Sobriety can be a difficult thing to manage for people with a diagnosable alcohol use disorder. It is like having to re-learn how to live from basic self-care to holding down a job and being a member of a family. It gets even more complicated when the cravings and relapse triggers begin to hit.
Cravings are a normal part of sobriety and when you have an alcohol use disorder, you can almost plan for them. They are just the body’s reaction to not having alcohol in it any longer, after having had it for so long. They most likely will come, but since you can expect it, you can plan for what to do about them. Here are some ideas for what to do if or when they come so you can prevent a relapse.
Know Your Relapse Triggers
A little knowledge can go a long way, and in this instance, knowing what can trigger a craving and a relapse in someone with an alcohol use disorder is necessary. Relapse triggers and warning signs are things that bring up memories of using and likely to cause cravings. Spend some time thinking about what makes you want to drink, the behaviors, the places, the people, the feelings, everything that comes with drinking when you think about it. One of the simplest things to do is to know triggers you to use and learn to adapt from that. Plan ahead and avoid what you can. For example, going in to a bar is likely a really bad idea during early alcohol recovery, so bars and liquor stores are to be avoided.
Seek Out Support
Social support means looking to others to help during tough times, or as they say, everyone needs someone to talk to. Figure out who it is you would go to when you needed a sympathetic ear, someone to talk you through a difficult moment, or just someone to take your mind off of things.
Again, planning this out in advance will save you a lot of confusion and stress if it really is an emergency. Think of:
- A counselor, social worker, doctor that you would call in an emergency
- Emergency contacts, like a crisis line, an AA 24-hour line, or other emergency prepared people
- Sponsor or others from a support group, people from your rehab community
- Friends and family that you would be willing to talk to about the cravings and struggles with sobriety
- Friends and family that you could talk to just to try to get your mind off things, not talk about relapse or sobriety (Distraction can be a good technique)
Self-Care Is Vital
This is more preventative care, but preventing a craving can be many times more beneficial than coping with one. Your mind and your body are linked and if one is taken care of, then the other responds positively to that. So, if you take care of your body, your mind often follows with good mental health, more ability to cope with stress, and less chance of cravings and relapse. This involves eating properly, getting enough sleep each night, regular exercise, taking medication as prescribed, and proper hygiene. All of these are necessary skills that will help defeat addiction to alcohol and symptoms of mental illness. And all of these, when they are not done, are warning signs that your sobriety is in jeopardy.
Life is full of stressful situations, and that stress can put your sobriety at risk. Learning to cope with and overcome it is vital in the long run, rather than trying to avoid it completely. Here is a list of some distraction and coping techniques to help deal with stress:
- Create a gratitude list
- Look up inspirational quotes
- Write down your goals and the steps you are going to take o accomplish them
- Write a list of your strengths
- Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts
- Take a bath
- Go for a walk
This list is certainly not exhaustive. There are many more activities out there that are healthy and combat stress; take time to learn some of your own special coping skills.
Remote Alcohol Monitoring
Technology has brought another tool that can be used to help those with an alcohol use disorder. Remote alcohol monitoring devices can be used to detect when the person has consumed alcohol. This helps provide accountability for those who are struggling with sobriety and gives them a way to document their sobriety. The most robust systems like Soberlink have sophisticated reporting that can easily alert a friend or loved one of a possible relapse. It can be very motivating when your family, your friend, your counselor and/or your sponsor, will know immediately if you have something to drink or doing great without having to ask.
Alcohol use disorder is an addiction that damages and kills thousands every year. Learning to manage your illness and embrace your recovery can literally save your life. With some thoughtful planning, and the use of coping skills and devices available to you, you can overcome the urges and cravings and have a successful and healthy sobriety.
About the Author
Social worker and author, Jason Simpkins, has worked in the human service field for over 17 years, with experience in individual and family counseling, addiction, suicidology, and crisis intervention.