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Triggers and Cravings

Defining Relapse: A Rehearsal for Success

June 16, 2023
5 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 16, 2023
5 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 16, 2023
5 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 16, 2023
5 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 16, 2023
5 min read

Those trying to control their drinking may see relapse as a looming threat. But we needn’t view our setbacks or slip-ups as a return to square one. Relapses could turn out to be successes rather than failures in our quest to control our drinking. How so? Let’s discuss it in this blog post!

What Exactly Is a Relapse?

A relapse is the return to a former behavior — in our case, drinking — after a period of recovery, or after a period of improvement or abstinence. Is it a failure, though? Hardly.

The human brain values consistency, predictability, and comfort. So once you get used to having a pint or two, your brain starts to anticipate it and forges neuronal highways specifically devoted to your drinking habits, kind of like well-traveled footpaths.

A Tale of Two Minds

The release of a neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain's reward system is what causes us to feel good, relaxed, or even euphoric when we drink alcohol. Over time, the brain begins to associate drinking with these pleasant feelings, leading to cravings.

Because the habit develops in the more primitive "lower" brain, also referred to as the lizard brain, which is in charge of automatic urges that serve as the foundation for repetitive behaviors, a paradox can emerge when there is a disconnect with the higher-level prefrontal cortex responsible for making conscious decisions. Try as we might to stop, the cravings that sustain a habit are naturally created and undermine our efforts.

The Power of Triggers

Have you ever smelled freshly baked cookies and wanted one right away? That's your brain associating that heavenly aroma with the taste of cookies, triggering the craving. The same phenomenon can happen when you drink; specific situations, places, people, or emotions can trigger your brain's memory of drinking and make you crave alcohol. A difficult day at work, social events, or even the sight of a wine bottle could be among these triggers.

Your brain must adjust to this new reality when you decide to stop or reduce your drinking, much like tuning a radio to a new frequency. This can be a difficult process, especially when those ingrained neurological pathways keep luring us back to our old drinking habits. It's a struggle that can ultimately result in a relapse.

The Power of Neuroplasticity

Our brains can be altered and are malleable, a quality known as neuroplasticity. Every time you resist the impulse to drink, you're forging a new neuronal pathway in your brain that signals, "I don't need alcohol to have fun." And over time, this new pathway can end up being your brain's default path. Amazing, isn't it?

Stepping Back To Leap Forward

Relapsing doesn't mean that you've failed or have to start over from scratch. On the contrary, it's a chance for learning and improvement.

Identify any triggers that may have led you to relapse so you can avoid them in the future. Consider the relapse as a teaching opportunity that will improve your ability to recognize triggers in the future. It's like the saying goes, "Fall seven times, stand up eight."

For assistance navigating this path, speak with experts like therapists, counselors, or support groups. When times are hard, they can provide coping mechanisms, ways to deal with triggers, and a sympathetic ear. Relapses do not indicate failure; they are merely a stage of the recovery process. Relapses are rehearsals for success, so keep that in mind! Keep growing, learning, and progressing, one step at a time.

Are you ready to re-examine your relationship with alcohol in a fun, effective, and intuitive way? Then Reframe is exactly what you need! Through daily tasks, monthly challenges, and a live chat Forum where you can interact with people from all around the world, we firmly believe in assisting individuals just like you in realizing your full potential. If you have any questions along the process, our team is always available and ready to help. We can also put you in touch with trained counselors if you feel you need more assistance.

Reframe is FREE to join for the first 7 days, so act now with no risk. With a mind-blowing 2.1 million downloads to date and climbing, we're constantly reimagining what it means to be sober or sober-curious. We can't wait to meet you!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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