Understanding Fading Affect Bias

Fading image of Woman Understanding Fading Affect Bias and Staying Sober with an Online Community

Everyone who has ever tried to stay sober is familiar with that seductive voice that forgets the pain of drinking too much. Psychologists call it the fading affect bias, more commonly known as FAB, which simply means that memories associated with negative emotions tend to be forgotten more quickly than those associated with positive emotions. Fading affect bias, is like selective amnesia caused by distance from despair, and with the newly sober, recovering mind, it goes something like this :

Psst hey
You’ve been alcohol free a fair number of days
Are you feeling good?
Do you feel in control?
I knew you would
Fading Affect Bias is my cool accomplice – FAB
As seductive as a kiss
You’re forgetting how bad it was aren’t you really
Those rose tinted glasses won’t help you see clearly
Do you think you can control me this time ?
Is that why you’re tempted again to pour wine
Ok fine I’ll cheer you along
Then watch with interest when it all goes wrong
I’m not really meant to be moderated and controlled
But it suits me completely if you won’t be told
I’ll just continue to poison your life sweetly
Or not sweet at all it’s true
When your red flags should become deal breakers
Choosing to listen is a smart thing to do
Don’t wait until your alcohol voice is the only one you hear

Remembering the bad old days by sharing stories in AA meetings, is one of the things that helps many stay sober. Connecting with people who understand the parasitic hold that alcohol can have on you, and telling your story repeatedly, can help you avoid the fading affect bias that is the cause of so many slips back to drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous helps its members remember that alcohol lies. To those of us who struggle to stay sober, that is what fighting fading affect bias is all about. But there are many things about the 12 step approach that don’t work for me. I had to find a different kind of community to help me fight that FAB.

I got sober without AA after years of doubting that was possible. I had a major health incident that made it virtually impossible to drink alcohol, so my first 6 months of sober living in 2020 has seemed relatively easy compared to previous attempts. I hired a sober coach but didn’t make much use of it, for various reasons. Then in June, I got very active in the online community, BOOM Rethink the Drink, and it made all the difference! The online community made all the difference in staying sober.

Having stopped drinking without AA I was curious as to why I suddenly had such a need for community connection. It had seemed at first that I was doing the sober thing just fine by myself. I didn’t need any help. But once I started interacting with the BOOM community, that online community interaction online became the thing that was helping me stay sober. So I was talking about this with a friend who has worked the 12 steps and I wanted to share his thoughts with you.

My question was:

Why are we not able to do this alone? (Get sober and STAY sober)

He helped me understand the Fading Bias Affect – or FAB – on a deeper level.

Nothing is 100% black and white, but the evidence in the research for this is very clear. People that maintain regular contact with a recovery group of one form or another, AA or an alternative online group, are FAR more likely to achieve lasting sobriety. That’s one line of evidence. The other is what I noticed from Alcoholics Anonymous. People that stopped going to meetings picked up. I not only saw this many times for myself, but it was also one of the very common wisdoms that was regularly repeated.

But your question wasn’t “is this true” you question was “why”. Why does community make it so much easier to stay sober. Even if that community is not AA.

I think several things combine to make relapse more likely if we are trying to stay sober alone. As we chalk up more and more sober days our resolve drops. This isn’t very well covered in quit-lit but is due to something I call “distance from despair”.

From the Gift of Desperation to Distance from Despair – Understanding the Fading Affect Bias in Sobriety

When we first set out to get sober we are usually driven to do so by desperation. Our lives have become so appalling that something simply MUST change. This gives us that special boost of strength often called “the gift of desperation” that allows us to put down the bottle. But there’s a real problem with this… it doesn’t last.

The gift of desperation only gives us that extra boost while we are desperate, but once we stop drinking then that desperation fades, also known as fading affect bias. This means that the urgency of our cause fades and with that our resolve drops. This happens while the challenge is still quite severe. We can still experience cravings big enough to be troublesome and this drop in resolve also allows all the lies churning in our head more space to do their damage. “maybe you weren’t that bad”, “you’ve beaten this, you can probably control it now” and so on all further break down our resolve once we stop pushing them away.

The fundamental problem is that our resolve to stay alcohol-free, drops away faster as the problem drops in intensity, if we don’t do things the keep our resolve high.

It’s all in your Head – which means that you are fighting an evenly matched battle and may need some back-up

Another way to look at this is that we are fundamentally unlikely to succeed … the deck is stacked against us. The problem is 100% in our own minds. Alcohol itself has no power over us whatsoever; everything that makes us want to drink is manufactured inside our own heads, and it is generated entirely automatically. All the urges to drink, all the mood changes, the memory bias towards drinking being a good thing rather than a bad thing and all the misleading lies telling us why drinking again would be a good idea… all of this is manufactured inside our own minds.

Not only is this brain activity all created internally it is all done entirely spontaneously, without our permission and in spite of our deliberate decision that this is NOT what we want to do. But this doesn’t just come as unbidden ideas it is also accompanied by dopamine, and dopamine in this context has the express purpose of directing our behaviour. Our brain is actively working against us. It does this entirely automatically and that part is completely effortless on our part. On the other side the will to fight this off is limited by our resolve which is finite. Fighting off the calls to drink can be exhausting and the effort depletes our resolve. Our resolve is finite but the forces acting to make us drink again are unlimited AND they have that chemical dopamine doing the very that it is evolved for… to drive the very behaviour that we so urgently don’t want. Alcohol Deprivation Blues – Understanding and Managing the Dopamine Dip in Early Sobriety

So even our ‘best game’ does not actually level the playing field… that is why the “gift of desperation” is the game-changer.

Maintaining Your Resolve to Stay Sober with community support to Fight that FAB

So what does all of this show?… that our ability to win through is determined by maintaining our resolve at the abnormally high level we have while boosted by the “gift of desperation”. THIS is why other people are so important.

There are three pillars on which our determination is built… that it is necessary to stop drinking, that it is possible, and that it is worthwhile. Our mind will constantly challenge these three ideas in any way it can and this wears down our resolve. However, we can do something simple that tops that resolve back up again… we can stay in conversation with people that have achieved it. This simple thing affirms that our course of action is necessary, possible and worthwhile. We get tips from them on how to maintain our progress but more importantly they top-up our will to do so

That’s how I see it; that we can’t do this alone because in the long-run our own resources will be overcome if we don’t have some way to keep them replenished, and we get that replenishment from other people. The literature shows that it doesn’t seem to matter where this external input comes from as long as we get it. So staying connected online can be just as valuable in this respect as belonging to an in-person group.

We need external support to beat this in the long-term because our own resources will be insufficient.


This made perfect sense to me. My gift of desperation was the major health incident that made it virtually impossible to have a drink. But also I was SCARED to drink! So I had high resolve in the first 6 months and then eventually fading affect bias kicked in. Quitting drinking is hard. We all know that! When life seems hard, it can sometimes seem difficult to change our perspective.

As I continue down this path of alcohol-free living, it is becoming more clear to me every day, that yes, I can live joyfully with no alcohol, there are possibilities when there is no alcohol, and dreams CAN come true BECAUSE I have ditched alcohol. But I will need support. I will need community long term. I will need daily reflection and connection to avoid getting lost in FAB.

The choice is yours and mine to make. I choose LIFE!!!

For me, like many other people who want to stop drinking, independent online communities are a great option to the traditional system of working the 12 steps in AA. It is becoming more and more common for people who want to stay sober to find alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous or even to add these online communities to their AA routine. This was a huge ”ahaaa” moment about why a site, an online community like this, works so well. And it has been keeping my resolve very high indeed!!

The words of this song make me think of the Boom community and what it means to me .  I am strong when I am on your shoulders. Thank-you ALL for being here!! You raise me up to more than I can be.

You can read more about us Here  And join  Here Online community support 24-7

You Raise Me Up Josh Groban

When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary
When troubles come, and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit awhile with meYou raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can beYou raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can beYou raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can beYou raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be

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7 responses to “Understanding Fading Affect Bias”

  1. […] Fading Affect Bias is something that we all struggle with when moving away from a destructive habit. The further we move toward the positive goal we’ve set, the more faded the pain of the negative routine becomes. Here are some thoughts from members of BOOM on tried and failed attempts at moderate drinking after a period of going sober 4 Great Posts to Help You Answer the Moderate Drinking Question. If you really want to try spending some time alcohol-free, whether just one month here and there, or long term, if you really want to follow this road less traveled, stick around. […]

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