Whilst counselling a friend’s adult alcoholic son in Bengaluru earlier this month, Rahul – sober at the time for 10 days – gleefully let slip that he was “planning” his next binge 5 days later during the coming weekend. Sounded like he was in the final preoccupation/anticipation stage of the addiction process and was now just biding his time for the script to play out.
The “stinking thinking” starts well before the alcoholic finally slips and raises a glass to his lips. There is clearly a pattern when we look at alcoholics who stay sober and those who relapse. The ones who slip usually begin their relapse long before they take that first drink.
Alcoholics are taught many things in recovery and the relapse process starts when they stop doing these things. If they allow this process to continue, it’s just a matter of time before they again take a drink. And more often than not, it will finally be some trivial excuse for taking that first drink which also becomes the relapse event – a red herring distracting us from the irrational thought process that led to the insane moment.
As drinking becomes an ingrained behavior, the primary drivers shift from “feeling pleasure” to “feeling relief”, as the alcoholic seeks to stop the negative feelings and physical illness that accompany withdrawal. Eventually, the alcoholic begins drinking not to get “high,” but rather to escape the “low” feelings to which, ironically, chronic alcohol use has contributed.
Relapse is the return to alcohol use after a significant period of sobriety. Many alcoholics engage in patterns of binge drinking followed by withdrawal for extended periods of time. Compulsive drinking also is a key characteristic of addiction, as is the loss of control over use and it helps to explain why many people experience relapses after attempting to abstain from or reduce use.
People suffering from compulsivity (repetitive behaviors in the face of adverse consequences, and repetitive behaviors that are inappropriate to a particular situation) often recognize that the behaviors are harmful, but they nonetheless feel emotionally compelled to perform them. Doing so reduces tension, stress, or anxiety.
Alcoholics should be careful to not fully trust their own thinking because of this stream of foolishness and irrationality running in many…but the constant and daily maintenance of their spiritual and psychological condition can keep them safe.