Blog

February 4, 2019

6 Common Excuses for Relapse, And How to Beat Them

Your detox counselors may have introduced you to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or the art of changing your behavior by changing your thinking. Whether or not your counselors used the exact term, you’ve been involved in CBT if they had you practice any of the following techniques:

  • Clearly defining your problems and what can be done about them
  • Practicing regular gratitude and/or positive thinking
  • Letting go of what you can’t control
  • Countering faulty, negative thoughts with true, positive ones

That last technique is particularly helpful in overcoming relapse temptations. Few people relapse into drug use, and very few back into full addiction, without first relapsing into faulty thinking patterns. If you find yourself tempted by any of the following “I need a drink/pill/hit again” excuses, here are some truths you can tell yourself to help defuse the cravings.

(Don’t, however, rely exclusively on your own power. If the cravings persist or intensify, and if you can’t easily distract your mind with some productive activity, call a support partner to help you convince yourself you don’t need more drugs.)

EXCUSE #1: “I JUST CAN’T TAKE ALL THIS STRESS”

If you had a longtime habit of drinking to relax, or taking pills to reduce pain, the first rule is: Before you leave detox, know your stress triggers and plan alternate ways of coping with them. Even then, it’ll be a while before you can meet life’s inevitable stresses without remembering the old “solution.”

What you can tell yourself instead:

  • “This won’t last forever.”
  • “It’s not that important that I get everything done perfectly. I’ll do what I can, most important things first, and trust that the rest will work out.”
  •  “I’m a strong person. I’ve handled other tough situations without drugs, and I can handle this one.”

EXCUSE #2: “BUT IT’LL HELP ME FEEL BETTER”

This is the “stress” complaint mixed with bitterness: “It’s not fair this is happening to me, and no one else cares, so I have a right to numb the pain with some instant gratification.”

What you can tell yourself instead:

  • “Life is unfair sometimes, but it happens to everyone. Bad luck doesn’t single me out any more than anyone else.”
  • “I’m strong enough to ride this out. I don’t need instant relief.”
  • “I’ll do something that really helps me feel better, now and later: talk to a friend/take a hot bath/play some tennis/do something for someone else.”

EXCUSE #3: “I’M BOUND TO FAIL EVENTUALLY ANYWAY”

People who develop addiction disorders commonly struggle with feeling inadequate, usually because they set unrealistically high standards for themselves. If that’s you, you probably struggle with fears of not being able to stay sober. This can easily turn into “might as well get it over with” thinking.

What you can tell yourself instead:

  • “I was strong enough to get sober, and I’m strong enough to resist new cravings.”
  • “I won’t waste time worrying over whether I can stick it out indefinitely. I know I can stay sober today.”
  • “I have plenty of good qualities and plenty of successes [name some]. I wouldn’t expect others to be perfect, and I won’t expect it of myself.” 

EXCUSE #4: “I’M JUST PLAIN BORED”

Anyone who’s been used to getting high regularly will have times when they can’t think of anything else to do.

What you can tell yourself instead:

  • “It’ll be more fun to work on my painting/make some cookies/read a good book.” (Have a list of favorite activities prepared as part of your relapse-prevention plan, so you won’t have to struggle to come up with something on the spot.)
  • “I’m restless, not bored. I’ll feel better after a brisk walk or jog. Or I’ll call someone to chat.”
  • “I’m just fatigued. A nap/a high-protein snack/some fresh air is what I really need.”

EXCUSE #5: “JUST ONE WON’T HURT”

With a true addiction disorder, you have about as much chance of stopping after “just one” as of convincing your cat to eat onions. And we know this intellectually, but when drugs sing their siren song, it can be easy to convince yourself you’ve grown strong enough to handle it.

What you can tell yourself instead:

  • “I know what I can handle and what I can’t. Admitting my weak spots is nothing to be ashamed of: being realistic and prudent is a sign of strength.”
  • “No momentary pleasure is worth risking all the problems addiction brings. No high feels as good as the rewards of being sober.”
  • “I’ll have flavored water or a cup of coffee instead. Or I’ll do some yoga exercises to relax.”

EXCUSE #6: “IT’S A SPECIAL OCCASION”

“Up,” as well as “down,” days can tempt you to relapse. When you’re feeling particularly good, normal restraint is often forgotten, especially if champagne is always served at the annual gathering.

What you can tell yourself instead:

  • “I’ll enjoy the occasion more knowing I’ll remember it tomorrow.”
  • “I’ll be happier for longer with a clear head.”
  • “Just being sober is special. My future plans are special. I don’t need drugs to make this occasion, or my life, as special as it can be!”
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