Managing high risk situations

Early recovery can be challenging. Sobriety can take a while to get used to. Everything is new and weird and we often don’t know how to cope.
The purpose of this exercise is to identify high-risk situations and behaviours that lead to relapse. It will explore how our thinking or beliefs about certain situations or people can lead to picking up a drink when we don’t intend to. If we have this information before we put ourselves into situations that might harm us, we can think through how we can cope with them and take a different course of action.

Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach at

Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach at

Here are some common dilemmas for people in early recovery:
• You are asked to attend a celebration of a close drinking friend
• Your friends ask you to come to the pub
• A friend reminds you of the ‘good times’
• You wonder how you’ll ever have a relationship or sex sober
• You are scared of social situations
• Your work is very social and you are often asked into drinking situations
• You feel like you are missing out on fun
• You think life will be boring
• You are scared of how you will feel without drink
• You won’t know how to ‘reward’ yourself
• Christmas and birthdays

High-risk situations for relapse are often because of the following:

Negative emotions
We often drank because we felt ‘bad’ and wanted something to take away the feelings. We often drank because we felt angry, sad, frustrated, anxious, frightened, nervous, depressed, lonely, guilty or bored. If we feel bad for long enough it is human instinct to change this as quickly as possible, alcohol has always been the quickest way of doing this. We need to recognise these feelings and ask ourselves why we are having them and what we can do to change to them, this way we gain control over them rather than just reacting on impulse to them, the first part of this process is acknowledgement of our feelings and awareness that although we feel bad it will pass. We may indeed be sad or depressed because something unpleasant has happened to us, instead of just reacting to the feeling and drinking, the action to take is talk to someone. Feelings and emotions are just action signals, they are your minds way of saying ‘pay attention here’ something needs seeing to, think of it like the red warning light on a car, it indicates something needs your attention. All feelings need is acknowledgment and processing in a way that is helpful to you rather than harmful. The key here is:
• Recognise
• Acknowledge,
• Accept
• Take action!

Positive emotions
Sometimes when we feel good, or are excited about something we think we will feel even better by taking a drink. (A word of caution here, positive emotions are a very good thing indeed, we are not trying to avoid them, what we need to recognise is by taking a drink we will change a natural organic positive emotion into an artificially induced one, believe it or not the natural highs you will discover through being sober will beat any artificial high you can create through alcohol). This is a common belief that people hold, that they will never be able to have fun again, never be able to enjoy the football, or a birthday or Christmas or a party etc., etc, and the truth is you may have had fun at the beginning of you drinking career, but ask your self a question, when was the last time you really had fun drinking? Or were these events simply an excuse you were looking fro in order to drink. This is about perspective, if you step back and look at all the situations you drank in, wasn’t it the drinking that was more important than what you were supposedly celebrating, did you use Christmas as a time to drink constantly as you felt you had a good enough excuse? I promise you, if you address what’s underneath your drinking you will have more fun than you could possibly imagine, because it will be genuine not artificially created.

Testing control
After a period of not drinking, we sometime kid ourselves that we can now handle it and that we could try having one or two. We start believing it’s all about will power and will try and test this. Stopping drinking has nothing whatsoever to do with will power. Remember if your drinking has developed into alcoholism your mind and body is different to normal people, this means when alcohol enters your system you respond differently than normal people. Your mind remembers how much you drink and will not settle for less. That’s why will power is useless; your body will be working against you. If you have lost control of your drinking you will never get it back. To confirm this, think about how long and how much effort you have put in trying to control your drinking, have you ever succeeded? Was it worth the effort? Has any of it made you truly happy?

Coping with conflict
We’re sometimes tempted to ‘hide’ from a situation we find difficult to cope with, especially when there is conflict involved with other people. We feel lots of negative emotions we don’t want to deal with. Conflict is difficult to cope with because we don’t like displeasing people, we feel responsible for how they feel. The conflict we have is either expressing how we really feel or running the risk of upsetting someone (and then worrying about what they think about us) or not saying how we feel and getting angry and irritated with ourselves because we haven’t ‘spoken our truth’. The truth is you are not responsible for how any one else feels and what other people think about you is none of your business. There is a phrase that is a great ‘rule of thumb’ when dealing with these situations: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, don’t say it mean”.

Social pressure

When we drink we surround ourselves with people who drink the way we do, this is because the people around us mirror back to us who we are. We can ‘hide’ from ourselves when we surround ourselves with people who won’t challenge us or confront our behaviour. It will be uncomfortable for them if we stop drinking as they may be forced to look at their own drinking, they may not want to do that so it is easier for them to coerce you into drinking again. There is also a group mentality where it’s easier to advocate responsibility for yourself by saying ‘everyone else is doing it that means its ok for me to’; this is just another way you lie to yourself. Pay attention to who are your real friends and who are just ‘drinking buddies’ or ‘fair weather friends’. Are you spending time with people you genuinely like and trust?

2 thoughts on “Managing high risk situations

  1. Jeanne

    I remember these issues in the early days. For me, the dilemma of ‘how to reward myself’ was a big one. I was accustomed to ‘getting through’ the day and rewarding myself at 5:00. Getting through the week and rewarding myself on Friday. Getting through the birthday party and rewarding myself when all the kids went home. Getting through the amusement park and rewarding myself back at the hotel. In sobriety, I’ve learned to enjoy life. All of it. I no longer hang on until a particular part of it us over. It’s all good!

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