Relapse prevention – What’s your anti-drug | anti-drink?
Once an addict/alcoholic clears their system of their substance of choice (through detox), s/he must work to re-train and repair his/her brain in order to recover from their addiction. Why? Because addiction is defined as a chronic, often relapsing brain disease.
What does this have to do with relapse prevention?
Relapse occurs when a person ingests any amount of their substance of abuse | dependence because the substance kicks the neural networks and embedded brain maps that are the disease – the brain disease, itself. These two links from The Addiction Project help explain: Addiction and the Brain and Let’s Talk About Craving. Thus finding one’s anti-drug | anti-drink can make the world of difference in the effort to prevent relapse.
To this end, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) offers a wonderful suggestion — focus on DOING something instead of NOT DOING something. In other words, instead of working so hard NOT TO drink or use drugs, focus instead on DOING something else. SAMSHA calls the “something else,” an “anti-drug” or “anti-drink.”
Quoting SAMHSA’s explanation of anti-drugs and anti-drinks from their recent publication, “The Next Step…Toward a Better Life:
The biggest mistake you can make is to think you can simply go back to your life and not use drugs and alcohol. Staying sober takes a lot of hard work. The road ahead is full of potholes that can knock you off course.
Remember that your substance abuse is something that you once learned to do. Now that you have been through detox, you need to “unlearn” substance use and “relearn” how to live sober. You may be drug-free, but you are still on “automatic pilot.” You could drink or use drugs without thinking about it.
…Taking action will help you get through this phase in several ways. It gives you a growing sense of control over your life. Best of all, instead of trying to not do something [i.e., drink or use], which is difficult, you can do something else, which is easier. The something else is your anti-drug or anti-drink.
An “anti-drug” or “anti-drink” is anything that helps you stay away from drugs or alcohol. It can be simple, like:
•Chewing gum or eating candy when you crave a drink
•Calling your self-help group sponsor or a friend instead of going to places where you might use
•Keeping pictures of your children in your pocket as motivation to stay away from alcohol and drugs
•Joining a faith organization that supports recovery
•Finding a new job that keeps you busy and away from others who use.
The more anti-drugs you have, the better. By doing your anti-drugs/anti-drinks, you can gradually shut off that automatic pilot and get back in the driver’s seat. The people who are most successful in staying sober do two anti-drugs/drinks in particular: go to counseling and join a self-help group.
Practicing anti-drug activities doesn’t mean you have to be busy. It can also mean mental activity such as prayer and meditation. There are many forms of meditation, including mindfulness training. Mindfulness training is taught in hospitals for stress and pain control. These mental exercises can help get you out of “automatic pilot.”
Just like exercising a muscle, these anti-drug activities feel more natural with use. …[M]ake a list of your own anti-drinks/anti-drugs. Tear it out and keep it with you. Unless you are ready with a list of ideas to avoid alcohol and drugs, it will be too easy for you to start drinking or using again.