Relapse Triggers

If You Are Looking for an Excuse, Anything Will Work

Man Thinking
Thinking About Taking a Drink?. © Getty Images

While searching the news headlines each day to come up with stories for Alcohol in the News page, I am constantly running into those stories that say that "moderate" alcohol consumption is good for your health -- moderate meaning one drink a day, according to the health experts.

Since this is a site about Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, I have never used one of those stories on the daily news page, because one drink a day is not an option for alcoholics.

But I was thinking. How do alcoholics trying to maintain sobriety handle it when they see these news stories about how they might live longer with one drink a day? How do they handle trying to watch a football game and get blasted with all the beer commercials?

Avoiding the Temptation

I asked visitors to this site to share their experience with dealing with these "triggers" for drinking and received some very valuable responses.

The consensus seems to be that very early in sobriety, news articles, TV commercials, smells, songs and almost anything can be a threat to cause a relapse, and should be avoided at all costs. But the longer they are abstinent, the effect of these triggers diminish.

I have posted the highlights of some of the comments I receive below:

Resisting the Urge

In early sobriety, those things bothered me a lot. Just the thought of a nice cold beer - much less the picture of one - would drive me bananas.

Finally, I started to actually listen to some of the things that people kept saying at meetings: The fact that I can't drink doesn't mean that nobody can.

A glass of red wine is very good for many things - heart, digestion, etc. That's A glass of red wine. For an alcoholic, there ain't no such animal.

A glass is good - a bottle is not! Today I don't have a problem with commercials, etc., but it was rough in the beginning.  -- Jane

Making Healthy Choices

In reply to your question: In early sobriety and for a couple of years after I quit drinking... those billboards with the icy cold beer made me froth at the mouth, especially on a hot summer day... those advertisements on TV kicked in my stinking thinking (boy, wouldn't it be nice...) and I had to turn the channel, and it seemed like every movie I watched people were just pouring down the alcohol... couldn't watch them either.

I avoided going down the aisle in the grocery store where "the alcohol" was shelved. Listening to those "cryin' in your beer, country music songs" got me started, too. Early on, just the smell of alcohol was enough to start my stinking thinking, so the actual image of it wreaked more havoc within my sick brain.

When faced with the image or smell of alcohol I would run off to a meeting... call other alcoholics... turn the channel... walk down a different street... find something else to do (crossword puzzles, crocheting)... stopped watching TV or listening to certain kinds of music and began to play games with my kids, play cards, walk around the block, bicycle across town, meet other people for coffee or lunch.

These avoidance tactics were the only control for my obsession with alcohol. And they worked!  -- Rhonda W.

Fellowship Helps

I am fairly new in recovery but fortunately up to this point I have not had the cravings a lot of us have. I am sure I will at some point but for now I'm grateful I don't. I do know a lot of fellow alcoholics that have a compulsion to drink and things such as you mentioned are triggers for them and they have a hard time resisting that urge to drink. Thanks to the 12 steps and the fellowship many of us are relieved from taking that first drink.  -- Sheri

Avoiding Triggers: Jimmy Buffet Tunes

I was so beat up and worn out from all my years of drinking I just felt like I was through with it!

I know for me to drink again is as much as signing my death warrant. It just is not an option.

In all honesty, though, there were a couple of times when I would see an add or hear ole' Jimmy Buffet sing a tune and thoughts of the old days would cross my mind... just for a few seconds... then I would remember my last drunk.

I would remember how I could no longer walk under my own power, how I would wake up after an hour or two of sleep and reach for the bottle to sooth my shaking hands and drown out those screeching demons in my head. And I would remember how afraid I was to live but too afraid to die!

Today those "triggers" are just another reminder of where I "don't" want to be. Whether having "one" glass of wine is good for the health of some is neither here nor there, it is not good for my health and I seriously doubt that I would "live longer." --Magic

Euphoric Recall

What I have to do for myself if a fleeting drinking thought comes to mind is to make it a point to "think the drink through" to its logical conclusion. These days it is highly unlikely that stopping off at a bar and drinking would net me any young, compliant, ego-stroking young women, but it likely would net me yet another opportunity to try on some ill-fitting orange clothing.

The thought of wearing ill fitting orange clothing and the attendant humiliation and loss of personal liberty goes a long way toward quelling the "euphoric recall". For others who do not have the advantage of having experienced a stay in the local drunk tank, their own personal version of hell will, no doubt, do nicely. --Frank

Walking By the Liquor Store

One of the places where we hold meetings in a basement is about 4 doors down from our town's liquor store. We get a lot of laughs over that one. I learned from the beginning that trying to avoid walking by there was harder than just walking by and waving to the gals that work there.

They know I'm in the program and every now in then come out to ask how I'm doing. It sort of gives me a safety net to keep them posted on my continued sobriety. They have even joked with my husband and I that Jack Daniels sales have gone down since we joined AA. --Terri

Don't Tease the Tiger

By the time I had been at treatment for a few months this subject had come up many times. What I believe is: Don't Tease The Tiger!! I don't even use shaving lotion containing alcohol. If I'm allergic to something, why would I rub it all over my face?

I have learned quite a bit about the physical aspects of addiction the last three years. Deep inside my brain, there is a part that will never "forget" what alcohol smells like or feels like. It sits in my head waiting for a connection to form.

With me, the first "shock" I received after coming home was opening the cabinet and seeing "THE GLASS" that I always used to pour the whiskey just so-so. I got rid of it. Why do we alcoholics take such a chance? So, I just don't tease the tiger. --Ray S.

Eating Away at Me

I have been lucky from Dec. 1, 1999 until now. I have been fighting this disease for 23 years, I'm 37 now, and until I humbly and honestly accepted the fact that I could not drink, the triggers would eat away at me until I couldn't stand it any longer. My Higher Power is the main reason for the sobriety that I have today. Without Him, the fellowship of A.A., and people like you with places like this, I would not be here today. And for this I am Grateful! --Jim

Benefits of Alcohol?

When I see articles in health magazines purporting the benefits of alcohol, I have to admit I feel a little itchy, because like many of the folks who have already posted said, drinking may be healthy for someone else, it isn't healthy for me. and frankly, that makes me mad, cause I want to be 'healthy, normal' and just like everybody else. and I get all itchy and get annoyed cause somehow I got singled out to be an alcoholic.

But then I stop that line of thinking and start thinking about all the things I can do that other people can't. My friend can't eat sugar cause of health reasons, I can. etc. --Winnie

I Can Change Me

There is no way that we can run from it as everywhere you look at there is going to be an add for some kind of a drink. I can't change the world but can change me. You do not bring alcohol in my house, nor do I go to bars anymore.

Seeing ads or watching people drinking on TV doesn't bother me at all. I have a choice each morning, and today I choose not to take that FIRST drink, as one more drink just may be the death of me. --Skip

Television Commercials

In my early sobriety, I avoided as many people, places, and things which I knew would be triggers for me. However, there were some, like commercials on TV, liquor stores on my way home from work, etc, which I could not avoid. I was so into recovery that I did try and avert my attention from those scenes to other views along the way. And it worked.

Even today, 18 months sober, I still get a very slight urge when I watch a movie or something where alcohol is involved. But I know I do not want to have one drink! I know what that would lead to. --Steve