How to avoid relapse

I RECEIVED many requests to discuss alcohol abuse and how to avoid relapse during the holidays. I commonly receive these requests during the holiday season as we can easily succumb to temptation or even spiral out of control.

Many individuals who have identified a personal pattern of alcohol and drug abuse behaviour choose to remain completely drug-free/ abstinent. This is very difficult to maintain on a regular day, let alone during the holiday season.

If you are in this position, you are definitely not alone and I’m going to share some tips on how you can remain sober and keep your feelings of self-worth intact (as this is typically lost during a relapse).

There are many reasons why a relapse may occur, but there are many possible universal triggers. The most common cause of relapse is withdrawal, which is the physical or mental detox of the drug; a process that can last a few days, weeks, or months. This means, if you are new to sobriety, there is a higher chance of a relapse. However, it does not have to be that way, so please do not become discouraged. One is also more likely to relapse if they do not develop new and healthy coping skills, practise good self-care or consistently work on their relationships.

Completely detoxing from alcohol can be the easy part with the harder one being living a life without alcohol, especially if it was a part of your daily life.
The best and most successful form of treatment for alcohol abuse covers a variety of options, such as medication, personal counselling, and support groups.

If you are even one day off of alcohol, you are taking a huge step forward. For now, these are the steps and little tips that can help you to remain abstinent.
First and most important, be consistent with your treatment. If you are taking medication, continue to; if you are going to counselling, continue to go. If you are going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA meetings), make time for them every week. The biggest mistake people make is to discontinue their treatment the moment they start to feel better or stronger when they feel that way due to the treatment. If you attended (or are planning to attend) the AA meetings, they have some factors that tremendously help with avoiding relapse. Some people work the 12-step programme and others get a sponsor – which is someone you can reach out to if you feel you may be on the verge of a relapse. These people have been through the programme themselves, so they are completely relatable.

Accept that you will have cravings. Don’t fight them, but rather distract yourself with healthy coping. If you don’t give in, the average urge will pass in 15-30 minutes. Don’t panic when this happens – it’s normal and does not mean you cannot do it or that the urges will never go away.

Continue to avoid high-risk situations and triggers. These are different for everyone and can be people, places, or things. The main trigger will be the drug itself, so you shouldn’t keep any in the house or workspace. However, remember that these are just external triggers. Internal triggers are the thoughts that may lead you to participate in alcohol and drug use. Examples are ‘I will never stop, so I may as well continue to drink’ or ‘it will only be one drink today.’ However, don’t try and push out these thoughts. Play them through in a realistic way and use them to your advantage. For example, if you think, ‘it will only be one drink’ – play that thought through until the next day.

You may give in and have the one drink, which will lead to more. You will then possibly have too many and wake up the next day regretting your decision. Then you may think that you are hopeless and can never stop so you will continue to drink. Play the vicious cycle out in your head.

Continue to practise healthy coping skills. What are you doing when you are angry or sad? When you stop drinking, it will become apparent how much time you spent obtaining, drinking, and recovering from alcohol or other drugs. You are now going to have to find something to fill that time; something that makes you feel fulfilled.

This goes into finding healthy substitutes. This can be just a hobby you can take part in as a distraction; it is hard for us just to give up habits without some sort of substitute.

Live a healthy life. You have already started this the day you decided to stop consuming alcohol or other drugs but one is more likely to remain substance free if they are eating and sleeping well. Have a lot of fruits because alcohol mostly turns into sugar in the body so many cravings you have may just be for sugar. Also, remember that exercise naturally releases all the feel-good chemicals that small amounts of alcohol release in the brain.

Finally, remind yourself every day of the reasons you quit.
I want everyone to understand that it is very difficult to quit substance use. After a few days or weeks of quitting, there are feelings of sadness and even depression. A full range of emotions come out as they are no longer suppressed.

If you have relapsed before, that’s okay as most people do. Just view every relapse as the learning opportunity that it is. You are now aware of another trigger and things to avoid. You can start again and now have a higher chance of success.

There is a famous saying during recovery– “One day at a time” as many find it overwhelming to think about the future when it comes to sobriety. Don’t think about being sober for a year. Rather, just think about getting through the day. Once you have done that, you’re ahead of the game. If even this is too overwhelming, just do one hour at a time; one minute even.

Thanking you for reading. Please keep sending any topics you’d like to talk about to

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