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Alcohol Detox - I've messed up again and I feel so ashamed

Published 19/08/2008

Recovering from alcohol dependence can be a long and arduous journey. First, you must go through detox, battling the unpleasant symptoms associated with withdrawal from alcohol. Then, you must undergo a period of therapy, in which the reasons and triggers for your drinking are addressed. Finally, you need to identify new ways of taking care of yourself and establishing new patterns of behaviour with friends and family.

No wonder some people in recovery crack under pressure, give into temptation or simply lose the motivation to stay alcohol-free. In fact, one of the major challenges in recovery from any addiction, including alcohol dependence, is the reality that relapse may occur, says Sue Allchurch, director of the Linwood Group.

Relapse is not unusual and can bring with it terrible feelings of "shame, guilt and failure", she says. But it is far more constructive to see relapse as a vital lesson learned on the journey towards recovery. That means studying the factors that triggered the relapse and the warning signs that you were vulnerable at that time. "If you do relapse, learning why may help you avoid it next time and leave you better equipped to sustain long-term sobriety," she says.

Relapse triggers and warning signs

  • Deciding to stop medications or treatment on one’s own or against the advice of medical professionals;
  • Hanging around old drinking haunts or with former drinking companions;
  • Keeping alcohol in the house for any reason;
  • Isolating yourself by skipping Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, failing to call your AA mentor or not attending therapy appointments;
  • Feeling over-confident (that you no longer need support) or, conversely, losing confidence in your ability to remain abstinent;
  • Believing you are now ‘cured’ of alcohol dependency and could control your intake of alcohol (sometimes called the reactivation of denial)
  • Setting unrealistic goals, being a perfectionist, being too hard on yourself or simply being impatient with the recovery process;
  • Dwelling obsessively on past resentments, old hurts and unresolved conflicts;
  • Avoidance – refusal to deal with personal issues and other problems of daily living;
  • Major life changes – death, divorce, relationship difficulties, new home, and so on.

Some studies suggest that approximately two-thirds of all relapses for any addiction occur within the first 90 days of recovery. But the longer a person is abstinent following treatment for alcohol dependency, the better things will get and their confidence and ability to handle stress without alcohol will improve. 


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