Relapse Prevention

I facilitate a weekly Alcohol Awareness Programme and the final session is based on relapse prevention. The first question I am normally asked is “what is the difference between a lapse and a relapse?”  I don’t think there is a definitive answer to this but I always say that if someone decides to drink again then it depends on how long this carries on for. For example, if someone picks up a drink and then the next day realises what they have done and resumes their sobriety, I would call this a lapse. If, on the other hand they continue to drink, I would call that a relapse. It might only be for a short time but they have still succumbed to their addiction. Other people may have different views on this.

So, how can people cope with the intense cravings that occur in early recovery?  It is very important to keep things in the day and not look too far ahead.  To think about never being able to drink again can seem overwhelming and an impossibility, but to just keep sober for one day is a more achievable goal. The first thing to remember is that a craving will pass. However intense and unpleasant it is, it will not kill you and it will go. One relapse prevention technique is to delay having a drink for so many minutes. Tell yourself that you can’t have a drink now but you can in 30 minutes or if that is too long maybe 20 or even 10 minutes. Meanwhile, find something to do during that time to distract you. This could be something physical such as going for a walk; doing the washing up; going to the shops etc or you may rather do some meditation; reading; listening to music or having a relaxing bath.

Once the set period of time has passed you then need to make a decision about what you are going to do. Hopefully the craving will not be so intense now so you can think about the advantages and disadvantages of having a drink. Think about why you want to stop drinking and what your ultimate life goals are. You may find that you need to start the cycle again but remember that the longer your sobriety lasts, the easier it will become to resist the cravings.

Although I have used alcohol to illustrate this method of relapse prevention, it actually works with any addiction or unhealthy habit. You can use this if you have an issue with over eating, or shopping to excess or spending too much time on the computer!!

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