, it is important to get things in check, because the next step in such a thought process is usually to get a drink. It may take weeks of thinking this way, but eventually a person will succumb to their mind.
A good way to deal with this situation is to use the mind to fully play out each scenario. Drinking situations in the past had consequences, and those consequences were often unpleasant. By thinking the situation all the way through, from fun to feeling terrible the next day to the damage done to work and relationships, a person can short-circuit the urge to drink. It will not seem nearly as appealing when one considers the likely outcome.
The Social Circle
Former alcoholics do best when they avoid the relationships that enabled their negative behavior. This particular method to avoid relapse is often one of the hardest to practice, but it is also one of the most effective. Even the strongest will can be worn down over time, and maintaining regular contact with other heavy drinkers can often result in a relapse.
Breaking off friendships can be difficult and frightening. It can take blunt honesty at times to end a long-standing friendship, and it can be painful as well. The recovering alcoholic may have known these friends for years or even decades. There is also often a fear of being unable to make new friends.
Developing new friendships is not always easy, but it is a necessary part of recovery. When relapse threatens, it is important for those in recovery to have someone to talk to. It is also important to feel valued, and friendship does that in a way few other things can.
Developing a new social circle is important for former alcoholics. It may not always be easy, and it may take some time and determination. This is one area where support groups can prove so valuable for those in the recovery community.
The Support Group
Whether a person chooses a 12-step program, a recovering alcoholics program, or any other type of support group, the benefits are tremendous in preventing relapse. Ongoing interaction with those in a similar situation has proven to be a powerful way to both prevent and recover from relapses.
Many of the precursors to a relapse, such as the mental and emotional ones listed above, can be dealt with effectively in a support group. The recovering alcoholic can discuss what is happening, and can gain knowledgeable and supportive feedback. This aids in perspective, and perspective is important when avoiding relapses. It is also valuable to face regular exposure to the realities of the illness. It is much harder for a former alcoholic to get lost in nostalgia if he or she is hearing weekly about others’ struggles with abuse.
An Ongoing Battle
All of these methods for avoiding relapses are worth practicing for any former alcoholic. However, it is also worth remembering that even when one does not win the battle, he or she can still win the war. If a relapse does occur, one should get back in recovery as soon as possible. Relapses do happen – it is how one deals with the aftermath that is most important.