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How to Prevent an Alcohol Relapse Before it Happens

One cruel fact about alcohol addiction and recovery is that the threat of relapse is persistent, and the triggers seem omnipresent. 

Threats can come from within and without, like a pleasurable memory enhanced by the presence of alcohol or the sight of an old drinking buddy. You could get tempted to consume just by being at a really fun party. 

No one is immune.

For the budding alcoholic/addict in recovery, relapse is all too often a nanosecond away. Even for the well-seasoned soul who has practiced a clean and sober lifestyle for many years, relapse may be in a deep dormant sleep but can be aroused with a touch of a feather, states a Psychology Today post.

If this sounds familiar and alcohol cravings are tearing away at you, read on to learn some useful strategies about preventing an alcohol relapse before it happens.  

How Relapse Happens

Craving is a central feature of alcohol relapse. There is some debate about where drug or alcohol cravings originate. Is it caused by internal or external stimuli?

These cravings tend to manifest in these ways: 

Euphoric Recall/Appetitive Urges: These are the external and internal triggers that evoke memories of alcohol-induced euphoria, which set off urges that are similar to hunger. These urges also are associated with the discomfort of withdrawal, which also produces alcohol cravings.   

Other studies have found that exposure to alcohol, without consumption, can stimulate a salivary response in alcoholics, states Verywell Mind.  

High-Risk Situations: Situations that induce feelings of frustration and anger, social pressure, and interpersonal temptation lead to relapse. 

Why Relapse Happens

Relapse is a common feature of recovery. When it comes to substance abuse disorders (SUDs), the percentage of patients who relapse ranges from 40 to 60 percent. It’s because addiction profoundly impacts the brain.

In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines drug addiction as a chronic, relapsing disorder marked by compulsive drug seeking and continued use despite harmful consequences. 

It is a definition that is applicable to alcohol addiction because, like drugs, it has this remarkable ability to inflict adverse, long-lasting changes on the brain. Yet, what makes alcohol so devastating is its unparalleled ability to inflict damage on virtually every system of the body, including the digestive, cardiovascular, central nervous, and endocrine systems.   

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Here’s What You Can Do: 5 Relapse Prevention Strategies 

Because alcohol relapse is an everpresent threat, it is prudent to be proactive to prevent relapse from happening. 

PsychCentral outlines prevention strategies you can employ to minimize relapse threats:

The call of temptation is a natural and unavoidable part of any addiction, whether that is alcohol or triple chocolate cake. In all seriousness, for people who grapple with alcohol addictions, it is best to avoid places where alcohol may be consumed, places that trigger thoughts of drinking, and those old friends you used to get smashed with. If you have been invited to activities where you know alcohol will be consumed, it might be a good idea to avoid them. As for the bars, nightclubs, and sports bars where drinking is often celebrated, it may be helpful to avoid those places as well. If there are old songs that served as the soundtrack music to your drinking days, delete those and get some new tunes. If you had type 2 diabetes and were under strict dietary restrictions, would going into a candy store really help?

You probably heard that old saying about “birds of a feather always flocking together” from parents and grade school teachers. Well, it became an old saying because it is true. You must be careful with the company you keep. This especially applies to your sobriety and social circles. When you’re in recovery, it is best to surround yourself with people who endorse your substance-free lifestyle and do not engage in drug or alcohol abuse either, states PsychCentral. It is also vital that you sever all ties with unhealthy people and unhealthy relationships that contribute nothing to your wellbeing. You may have to change your cell number, block or delete the numbers of negative influencers, and “unfriend” or block them across social media platforms. Such measures may be extreme, but your health and sobriety are that important.

Idle hands are the devil’s tools. It’s another old saying with a great deal of import in the world of addiction and recovery. Establishing a healthy, daily routine can effectively eliminate the idle time that leads to boredom. Boredom can make you vulnerable to cravings. This is painfully true when you are newly recovered. So, it is crucial that while you are in recovery, especially early recovery, your daily schedule is filled with scheduled treatments, meetings, daily obligations and responsibilities, and leisure time. When you build a schedule like this, you are creating a routine that facilitates meaningful recovery and snuffs out that idle time that could lead to relapse. The best part is that you are adopting a practice that is an important life skill.

Complacency is often what leads people to relapse. Many people start out their recovery as highly motivated individuals. They start by regularly continuing their aftercare or 12-step treatment program. They even develop a support network and make strides in their recovery, but eventually, their enthusiasm and motivation wane over time. Staying in treatment and attending meetings do not have to go on forever. Everyone has to find what recovery program works for him or her. However, when you find what does work for you, stick with it and continue to make it work, states PsychCentral.  If you feel that complacency seeping in, it is best to identify what can be improved in your recovery plan. This will help you stay engaged in the process.

Relapse is a feature of the recovery process. Relapse may bring about feelings of shame, guilt, and anger. Those feelings are normal. It is not good to remain in those feelings because they can disrupt your recovery.

Get back up on that horse: Reach out to others and seek help. Begin working your recovery program again. Process the events and emotions that led to relapse so that they are not repeated. By processing these situations, you can learn from your mistakes, states PsychCentral.

Here’s Another Tip

Learn to relax. Addiction is cunning and relentless, and the cravings are equally tenacious. In spite of all that, it is important to learn how to relax in the face of it. You can incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily life by engaging in meditation, yoga, or some other relaxing activity. Devoting 10 to 15 minutes of your day to relaxation activities can help you remain grounded even in the midst of cravings. 

Why Professional Treatment Is Necessary

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are dangerous and can typically begin eight hours after your last drink. The symptoms can peak in 24 to 72 hours and last for weeks.

A severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens or DTs can present life-threatening grand mal seizures and other distressing symptoms such as hallucinations, severe confusion, fever, and agitation. 

People who relapse and continue drinking can also heighten their risk for a number of ruinous health complications, including cirrhosis of the liver, stroke, and pancreatitis.

Woman being consoled by her friend

Alcohol consumption is also tied to cancers of the head and neck, liver, breast, esophagus, and colon. So professional addiction treatment that provides access to intensive therapy and counseling is essential. Why? Because detoxification alone does not address those underlying causes of addiction. 

How Professional Addiction Treatment Can Help You 

If you have relapsed, a professional treatment program can help you by removing the alcohol from your body through medical detoxification, which physically stabilizes you. The critical psychological aspects of your addiction are addressed through the counseling and therapy you receive in a residential treatment program. It is at this stage that you can receive the type of therapy and education that helps you identify the underlying causes of your addiction and equips you with strategies to avoid relapse.

You can continue treatment in an outpatient program, which provides therapy and counseling that allows you to continue living your daily life.
After your treatment is completed, you can get connected to a supportive recovery community like a 12-step program. A community such as this can also help you avoid relapse.

Sources

Alcohol withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm

Alcohol's Effects on the Body. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-use-addiction-basics

Verywell Mind. (n.d.). Alcoholics Can Prevent Cravings and Avoid a Relapse. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/alcohol-relapse-and-craving-67897

White, D. M. (2018, July 08). 5 Ways to Avoid Addiction Relapse. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/5-ways-to-avoid-addiction-relapse/

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