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How to Avoid Relapse in Sobriety – You Don’t Have to Slip
I’ve often heard people say that when you stop drinking it is all but impossible to avoid slipping at some point. The common assumption is that almost everyone will lapse or relapse in sobriety and that can be daunting because most of us work hard to stay alcohol-free. Did you know there are some warning signs before a slip? I believe that it is possible to avoid lapses and relapses if you are forewarned.
When I was drinking, before I quit this last time long term, I made several attempts to quit drinking over a period of about 2 years. None of my attempts lasted any more than a few months. I remember being so surprised each time I slipped. I thought I was doing so well. What happened to me??
To be perfectly honest, I was thinking about drinking for a while before I slipped. …but it was nothing serious, just fantasizing about it. Of course, I wasn’t REALLY going to drink …was I?
I struggled through each attempt to quit. I had massive anxiety, I had problems at work, I lacked motivation to go places. If I did go out, I enviously watched while everyone around me drank. I thought how unfair it was that everyone else got to drink. Why was I being punished? Before long, I was making plans to drink, but just moderately, which didn’t go well. I exceeded “moderately” before I could finish saying the word.
Since then, I was surprised to learn that a slip in sobriety is a process that can last weeks before that drink happens, though it might feel like it just snuck up on you. This means a lapse and certainly, a relapse in sobriety can be avoided, because those feelings and thoughts are warning signs, as innocuous as they may seem at first.
There is a book, titled I Want to Change My Life: How to Overcome Anxiety, Depression and Addiction by Steven M. Melemis MD, Ph.D. Overall, the book contains a plethora of helpful information about addiction, including a description of the tools to help avoid slips in sobriety. To avoid lapses and relapses. The author throws around some AA terms which is not my personal preference, but I find his explanations are clear and easy to understand. The book clearly explains how to recognize warning signs as well as the 3 stages of Relapse as the author refers to it. (I’m using the term lapse, as it’s a step before a relapse.)
This is the idea: A lapse happens in 3 stages and each stage has a set of warning signs. Knowing them can help avoid a lapse.
The stages are called
- Emotional Lapse
- Mental Lapse
- Physical Lapse.
The Warning Signs
Stage 1: An Emotional Lapse
Emotional means that though one isn’t actively thinking about drinking, their emotions are setting them up for a future lapse. A few of the warning signs to look out for are:
- Mood swings
- Poor self-care
- Not making connections
Self-reflection through Journaling ( or posting in BOOM) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) * are very helpful in gaining awareness so the behavior can be addressed, and a mental lapse avoided.
read more : – Write Your Own Narrative – How Posting in the BOOM Community can help you Rethink the Drink – Learning Self-Care in My First 100 Days Alcohol-Free – Anatomy of a Relapse – How to Quiet that Thirsty Little Voice in Your Head
Stage 2: A Mental Lapse
To drink or not to drink. That is the question. There is a battle happening inside the mind at this stage and risk of a lapse is high. Common warning signs of a mental lapse include:
- Strong cravings
- Thinking of moderation
- Fantasizing drinking
- Glamorizing alcohol
If a mental lapse is not dealt with at this stage, it can lead to a physical lapse. The good news is there are coping skills to prevent it. Some of these coping skills include:
♡ Play the tape forward – Imagine the consequences. Decide if it’s worth it.
♡ Talk to a trusted peer – Talk to someone about your feelings.
♡ Wait for 30 minutes – Most urges usually last about 15 to 30 minutes max.
♡ Take it one day at a time – Try not to focus on “forever”.
♡ Use relaxation techniques – Relaxation helps reduce tension and cravings. Deep breathing and meditation are great techniques.
read more : Beating Back Alcohol Cravings – Play the Tape Forward – Protect Your Quit –Unwinding Anxiety –Breaking Free of Cravings for Alcohol with Mindfulness – Learning from the Stop – Start Cycle and Dealing with Alcohol Cravings – 4 Great Posts to Help You Answer the Moderate Drinking Question
If stage 2 is not dealt with then there is a good chance of falling into an actual physical lapse.
Stage 3: A Physical Lapse
A Physical lapse involves actively taking that drink.
A physical lapse does not mean failure. It does mean it’s time to re-think coping tools. This is when it’s really important to reach out for help before falling into full blown physical relapse.
I used to feel ashamed when I lapsed which is why I was afraid to ask for help, but it only made things worse. A lapse can be prevented if caught early which is why reaching out is critical to this journey.
Thinking about drinking occasionally is normal. Just watch for persistent thoughts and remember it’s never too late to reach out to a sober friend or a community of friends for help. BOOM is a great community for just that, being a safe place to connect with people who understand. BOOM also has a treasure of available information about coping skills needed to get through these setbacks.
If you recognize any early warning signs, consider coping strategies. Don’t wait until a lapse occurs. If you are struggling, reach out. We can lean on each other.
* Here is an excellent article called, “Self-Help CBT: How to Be Your Own Therapist.” It includes a great description of the coping strategy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and how it works:
Self-Help CBT: How to Be Your Own Therapist – Road to Growth Counseling
More reading : Step Back from the Edge – Getting Back to Sober after Relapse – You Deserve Another Chance – A Sober Dance – The Trick To Quit Drinking is to Never Quit Quitting
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