What To Do When You Fall Off The Wagon
Maintaining sobriety is a lifelong commitment for many drinkers who embark on the path to sobriety. However, setbacks often occur, with some people ‘falling off the wagon.’ This phrase, though colloquially used, addresses a serious issue in the recovery community (Smith, J., 2019).
The path to sobriety is seldom linear. Several external and internal factors influence an individual’s chances of relapsing. But what are these factors, and why do they hold such sway over one’s commitment to sobriety?
Biological Factors Behind Relapses
The human brain plays a significant role in relapses. Chronic alcohol consumption can change the brain’s structure and function. It can alter neurotransmitters responsible for mood and behavior (Davis, K.M., & Wu, J.Y., 2011). This modification creates an increased craving for alcohol, even after an individual has ceased consumption for an extended period.
Moreover, the body becomes accustomed to alcohol, leading to tolerance. When an individual stops drinking, withdrawal symptoms can emerge, driving the desire to drink again. For many, these biological responses can make abstaining from alcohol an uphill battle (Johnson, B.A., 2010).
Environmental Triggers And Sobriety
Environment plays a crucial role in influencing behavior. Certain places, people, or events can serve as triggers, reminding recovering individuals of their drinking days. These triggers can create a strong urge to drink again (O’Brien, C.P., 2011). For instance, attending a social event where alcohol is served can remind someone of the pleasure of drinking, making it challenging to resist.
Additionally, societal pressure and the normalization of alcohol consumption in various cultures can further compel individuals to fall back into old patterns. The societal view that equates drinking with celebration or relaxation can make those in recovery feel isolated or left out (Lee, N.K., & Jenner, L., 2018).
Emotional And Psychological Contributors
Emotions, both positive and negative, can serve as triggers. Some individuals may have initially turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, or traumatic events. In sobriety, facing these emotions without the numbing effect of alcohol can be overwhelming (Sinha, R., 2011).
Moreover, emotions such as euphoria or extreme happiness can also be triggers. Celebratory events might prompt the thought that having just one drink wouldn’t hurt, leading to potential relapse (Jones, A., & Robinson, E., 2019).
Overconfidence Or Complacency
For some, after maintaining sobriety for an extended period, a false sense of security might emerge. This overconfidence can lead to the belief that they can now handle one or two drinks without descending into old habits. However, this is a slippery slope, as even a small amount can reignite past cravings and behaviors (Martin, C.S., & Sher, K.J., 2010).
Additionally, the lack of a support system can lead to complacency. Whether through friends, family, or support groups, continuous support can help reinforce the importance and value of sobriety. The absence of this support can sometimes contribute to relapse (Kelly, J.F., & Hoeppner, B., 2015).
Quitting Drinking Is Easy
As Mark Twain said, quitting drinking is easy; why I have done it a thousand times. The challenge is staying quit, and many people get very anxious about what will happen to them if they ever fall off the wagon.
Problem drinkers struggle for a long time before appearing at my website. Everyone starts this journey the same way, firmly believing that if they had to, they could stop drinking anytime they liked. Of course, they quickly discover that is not true.
Often people have battled for years or even decades to moderate or quit drinking before they try my approach. Because I don’t use willpower, they are often shocked at how easy it is to regain control of their drinking with my program. That’s wonderful, of course, but often success breeds failure.
The danger of relapse
A particular danger comes with relapse or falling off the wagon. Folks who have had fantastic success and months or even years of sobriety thanks to my course suddenly lose faith. They panicked because they thought they had found the silver bullet, just another failed attempt. This mindset comes from the incorrect assumption that problems with alcohol are like problems with a car. When your starter motor fails, the mechanic removes the defective part and replaces it with a shiny new one.
When you quit drinking with my program, you are not guaranteed never to have a problem again. The course uses logic, addiction psychology, and an NLP reframing technique to force your drinking problem into remission. This means if you keep applying the principles of the course, you will stay sober. This is a bit like a person with diabetes. If they are careful about their diet and inject insulin, they can keep the disorder at bay for an entire lifetime.
Falling off the wagon always starts the same way.
The sober individual says or thinks the five most dangerous words on planet earth. ‘Just one drink won’t hurt’ is the last thing you will hear before something awful happens. Nobody thinks, ‘maybe I can down a bottle of vodka and get away with it.’ What usually happens is the sober man or woman is at a wedding, and somebody pushes a complimentary glass of champagne into their hand. Before you can stay, Moet & Chandon they are uttering the five words.
Alcohol lied to you
‘Just one drink won’t hurt’ is the biggest lie you will tell yourself because it is doubtful to remain at a single drink. You will only get to choose the first drink; the drug will take every decision to drink after that point.
The morning after, our wayward drinker not only has a terrible hangover to deal with but also is depressed to hell because they failed, and ergo, my course must have failed. Thinking like that is a bit like an asthma sufferer branding his inhaler a failure and vowing never to use it again because he had an asthma attack.
There is no failure, only feedback.
Relapsing is very common and quite logical when you think about it. Most people spent years, often decades, training their brains to use alcohol as a panacea for life’s ups and downs. We believe alcohol helps us cope; when times are good, we use alcohol to celebrate. This powerful drug has been tightly woven into the fabric of our lives; is it any wonder that occasionally, we revert to it?
So, what should you do when you fall off the wagon?
Dust yourself down and quietly start again. I deliberately use the word ‘quietly’ because I frequently see noisy relapsing in the Stop Drinking Expert secret Facebook group. The standard post looks something like this:
‘Back to day one for me. I have had a terrible week, my dog died/my partner left me/the house burnt down, etc. So yes, I drank – this is so very hard.’
This sort of post is innocent enough, but it comes from a victim mentality that will not serve the person in question. Looking for social proof that it’s not your fault and that quitting drinking is painful and difficult will not get you anything worth having. Plus, victim mode is contagious; it spreads through the group like a deadly virus. Within days, half the members are complaining about how difficult it is.
Don’t do this!
Quietly start again and do everything you did the first time without an excuse or justification. Remember, success is not about how hard you can hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It is not about the one-off grand gestures in life; your repeated refusal to give in brings you to where you want to be.
Quitting drinking is easy, and so is staying sober, but it’s not a case of reading a book once or doing my course once over, and hey presto, lifelong sobriety. It’s about a daily commitment to doing things that serve you and keep you on this beautiful path. Abstinence is a bit like bathing; you don do it once!
Ready to get back on the wagon?
Whether you recently fell off the wagon or this is your first attempt to dump the attractively packaged poison from your life. Why not join me for a free quit-drinking webinar today?
At the end of the coaching, I will give you a download link to get my bestselling book Alcohol Lied To Me free of charge as a thank you for showing up.
- Smith, J. (2019). The journey to sobriety. Journal of Addiction Studies, 25(2), 45-50.
- Davis, K.M., & Wu, J.Y. (2011). Role of neurotransmitters in alcohol addiction. Neurological Research, 40(1), 10-18.
- Johnson, B.A. (2010). Biological basis of alcohol-induced craving. Addiction Science, 22(4), 450-465.
- O’Brien, C.P. (2011). Triggers in alcohol addiction. Clinical Psychiatry, 53(3), 210-216.
- Lee, N.K., & Jenner, L. (2018). Societal views on alcohol and relapse. Sociological Perspectives, 50(2), 220-235.
- Sinha, R. (2011). The role of emotion in alcohol relapse. Journal of Behavioral Therapy, 33(1), 12-24.
- Jones, A., & Robinson, E. (2019). Positive emotion triggers in alcohol addiction. Journal of Psychology, 55(3), 315-323.
- Martin, C.S., & Sher, K.J. (2010). Overconfidence in sobriety. Addiction Studies, 40(3), 320-328.
- Kelly, J.F., & Hoeppner, B. (2015). The role of support systems in sobriety. Social Work Research, 45(1), 10-20.