Denial assists in this process we call relapse. Addiction is a very powerful and complex process that takes place in the primal part of the brain. When this process is active it will very often override the thinking brain and push out any type of reasonable thinking. It replaces common sense and rational thought with distorted, magical thinking that becomes paramount. thus the old cliche, "Stinking thinking alwasys precedes the drinking!"
This time of year many resolutions are made only to be quietly dismissed after a short period of time. But how can such a determined resolution to ‘quit drinking’ end in another failed attempt to stop a behavior that can be so harmful to self and others?
One would think such a person is either very weak or just doesn’t care. It is easy to see how others can come to this conclusion about the problem drinker if they are judging them based on their actions. Sometimes opinions can be formed based on what a person says, but when it comes down to intentions or what a person actually does, the latter will usually make the determination about who we think they are.
I am a recovering alcoholic and very grateful to be in long term recovery. In my drinking days I would get intoxicated and inevitably hurt someone with my behavior. It might physical, verbal or just simply not follow through with a commitment or promise. I would offer up an honest apology and a solemn oath to quit, only to return to a similar behavior somewhere down the road. Over a period of time, my apologies became hollow. My intention was not to hurt anyone, but my behavior said something else. That is the precise reason why alcoholics do not have the trust of those around them. Their actions do not show a history of consistent, trustworthy behaviors.
I experienced much regret, guilt and shame as a result of my drinking. Common sense would surely guide a person in the direction of not repeating the same behavior over and over that causes such angst and turmoil. It would appear that a person is not learning from their mistakes when repeating this negative behavior. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to understand alcoholics. Who in their right mind would exhibit this irrational behavior? Why can’t they see what they are doing and just quit?
Loved ones can fall into the trap of trying to help them by repeatedly explaining the impact of their drinking behaviors. The more the alcoholic continues their irrational behavior, the more the family member tries to reason with them. Loved ones of a practicing addict can be significantly affected by this powerful disease, thus leading to their own desperate and bizarre behavior.
Addiction is a very powerful and complex process that takes place in the primal part of the brain. When this process is active it will very often override the thinking brain and push out any type of reasonable thinking. It replaces common sense and rational thought with distorted, magical thinking that becomes paramount. Denial assists in this process.
In addition to denial and delusion, alcohol is a depressant. So the more alcohol one consumes the more it ‘depresses’ or puts to sleep different areas of the brain, starting with the frontal lobe (the decision making center). If this area of our brain is inhibited, it is much easier to chase that euphoric feeling that is created through the chemical changes of drinking or drugging. The thinking becomes - if one is good, then more is better.
Many helpful books and loads of materials have been written on relapse. Counselors, treatment centers and self-help groups around the world are familiar with it, study it and offer ideas, methods, tips and tools to help one prevent it. There is no single proven method, no magic pill, and sometimes seemingly no rhythm or reason to relapse. Typically though there are warning signs that a relapse is about to occur.
One thing I can share about relapse is that it does not have to mean hopelessness. I have witnessed many chronic relapsers come up out of the ashes of deep rooted addiction and get clean and sober. It is important to note that family members do not have to tolerate unacceptable behavior until a person reaches the point of wanting to get sober. Strong, firm boundaries need to be in place while the person goes through the process of their addiction.
I have much faith in the person who continually to tries to get sober. My message to alcoholics would be - don’t ever give up, it can happen. It is not impossible nor is it hopeless. Family members and loved ones need to tend to their own journey and take care of themselves when dealing with someone who struggles with relapse. Left unchecked this illness can also take them hostage. They too can experience a ‘relapse’ and return to the crazy behavior of trying to stop, control or cure the alcoholic.
I have experienced relapse and getting back on track was difficult. But I needed that experience because I was convinced I could get sober by myself. My relapse taught me I needed help from those who were sober. Also learning about my triggers and relapse warning signs helped me to avoid those pitfalls.
The good news is that relapse doesn’t have to continually occur, long term sobriety is possible and family members can also lead a sane and serene life.
Angie Carter, CRADC, SAP is a certified alcohol and drug counselor in the State of Missouri and DOT certified Substance Abuse Professional. She is in private practice with her husband at Carter Counseling & Consulting Services in Central Missouri. Angie primarily sees clients in office, but is also available for telephone coaching and/or consultation. Click here to contact Angie with your questions or feedback.
This information is not a substitute for professional evaluation and/or treatment. Reading the information contained here may trigger strong emotional reactions. If you have an emergency, call 911, other local emergency contact, your local emergency room, or law enforcement agency.