Relapse Triggers: What You Need to Avoid

Drinking to celebrate or drinking to forget?

Posted Oct 31, 2018

What do “being on your A game” and “feeling like crap” have in common?

Traditional gender stereotypes can influence the drinking patterns and relapse behaviors of men and women. One commercial for beer encourages potential consumers, “Tonight is kind of special,” so choose their brand to mark a celebration. Men tend to drink to build up their courage, to celebrate when it’s “5 o’clock somewhere,” or welcome the weekend because it’s “finally Friday.”

Beer commercials typically use marketing that shows groups of friends enjoying a cold one. Liquor commercials often associate their products with machismo and sexual prowess. However, even the brand names of many wines marketed to women suggest that wine is for unwinding, relaxing, and settling down from the excitement or chaos of everyday life. With label names such as, “Relax,” “Mad Housewife,” and “Middle Sister,” wine merchants are clearly gendering their products on the shelves.

Getting sober isn’t easy and relapse is always a sip away

Some researchers have explored the similarities between addiction and other chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. (McLellan, Lewis, O'Brien, & Kleber, 2000). Estimates indicate that about 40-60% of addicts will relapse and although medications and treatments that can help minimize relapse, it takes consistent self-care focus to avoid it.

Men and their relapse triggers

Basically, research continues to show that men who are trying to stay clean and sober are most likely to relapse when they’re feeling good. Power and control are heady emotions for men and when a man in recovery is feeling invincible, or has that “can’t touch this!” kind of energy, it’s often a trigger for relapse. Cigarette smoking shows a similar pattern: Men relapse when they’re feeling good (Messer, Siegel, Bertin, & Erblich, 2018).

While we all crave power, regardless of our gender, our cultural expectations place a burden on men to carry their power around like a badge of honor, a shield, or a weapon.

Men who are trying to stay sober know that it’s important to stay away from the people and places that they associate with drinking or drugging. They also know that it’s important to remember the problems that their substance use created for them in the past. And having a support group with whom they are actively engaging is another key to avoiding that first sip or smoke.

When a man feels good, celebration makes sense. If celebration means lifting a glass, having a cold one, or lighting one up, that means a relapse is likely inevitable. Finding new ways of enjoying life, clean and sober, can be a challenging task in a world where men are expected to be men and substance use and abuse is found everywhere you look. From the rundown dive bar to the poshest hot spot, temptation abounds.

Women and their relapse triggers

Women, on the other hand, typically find less overt means of owning their power. When women look “too” strong, relational partners may feel threatened and look for ways to disempower their partners. For women whose lives are shaped by others expectations, rather than by dreams of how they would like to be seen, it is no surprise that their relapses are more often triggered when they feel bad emotionally.

What leads to most women feeling down on themselves? Everyone might have their own answer: Guilt, failure, past choices, not being present for their kids, being a lousy daughter, showing up wasted for work, passing out in a friend’s bathroom, feeding your kids fast food, going from a size 2 to a 4, or from a 12 to 22, going gray, being boring, “making” your partner angry, watching too much TV, forgetting to pick up the laundry, being too tired to make the bed, you name it. There are a million reasons a woman can be made to feel bad about herself and what she does or doesn’t do.

Relapse prevention isn’t easy, but it's so worth the effort

Remember, you’re sober when you take that first sip, that first puff, or that first hit. Sobriety doesn’t come easy. When you’re ready to celebrate how good life can be, celebrate among people who know how hard the struggle can be.

Remember: When you’re feeling like the next step is more than you can take, reach out to someone who’s been where you’re at and ask them to lend you a hand. Relapse is 100% preventable, but it isn’t always easy. Day 1 isn’t the hardest, but it’s not one anyone wants to repeat. Know your triggers, know your “saves,” and remind yourself that each day of sobriety is a day for sober celebration.

References

McLellan AT, Lewis DC, O'Brien CP, Kleber HD. Drug dependence, a chronic medical illness: implications for treatment, insurance, and outcomes evaluation. JAMA, 284, 1689-1695.

Messer, S., Siegel, A., Bertin, L., & Erblich, J. (2018). Sex differences in affect-triggered lapses during smoking cessation: A daily diary study. Addictive Behaviors, 87, 82–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.06.019