What is Recovery for an Alcoholic?

While there are several modes of treatment for alcoholism, there is not one defining definition for alcohol recovery. “Best practices” supported by research help to shape quality alcohol recovery, and treatment programs. In general, recovery from alcoholism relies, at its foundation, on the cessation of using alcohol. Research is now looking into how people achieve and sustain remission and long-term recovery.

But the essence of recovery is more than whether a person completely abstains from alcohol. In most quality treatment programs, the focus of treatment examines issues surrounding: what alcohol does to the body and brain, self-care (life skills), taking responsibility for one’s actions, the ability to care about others (empathy), mental health, physical health (all part of self-care), spiritual health, personal growth, making necessary changes in behaviors that produce negative consequences, positive social interactions, etc.

Recovery treatment protocols generally utilize a variety of therapies, including but not limited to the following:

  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Medication Management and Co-occurring Disorders
  • Nutrition
  • Physical exercise
  • Spiritual exploration (in some form)
  • Art and Meditation Classes
  • Life Skills
  • Aftercare plans
  • Work assessment
  • 12 Step Programs (in some instances)

Not all treatment programs use the same therapeutic modalities, but quality programs will have a range of therapies conducted by a licensed therapist that consist of “best practices”. 

In a study, Elements That Define Recovery: The Experiential Perspective, researchers found that six elements most endorsed by >90% included: “essential recovery” (being honest with myself, handling negative feelings without using drugs or alcohol, being able to enjoy life without drinking or using drugs like I used to) and three elements of “enriched recovery” (a process of growth and development, reacting to life’s ups and downs in a more balanced way than I used to, taking responsibility for the things I can change).”

What are triggers?

Addiction to alcohol or drugs or both is a multidimensional condition that includes economic status, social status, educational status, health status, psychological status, physical status, genetics, past trauma, and a host of other contributing factors. Layers upon layers blend together in the development of Substance Use Disorder (SUD).

When a client is in treatment, whether outpatient or residential treatment, he/she/they are subject to a range of challenges that may not decrease when he/she/they are out of treatment care and living a “sober” life. Stressors may challenge a person in recovery regularly or intermittently. Stressors can be referred to as triggers; by definition, a trigger is an external stimulus that induces a reaction. The intensity of a trigger is dependent upon many factors. The response may start as a psychological stressor but can become a physical stressor, commonly known as a craving.

Resilience is one aspect of recovery that is crucial in managing stressors and takes time to develop, including acquired life skills, a healthy support system, healthy habits, etc. 

While there is a saying in 12 Step programs, “ you are only as far away from a drink as the length of your arm,” which applies to everyone in Alcoholic recovery, triggers may present as more intense in early sobriety than at other times. 

Alcohol-free beverages that seem like beer or wine can be a trigger to start drinking. In some of the non-alcoholic beers, there are trace amounts of alcohol. These can have a psychological impact on a person in recovery.

The act of drinking a non-alcoholic beverage may occur in a familiar spot where drinking alcohol occurred. Indeed, in some individuals, the sensation of being drunk may occur after consuming a non-alcoholic beverage.

Situations (people, places, things) can set off triggers. Perhaps you arrive at a family gathering. You know there will be alcoholic beverages, so you bring your non-alcoholic drink instead of tea, coffee, or soda. But, not only the beer-like substance in this environment can trigger you. Bringing a non-alcoholic beverage, while its intention may have been healthy, adds levels of stress to a difficult situation. The family dynamics can profoundly impact your sobriety: it may be trying, at the very least.

Hosia Keene (M.A., LMHC) integrated provider at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation treatment Center is quoted as saying, “anything can be a trigger if a person associates it with past drinking—the smell, the taste, the location, who’s there, the occasion or social setting. We know we can’t avoid it all. So what we try to do is help to understand and then anticipate which ones are going to be problematic…”

Cope with triggers you can’t avoid

It’s not possible to avoid all tempting situations or to block internal triggers, so you’ll need a range of strategies to handle urges to drink. Here are some options:

  • Remind yourself of your reasons for making a change. Carry your top reasons on a wallet card or in an electronic message that you can access easily, such as on a mobile phone or a saved email. (Visit the pros and cons page to list and sort your reasons.)
  • Talk it through with someone you trust. Have a trusted friend on standby for a phone call, or bring one along for support in situations where you might be tempted to drink.
  • Distract yourself with a healthy, alternative activity. For different situations, come up with engaging short, mid-range, and longer options, like texting or calling someone, watching short online videos, lifting weights to music, showering, meditating, taking a walk, or doing a hobby.
  • Challenge the thought that drives the urge. Stop it, analyze the error in it, and replace it. Example: “It couldn’t hurt to have one little drink. WAIT a minute—what am I thinking? One could hurt, as I’ve seen ‘just one’ lead to lots more. I am sticking with my choice not to drink.”
  • Ride it out without giving in. Instead of fighting an urge, accept it as normal and temporary. As you ride it out, keep in mind that it will soon crest like an ocean wave and pass.
  • Leave tempting situations quickly and gracefully. It helps to plan your escape in advance.”

For those in early recovery, it is best to avoid non-alcoholic beverages. There are too many variables that can become triggers. Sobriety is worth the effort, and getting your life back is the reward–do not risk it for non-alcoholic beer or wine.

If you need help, call Recovery Bay a drug and alcohol rehab center designed to help men recover from addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Speak to a specialist now and find the path to regain your life. Living with active addiction consumes every aspect of one’s life; it causes pain and hardship to those who love you. Call now for help.