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Know your triggers and high risk situations
I'm stating the bleedin' obvious here, but: avoid alcohol.
Supply management - don't let it near you
Make sure you haven't any in the house 'for guests' or 'for cooking'. If anyone else in your home wants to drink, I'm sure they'd agree not to have any in the house. You might not believe that you'll be tempted by it, but please, trust me: it's not worth the risk.
You must look ahead and think about any situations where you might come across drink, or be offered it. From popping to the paper shop where they sell drink, to unavoidable social gatherings - see the danger coming, and plan how you'll handle it. If you can, tell people you're not drinking, or stick with someone who knows you're not drinking who can look out for you.
If you decide to go somewhere where there'll be people drinking, don't feel self-conscious about not drinking yourself. It's not at all unusual these days for people not to drink - much more so than 20 years ago. If you want a handy excuse, say you're driving, or that you're on antibiotics.
I know some people like to be defiant, and will go to the pub every day to ostentatiously drink orange juice. That strategy sometimes works with particularly stubborn and wilful people, but I'd counsel against it.
Demand management - don't let yourself want it
Plan each hour, day, week and month with things to occupy you mentally and physically. Make sure you don't leave a vacuum where cravings can flourish. Make sure you always know what you're going to be doing in the immediate future, so that you don't leave too much of a void in your day, and so that you can avoid situations that you might find difficult.
It's important to keep yourself busy, and give your days some structure. You don't want to overload yourself if you're still feeling your way after detox, but try to ease yourself into activity. Consider, for example: returning to work, getting back into looking after children & family, doing some voluntary work, getting into an activity or hobby that you can really lose yourself in.
Things that might trip you up
There are lots of different things that can lead you to crave a drink and then to relapse. Here's a few common ones. You'll need to learn to look out for anything that might lead you down this perilous path. Sometimes events happen quickly: you must react just as quickly; pause; and give yourself time to think about how you'll respond. At other times you can see trouble coming, if you've got your eyes open and your wits about you. Sometimes, though, other people are better at spotting the warning signs that you might be heading towards a drink. This just emphasises how important it is to get some help, and to try to include friends and family in your plans
Be aware of your drinking triggers
One of the best pieces of advice for preventing cravings is from AA: Don't get:
Work out what the riskiest situations are for you. It's different for everyone, but what things, what situations, are going to make you want a drink? It could be, for example:
- Being with other people
- Being on your own
- Particular times of day
- Feeling miserable,anxious or agitated
- After an argument
- Feeling good, wanting to celebrate
- Everyday problems and setbacks
Research shows1 that the 3 most common things associated with relapse are:
- Feeling low
- Social pressure
thoughts about drinking (sometimes unconscious or hidden thoughts)
a craving or urge to drink
Your job is to intervene somewhere on this pathway, before you end up drinking.
At each of these arrows you need to choose what to do. For example:
- Stop the thought - fill your mind with something else
- Activity - do something else
- Tolerate how you feel and 'urge surf'
- Call someone
Oh Fuck it!
It's remarkable how many people, when they describe a relapse, report how they were feeling fed up, or stressed, or bored, and thought to themselves: 'oh, fuck it!'.
When you feel anything negative, be aware that your motivation can dip; your mental focus can narrow, or disappear completely. Under pressure, you'll tend to focus on the short-term gains of drinking rather than on long-term catastrophe.
The F moment can appear suddenly. All I can do is to warn you to look out for it.
Sabotage: setting yourself up
You might make what are 'seemingly irrelevant decisions': things that don't directly lead to a drink, but which lead to one eventually. For example, you might invite an upset friend over to help and support them, knowing that they drink, and ignoring the fact that they'll offer you one. It's a series of small decisions leading irrevocably to a gigantic high risk situation. Setting yourself up like this can hide behind some ludicrous justifications to yourself or others - "I had to go to the pub because it was the only place showing the football." And then guess what happened...
In their new non-drinking lives, people sometimes find themselves faced with something extremely difficult: something that they really think they can't do. They're worried about losing face if they fail. So they find themselves drinking again to avoid this failure. Others can use drinking as a cruel weapon to get back at a partner, for example.
Complacency and arrogance
Don't get complacent or even arrogant about your success. In particular, don't persuade yourself that you're now able to control your drinking. This is a particularly invidious trap that it's easy to walk straight into. You might have one drink, and nothing will happen. This will only make you believe that you can drink 'normally'. You might drink in moderation a few times, without apparent ill effect. What will happen - no, really, it will - is that your drinking will gradually increase in quantity and frequency, until you're back to where you were. Trust me, don't drink at all!
I mean, imagine if your house was on fire, and after the fire brigade put it out for you, and you'd repaired and rebuilt everything, would you ever think - 'oh go on, I'll just set fire to the corner of the sofa'?
The return of feelings
It can be very hard to tolerate the inevitable minor disappointments and major setbacks of everyday life if you've been used to blocking them out with drink. A huge task for you is to learn how to live with everyday moods and feelings, and to tolerate them and overcome them without drink. Once you've got the hang of feeling things 'in the raw' again, you'll be a long way down the road to recovery.
Whatever you do, don't drink when you feel things. Train yourself to realise that this won't solve anything, but will just make things worse.
Some people talk about addiction as a disease, as a symbol of how there's something inside you, hiding and waiting to trip you up. I sometimes imagine there are insurgents, secret agents and fifth columnists inside your brain, in hidden sleeper cells, planning and organising how they can plant a thought and a craving that'll hook you into drinking again. You need to become ruthlessly efficient at examining your own thinking, and checking to see there aren't any thought-crimes hidden in there.
Guilt, shame and self-loathing
There's a massive correlation between these feelings and drinking. Often there's a loop where they lead to drinking, which leads to the same feelings getting worse. Some people still feel overwhelmed after they've stopped drinking. As a first resort, I'd suggest that you try to imagine that drinking to alleviate is like putting petrol on a fire. You need to believe alcohol will make everything worse. If you find yourself consistently overwhelmed, and these feelings really aren't going away with time, then you might want to have a look at where they're coming from with somebody suitably qualified to help you.
1 Marlatt GA & Gordon JR (1985) Relapse Prevention Maintenance Strategies in the Treatment of Addictive Behaviours Guildford, New York