Why Do Relapses Happen?

Why Do Relapses Happen?

Tuesday, January 7, 2020 | By Cooper Samp

When we quick drinking or using drugs, we often experience a feeling of euphoria or exhilaration. Some members of our community at Coalition Recovery consider this the ‘pink cloud.’ This relieving feeling is most likely the effects of depressants of alcohol wearing off along with the other benefits of quitting drinking and using like better digestion, sleep, and improved mood – as well as a feeling of self-satisfaction associated with achievement and pride in being able to make significant changes. 

Some people also refer to this stage of euphoria as a ‘honeymoon period’ – where life just feels better than anything possible. It seems obvious that an alcohol-free life is the way to go and going back would seem ludicrous. 

For almost everyone feeling this genuine happiness for the first time is really powerful – especially for those who have struggled for years with physical and mental health issues. 

On the other hand, we are taught that relapse is almost an inevitable part of the recovery process; so we learn how to get back up on the horse as soon as possible. If we know how wonderful being sober is, why then do most of us return to drinking/using at some point during their recovery process? 

The answer lies in the grey area of reality – the part of life that is always there regardless of whether we are inside the ‘pink cloud’ or the gray. Here are some possible explanations:

girl looking lonely on a bench

Explanation 1: We change, but the rest of the world doesn’t

Something that can come up for people after they have experienced the ‘pink cloud’ for a couple of weeks is the unfortunate reality that some things stay the same when we stop drinking/using. While we might be happier and fulfilled along with more money and energy to do the things we want, there are still the standard challenges most people face. Despite our accomplishments, we still might have trouble with our relationships; finances still might be unpredictable, and we still can feel lonely. The realization that though we have changed ourselves, the world around us stays the same. When the ‘pink cloud’ dissipates, this can be an unpleasant awakening for many. It is clear that we are much more adept at handling these challenges sober, but many individuals can have unrealistic expectations of their new life. Sobriety is not a ‘fix-all’ solution but it certainly helps. 

Solution

For many of us, this bump in the road will happen after the first couple weeks of sobriety. Understanding that the initial feeling of sobriety has a ‘honeymoon-stage’ and to set realistic expectations of what sobriety is will be a good first step. Expecting this bump can help us tackle this initial hindrance and continue to move forward. One thing to always keep in mind is that progress happens slowly each day. As long as you continue to stay on the path of sobriety, tomorrow will always be easier than the day before. Another helpful tip might be to look back and say “How might I have handled this before when I was drunk or using?” Hopefully, you will notice what while things aren’t necessarily perfect, they are much better than previously. 

The euphoria of the pink cloud will eventually wear off and you’ll be left with hope, optimism, and realism. You might not be in a perfect circumstance, but it would be foolish for you to expect perfectionism. Gradual improvements are the realistic best-case scenario. You’ll find that in 6 months’ time, you will look back and see that these little improvements each day have enabled you to live a sober life filled with joy and fulfillment – this is better than perfect because it’s real!

Explanation 2: Life Happens

Have you ever tried to start a new healthy habit like exercise, journaling, or meditation? You’ve likely told yourself this is going to be a part of your life forever. We understand the importance of each of these actions, but yet we do them less than we’d like. When we exercise, we often experience a similar ‘pink cloud’ because we feel happier, energetic, and overall healthier; but overtime this wears off and the benefits (while still beneficial) do not seem as significant as the beginning stages. For this reason, we might erroneously think the juice is not worth the squeeze and therefore go back to our old ways. 

women sitting on beach at sunset
Our halfway houses are designed to truly heal and transition you to long term recovery.

Solution

The problem with this thinking is that we compare our current situation to the ‘pink cloud’, but we should be comparing it to when we were drinking or using. Much like exercise, we understand the importance of not drinking and understand see the long-term improvements. But, much like exercise again, maintaining sobriety is hard work and requires motivation. Without the understanding and trust that these actions are worth it, we can lose sight of our goals. 

All through our recovery, we must continue to remind ourselves why we have become sober. Abstinence, like exercise, is not always easy. There will be moments that require sacrifice and sometimes mission out on things or going without. There will even be times when we experience sadness, distress and struggle; but don’t forget this is a part of everyone’s lives. Remember that these experiences are going to be easier to deal with when we have a solid foundation of mental and physical health, good relationships and stability in our lives.

Half of the battle is knowing what to expect during recovery. If we can all be aware of this ‘pink cloud’ and the initial bump that comes after, we can create realistic expectations of how abstinence is going to affect us long-term. This can hopefully inspire our dedication and motivation to stay on the path of recovery. 

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