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The Lies That Lead to Relapse

Getting treatment for substance abuse is the first very important step. But how do you maintain recovery? That’s what relapse prevention is all about.

During recovery you learn to recognize the thought processes and the actual expressed excuses that are typical of addicts.  Anticipating a return of those negative attitudes is the first step in relapse prevention. It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking that you’ll never have those kinds of thoughts again, but everybody does.   

Defeatist rationales are better known as “stinking thinking” within the 12-step community. Learning the language of relapse arms you against the dangers it presents. Here are some of the typical warped justifications that lead people down the dark path:

  • I’ve really put a lot of work into recovery. Nobody will blame me if I just take a break from it.
  • I’m doing so well that I really believe I can handle just one drink.
  • If I’m going to be accused of drinking, then I might as well go ahead and do it.  

These types of thoughts occur in the person who thinks he has totally beaten his addiction:

  • I know what my weakness is now. I’ll avoid that substance and use this one instead.
  • I just want to test myself.
  • I don’t really have a need to use, but since I’m with my friends I’ll just have a hit.

Many people find it easy to justify a decision to use again. Everybody, and that means everybody, has made a resolution to stop doing something—spending, eating, using bad language—and then justified a reason to break that resolution. Someone might blame it on his partner or the group of friends he’s hanging out with that day.  It’s natural, because when someone has only a short amount of recovery time under his belt, he is actually going through a healing process, just like a person recovering from a physical injury.

The person who has just begun treatment feels the effects of all kinds of hurtful emotional baggage and negative behaviors that were part and parcel of his substance abuse.  Even when he’s abstinent, he remains vulnerable to having those feelings return and overwhelm him.  The person becomes crushed by the weight of his emotions, often suffering from anxiety, irritability, and depression. Some people experience sexual dysfunction or lose interest in their love life. For others, it’s more about boredom.

These emotions can build to an overwhelming crescendo, and it’s quite understandable. After all, with all the work that somebody puts into recovery—accepting the need for treatment, examining his conscience, resisting temptation—feelings can run pretty wild.

These are some examples of the common relapse justifications—the lies—that people tell themselves:

  • My parent/spouse/sibling died. Nobody would expect me to stay sober today.
  • I just got fired. Why shouldn’t I use?
  • My mortgage is going into foreclosure. I really need a drink!

Other times, people shine on with some seriously silly logic to justify using, for example:

  • Look at the weight I’m gaining! If I drop some speed, it’ll curb my appetite.
  • Sex is no good without drugs.
  • I have to give a presentation at work, and I’ll function better if I just take this first.

Emotions often get the better of someone who is trying to stay sober. He is not yet experienced in turning his thinking around. He may be dealing with the following thoughts:

  • I’m so depressed, I don’t care what happens to me.
  • She made me so angry that I’m not responsible for my actions.

Here’s What to Do:

Never take your recovery for granted. Addiction is a medical diagnosis, like diabetes. Just like a diabetic, you will have to manage your illness for your entire life. You must always be prepared to handle thoughts about using, because they will always be with you. But you can beat them! Consider the variety of excuses you’ve read here, which ones apply to you, and how you would fight them. Whether you get out your Big Book, call your sponsor, or go to a meeting, your job is simple: Never give up.

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