So you’ve stopped drinking, or maybe you’re just not doing it every day now, and you want to know how to prevent yourself from relapsing, or (if you want to keep it simple) how to make sure you don’t drink today.
Relapse prevention requires some planning, specifically -
- what situations might I encounter that could make me want a drink? (my triggers)
- how might I deal with my feelings sober?
- what action can I take instead?
You need to identify your internal triggers (like boredom, frustration, loneliness, anxiety etc.), and your external triggers (like arguments, bars, other people drinking etc.). Can any of these triggers be avoided? If so, plan how to do that. For those that can’t be avoided, you’ve got to learn to deal with them some other way.
So, what do these triggers mean to you? What beliefs do you hold about them that lead you to drink? A few common beliefs might be -
- “drinking helps me get rid of stress”,
- “drinking makes me more confident”,
- “some people drink more than me, so that makes it ok for me to drink as much as I do”.
What thoughts go through your head when you’re exposed to these triggers? You may not even be aware of these thoughts, they’re so habitual, so you’ll have to listen carefully to your internal dialogue here.
Once you’ve got an idea what some of your automatic thoughts are, you need to learn to challenge them. So for example, the next time you’re feeling stressed and you think “a drink would relax me” you might then say to yourself “yes, it does, but it’ll make me even more nervous and stressed tomorrow”.
Relapse prevention is just knowing about your habits
Of course by the time you’ve got to this stage, you’re probably craving a drink, and you’re thinking about how to get some. You might be arguing with yourself – part of you doesn’t want to get drunk again. You’ve told yourself you’re not doing it any more (or today at least). So here’s when you might start looking for permission, to make it ok:
- “just this time won’t hurt”,
- “I’ll be able to hide it, so no-one will know”,
- “I’m not at work tomorrow, so it doesn’t matter if I’m hungover”
- “I can’t cope with this craving, so I might as well just get on with it”
As far as behaviour goes, we’ve already mentioned avoiding triggers, but another option is distracting yourself (look at our earlier article on ‘how to cope with alcohol cravings‘). Other things you might do are more general – make some new friends, find new things to do with your time, get into the habit of some exercise. Most importantly – find some support, people you can talk to about what’s troubling you.
Try going through our worksheet on Relapse Prevention Strategies.
Remember though, a binge does not mean failure, you just made a mistake, try not to think “oh well, I’ve failed, so obviously I’ll never beat this, I might as well just keep drinking…”