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Why Relapse Happens Before the First Drink

You might hear in recovery “relapse happens before the first drink”. Relapse happening before the first drink refers to the headspace which is created before taking the first drink. Often, those who relapse have spent considerable time on negative thoughts which told them things were good when abusing substances. Additionally, these problematic thoughts whispered convincing accusations about how dull sobriety could be now. It is important to fight these thoughts before taking that first drink once you remember why you wanted to live clean in the first place.

These relapsing thoughts can occur when the brain is still connecting substance abuse to the reward system. Abusive substances are not what you need to feel good, but it takes time to learn this. You could also be having memories of the times when drugs and alcohol were working for you as they might have helped you destress and feel good. Memories that are distorted to appear more wonderful than they actually are is called “romancing the drink” or “euphoric recall”. Relapsing thoughts can also trigger feelings such as hunger, anger, loneliness, and feeling tired to make you want to erase these feelings with abusive substances. Experiencing symptoms of depression, self-pity, and frustration can also make you want to relapse as well as when people have unreasonably high expectations for you to have a speedy recovery.

Having these relapsing thoughts can serve a good purpose in making you realize that you need more help or a different method of treatment if you feel like the course you are on now is not working for you. In order to fight these thoughts to prevent any future actions from happening, you can tell others what you are thinking of so that they are not a secret anymore. You will feel good in letting all of these secrets out of your chest and they will not be able to take over your mind anymore. Go to your 12 Step meetings and share your story to everyone about your current state of mind as well as telling your sponsor about what you are thinking.

Mindfulness meditation can help you with unwanted thoughts as you observe your mental processes. You can educate yourself on the relapse triggers and how to avoid them whether it means avoiding certain people and places where you will feel tempted. It can help to write your thoughts down in a journal so that you can re-read them in the future and know that these are temporary thoughts. Experiencing these thoughts does not mean you are failing your recovery. The important thing is to make sure that these thoughts do not turn into actions.

Castle Craig is one of the most established and respected addiction rehab centers in the UK. Castle Craig treats alcoholism and drug addiction as an illness and promote abstinence as essential for long-lasting recovery. We help patients recover through an intensive, personalised programme that combines medical treatment, 12 Step therapy, CBT and other psychiatric therapies and complementary therapies. For information, call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line: 0808 256 3732. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006 (normal charges apply).