Alcohol is a unique addiction to recover from. Unlike illicit recreational drugs, alcohol is legal and available on every corner. It’s difficult to find a place in a city that’s not within walking distance of a place where you can buy alcohol. For that reason, it’s important to develop relapse prevention strategies to help you avoid giving in to cravings.
Here are some things to consider when you’re looking for ways to avoid relapse when you experience alcohol cravings.
Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a method of treating behavioral issues that revolves around preventing relapse back into that behavior. CBT is popular in addiction treatment, and it’s likely that you will spend some time in it if you go through the full continuum of care. Relapse prevention is an important part of lasting addiction treatment. To understand some of the methods to help avoid alcohol cravings, it’s important to understand the cognitive-behavioral model and how it applies to relapse prevention. Here are some important factors in relapse prevention:
A high-risk situation in recovery is a scenario that threatens your sobriety. These situations can come out of inborn triggers or external triggers. An inborn trigger could be something like anxiety that comes from getting home from work to find an empty house. External triggers may be something like an advertisement for alcohol that you see at a bus stop. High-risk situations are often the first step in relapse if they aren’t dealt with effectively. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and efforts in your ongoing recovery will be focused on identifying and coping with high-risk situations that may threaten your sobriety.
Your coping response to a high-risk situation can make or break your ability to avoid a relapse. According to the relapse prevention model, an ineffective coping response leads to a decrease in your own expectation to see positive outcomes from your current situation. That leads to the initial lapse back to using alcohol as a coping mechanism. This causes what is called the abstinence violation effect, which is when a single lapse dramatically increases your likelihood of full relapse. An effective coping response will lead to an increase in your belief in positive outcomes and strengthens your resolve to avoid relapse.
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, you can learn to develop effective coping responses to help you safeguard your sobriety. Your therapist can help you identify triggers and high-risk situations that can lead to relapse, and then you can create a relapse prevention strategy for each situation.
Self-efficacy is an important term in CBT and in relapse prevention. It refers to your own perception of your ability to control your behavior and avoid a relapse. High self-efficacy would mean mastery over your own behavior, and it usually grows as you maintain your behavioral change. People with low self-efficacy may perceive themselves as lacking the will-power to resist drinking. There are several different situations that can lower your self-efficacy, including:
- Negative emotional states like depression, stress, and anxiety.
- Interpersonal conflict, arguments, and fall-outs with friends
- Social pressure to drink, like attending a work function with alcohol
- Positive emotional states like celebrations that trigger a drinking response
However, positive coping responses can increase your self-efficacy and decrease your likelihood of a relapse. Positive coping can be general mindset shifts, like learning to deal with things that don’t meet your expectations calmly. But good coping can also be specific to a situation like learning how to celebrate and enjoy social settings without alcohol.
People gravitate towards routines that they stick to in their day to day lives. Addiction can challenge you to change your routine to fit around feeding a substance use disorder and avoiding withdrawal, but you will still create some sort of regular schedule. In some cases, this schedule can reinforce your substance use disorder. Some people with severe alcohol use disorders drink morning, noon, and night. However, other people have more subtle issues with drinking.
You may never drink in the morning, or even in the afternoon, but when you get home from work after a long day, you can’t help but drink. This may have something to do with a conditioned response. As you come home from work, you feel stressed, and you now have the freedom to unwind. You grab a bottle, sit in front of the TV, and watch the latest sports highlights. It’s good to have a way to unwind at the end of the day, but in this scenario, you would be using alcohol as a coping mechanism, which is dangerous.
Even when you recognize your AUD, every time you sit down to watch sports highlights after work, you will have powerful alcohol cravings. To combat this, break up the other parts of your routine that would normally surround drinking. Instead, bring a change of clothes to work and head straight to the gym right after work. Watch sports highlights from a treadmill. You can also head to a coffee shop or to a friend’s house.
Human beings aren’t meant to live in isolation, and it’s especially bad for people in recovery. Isolation tends to force you into an introspective mindset that can cause you to reflect on negative emotions like loneliness. However, when it comes to addiction, personal connections are all the more important. A few years ago, a Ted Talk claimed that the opposite of addiction is connection because of studies that looked at the relationships between addiction, isolation, and personal connection. It seems that connecting to other people and developing positive relationships can help you safeguard your addiction. Support groups, 12-step programs, and supportive family and friends can be extremely valuable when you’re experiencing cravings.
Remember the Consequences
Relapses often happen when a person starts to believe that they can have a drink, and it will be different than last time. You may justify it by thinking, “I’ll just have one, and it will be okay” or “I’ve worked hard to this point, I deserve a drink.”
You may be sugarcoating the likely consequences that will come from the lapse. You may even be forgetting what happened the last time you relapsed. It’s important to have a clear understanding of what can happen if you relapse.
Because of the abstinence violation effect, it’s likely that you won’t have just one drink. If it goes well, you may think you can handle moderate drinking now. If it goes poorly, you may think you are unable to resist.
A full relapse can lead to active addiction, health problems, relationship issues, and the return of all the problems you experienced before.
Respond to cravings with a clear understanding of why you stopped drinking in the first place.
Seeking Addiction Treatment Today
If you have an alcohol use disorder, it may be difficult to resist alcohol cravings by yourself, even with these tips. If you or someone you know may have a problem with alcohol, speak to an addiction treatment specialist to learn more about how addiction treatment can help you achieve long-lasting sobriety and freedom from active alcoholism. Whether it’s your first time admitting you have a problem or if you’ve relapsed in the past, addiction is treatable with the right help.