Changing your relationship with alcohol takes a lot of courage. You have to look at the things that are no longer working for you and find a way to make changes. Change does not necessarily happen in a linear fashion. Even when you have the best plan in place, slip ups or what are termed lapses and relapses can occur. Experiencing a slip up where you reach for a drink is not a failure nor a sign of weakness. These are just years of automatic patterns and ways of coping that need re-working. After the patterns are identified, you have a better chance of replacing them with healthier and more helpful ways of coping.
The good news is, there is always a way through the challenges, towards a better relationship with alcohol.
What is a lapse?
A lapse is a brief return to drinking or other substance use after a period of abstinence. It is a short-term backstep on a journey of change. For example, a person may have decided to go alcohol-free for a month. Then they have an argument with their spouse or child and reach for a drink at the end of the day. The next day they feel like they have let themselves down and resolve to keep going with their 30-day alcohol-free challenge and get back on track. This can occur, without it turning into a relapse.
What is a relapse?
A relapse on the other hand, is a return to drinking after a period of being alcohol-free. A relapse generally means that the person resumes drinking at the previous levels.
How do you get through that slip up?
When you find yourself reaching for a drink again, this is an opportunity to pause and reflect on why this happened and identify your triggers. Often there are warning signs that can give you clues as to why you picked up a drink. These signs can be situations, thoughts, and feelings that are connected to old drinking behaviours. Once you are more aware of these triggers, you can find better ways to deal with them as they pop up.
It’s also important to have a plan to get you back on track if you experience a slip up. Here are four tips:
1. Be kind to yourself
The first thing we might want to do is beat ourselves up when we experience a slip up. The thing to remember is that lapses and relapses are just old patterns coming up and are not necessarily failures. Patterns take time to change, practising self-kindness can really help when you are trying to pick yourself up and keep going.
2. Track your triggers
Some common ‘feeling’ triggers that can arise occur when we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired or bored. In those situations, we may want to numb those feelings with a drink. If we have developed a pattern of drinking when feeling this way, it will become more noticeable when we are making changes. In the Daybreak community, our members often remind themselves of the following acronym – HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) when they experience cravings.
3. Take care of your needs
Find ways to take care of yourself. That may mean learning new coping strategies like relaxation techniques, or allowing yourself to sit with the feelings that come up. Or it may be as simple as eating a healthy, fulfilling meal to get through a craving; calling a friend; or organising a break from work. There are many ways to address your feelings in a healthy way, and sometimes it may take a bit of time to find the right thing that is needed for you and your situation.
4. Find support
Ask for help when things are difficult. It’s easy to forget that many people have gone through a similar experience to you while trying to change their relationship with alcohol. When things are tough, we can feel alone in our struggles. It’s good to remember that you are never alone and there is a lot of support available to help you reach your goals. There are friends to reach out to, support groups to join, supportive app communities like Daybreak, and professionals who can help you get back on track.
No matter where you are on your journey of changing your relationship with alcohol, there are always ways to reach your goals. If you have had some setbacks and slip ups already, think about getting some additional support and having some strategies ready for the next time challenges pop up. Check-in with our Daybreak community for motivation and encouragement.
If you would like to know where to start, you can check out our self-assessment portal on the Hello Sunday Morning website. It provides a quick snapshot of where you currently are with your drinking and provides some tips on where to go from there.
All the best on your change journey, Travellers!