A Guide to Alcohol Relapse Prevention
Many people can and do complete alcoholism treatment programs and never fall back into alcoholism again. These same people might, however, struggle with their sobriety and they might take a little sip of alcohol when their resolve is low. According to experts writing in the journal American Psychologist, people who slip up are having a “lapse” in their recovery process, and that doesn’t always translate into a complete and total “relapse” to alcoholism. This isn’t an issue of mere linguistics. Instead, it’s an issue that is often driven home to people who are enrolled in a formal treatment program for alcoholism. Here, they learn how to pull together their own relapse prevention programs, so they can maintain a true sobriety for the rest of their lives. These are the attributes that are commonly included in a relapse prevention program like this.
The Relapse Prevention Model
In 1985, researchers developed a model of relapse prevention that’s based on psychological principles. Essentially, the authors suggest that people who relapse are placed in a high-risk situation, and they have two separate paths they can follow in a situation like this.
In one set of steps, people are placed under stress and they:
- Try to cope, but do so ineffectively
- Feel like a failure, or feel as though alcohol is just too powerful to avoid
- Lapse to drinking
- Find drinking somehow soothing
- Are likely to drink again
Alternately, these same people could be placed in a high-risk situation, and they could use an effective coping skill to deal with that issue. Since they’ve resolved the problem, they may feel more self-reliant and secure in sobriety, and they may be less likely to drink in the future as a result.
The path to either mastery or relapse could be the same for two different people, but the way those two people define a “high-risk situation” could be quite different, as could be the skills they’d have to use in order to deal with that stimulus. It’s the goal of a relapse prevention program to identify those issues for each client, and provide those clients with the appropriate skills they can use when they’re in this predicament.
High emotional states are common triggers for relapse, and according to research in the journal Alcohol Research and Health, the brain releases many of the same chemicals in response to alcohol that it needs when it’s experiencing a deep emotion. For example, people under stress may feel deeply nervous and alert, and their brain cells may know that a boost of alcohol can bring about a deep sense of relaxation. When formerly addicted people are under stress, their bodies may call out for booze at deep, subconscious levels. The cravings could persist for days, and they could lead to a relapse.
A similar cycle could take place in response to:
Some of the triggers for relapse can be simply avoided through good planning. Spending time in places that support a person’s sobriety might be a good place to start. Steering clear of bars, raucous parties and former drinking buddies is a reasonable way to avoid risking sobriety and falling into a relapse problem. Similarly, spending time in routines could help people to feel physically well and emotionally sound.
As part of a relapse prevention program, people might be encouraged to:
- Go to bed and get up at the same times each day
- Eat healthful meals on a regular schedule
- Spend time in nature
- Take vitamins
- Do something creative each day
Steps like this can help people to build up a supportive, healthful life that may not hold many temptations to take and abuse alcohol, but there may be some triggers that just can’t be avoided. Low emotional states may creep in from time to time, and alcohol may be offered to a person in recovery by almost anyone at all. On-the-spot techniques can help people to deal with these problems as they arise, without making a mistake in the process.
Some therapists use mindfulness meditation treatments to help with this kind of stressful situation. This kind of therapy encourages people to listen to the responses of the body, paying attention to heart rates and breathing rates, and consciously applying force in order to reduce the appearance of stress and tension. Breathing exercises, muscle tightening and more can bring about the physical changes associated with a mellow mood, even if the person felt horrible when the exercise began. In a study of this kind of therapy published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, researchers found that this treatment resulted in a 47-percent abstinence rate, and most who participated saw the power of their triggers decreased. It could be useful for some people.
Other therapists encourage their clients to think about the consequences of one single drink. Could they stop at one? They might think about what would happen if they took three drinks or more. Would they lose their jobs? Would their families be disappointed? Could they get arrested? Would they have to go back to rehab? Thinking through the consequences can make the allure of one drink dampen and lower, until it doesn’t seem so alluring after all. Other therapists encourage their clients to focus on the moment right now. Instead of thinking, “I’ll never drink again,” they’re encouraged to think, “I won’t have a drink right now.” As the craving passes, their sense of accomplishment might grow, and the next craving might not be so hard to dispel.
Among people with alcoholism, relapse is regrettably common. For example, in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, of 83 alcoholics followed for 10 years, 57 percent relapsed at least once. This little statistic holds a ray of light, however, as it means that most people who are in recovery know what it’s like to relapse. They may also know how a person can get sober once more. Relying on that community of knowledge may help people to learn from their lapses and relapses, so they can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
Attending support group meetings in the Alcoholics Anonymous model can allow people to tap into this sober community. When cravings strike, a meeting might be starting somewhere, and this could provide the delay that allows a craving to pass. If a meeting isn’t available, a member of AA might be willing to meet and talk through a craving with someone in need. The community tends to band together and support all members when times are tough. For some people, this can be amazingly important. In addition, AA meetings provide alcoholics in recovery with a social opportunity that’s sober in nature. Some communities even have cruises, volunteer opportunities and parties for members. Participating in activities like this can be fun, but they can also remind people new to recovery that there is life after alcohol, and that life can be rewarding and amusing. It’s an important part of the relapse prevention program.
Many treatment facilities also offer alumni programs for people who have completed the programs. Again, these programs can provide support and a listening ear when cravings strike, but these programs can also be vital for people who have a lapse. When a person in recovery slips into drinking, that person might need a little more therapy or a few new techniques to keep that slip from becoming a relapse. Alumni programs may provide touch-up counseling or even re-admittance programs that can help people to get that additional help when they need it.
At Michael’s House, we provide intensive aftercare support. We have an active alumni program that can provide social opportunities and a touch of support during tough times, and we also provide an open-door policy that allows our clients to connect with us when they need to do so. With our help, you can beat an alcohol problem and develop a robust alcohol relapse prevention plan that can preserve your sobriety over the long-term. Please call our toll-free line to talk to someone right now.
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