Most people who enter recovery will expect that facing bad days will be a real test of their sobriety. They understand that when times are difficult there will be a real temptation to escape back to addiction. What the individual may be less aware of is the dangers of the good times in as well. The reason for this is that people learn to associate celebration with intoxication. It can be difficult to break this association initially in recovery. This means that in the early months of being away from alcohol or drugs it is advisable that the individual views the good times as a potential challenge to their sobriety. This certainly does not mean that they should avoid enjoying life, only that they learn to always put their recovery first. Once the individual because established in sobriety they will be able to safely enjoy the good times just like everyone else.
When people are addicted to alcohol or drugs they use chemicals to celebrate the good times. This is their reward for achievements and there idea of a good day is one where they are happily intoxicated. This connection between good days and substance abuse becomes hard wired into their brains. This means that even when the individual becomes sober they continue to look upon intoxication as a reward for a job well done. Some people may even find it difficult for to imagine how they can possibly celebrate without these chemicals. This type of thinking is dangerous because:
* The individual can feel cheated because they still feel like they deserve to use drugs or alcohol when they achieve something. This feeling of being cheated can lead to dissatisfaction with their recovery.
* They can become convinced that it is almost impossible to really enjoy a celebration without substance abuse.
* People can develop the notion that recovery is similar to serving a prison sentence with no real opportunity for enjoyment.
* Even when things are going well for the individual they can still suspect that things would be better if they could use drugs. This means there will always be a slight sense of dissatisfaction no matter how good things get.
If people continue to think this way in recovery it can mean that the good times can be as much a challenge to their recovery as the bad times.
The incentive sensitization theory of addiction provides an explanation for why the addict so strongly associates substance abuse with having a good time. It occurs because the brain of the individual has become sensitized to the chemicals they have been abusing. The circuitry in the brain has established a link between substance abuse and the internal reward system. This all occurs in the unconscious, but it has an impact on behavior. Even those individuals who have been free of addiction for many years can still occasionally year for alcohol or drugs when they feel they deserve a reward. This is a learned motivational response that can be unlearnt over time.
Another reason why the good times can be trick in recovery is that many individuals will experience pink cloud syndrome during the first few months of their sobriety. The term pink cloud is usually used negatively to describe people who are too high on life. People should be happy in recovery, but if they become unreasonably high it can lead to problems. The risk is that the individual will feel so good about things that they will not see any need to put effort into their recovery. This means that they will not be doing the things that help them sober. Another problem with the pink cloud is that it usually ends. The individual can hit the ground so hard that they become disillusioned with sobriety.
The reason why pink cloud syndrome occurs in early recovery is understandable. The individual will have been numbing their emotions for years using alcohol or drugs. Suddenly these emotions are unfrozen and everything can feel incredibly intense. This is why early sobriety is sometimes referred to as an emotional rollercoaster ride. The individual can move from feeling incredibly happy to incredibly sad in a matter of seconds. If their sobriety is not strong the individual can struggle to survive these emotional highs and lows.
There are steps that people can take to ensure that they enjoy the good times safely in recovery:
One of the first steps to managing the good times safely is to know of the potential danger. If the individual is aware that that cravings may appear when things are going well they can be prepared for them. It is mostly when people are caught by surprise with the desire for a celebratory drink or drug that they struggle.
There are some celebratory occasions that people can prepare for in advance. This includes birthdays and the Christmas festivities. The individual will have usually developed rituals around these special days and these will involve substance abuse. This means that they can feel a real pull back to addiction on these occasions. The way for the individual to get over this is to create new rituals that do not involve alcohol or drugs. Once they become accustomed to these new traditions the special days can be even more enjoyable than in the past.
It is important that people in recovery find new ways of giving themselves a reward, one that does not involve taking mind altering substances. It is also not a good idea to use food as a reward because this can lead to comfort eating. After people have been sober for a few months they will have a much better idea of what they like and don’t like. This makes it easier to choose a suitable reward system.
If people are going to attend a celebratory event where alcohol is going to be available they will need to be careful. It is often advised that those who are in early recovery should avoid such events because there is too much temptation. This is not always possible and the individual may feel obliged to attend certain functions, for example, a family wedding. The individual can take steps to safely manage such occasions. This could include bringing along another sober friend for support.
The individual needs to understand that this association between celebrating and substance is something they have learnt. It is not the reality of the situation. They will be able to unlearn this association and discover that things can be even more enjoyable sober. The individual will then no longer feel that they are missing out on something. They will no longer believe that a drink or drug would make the occasion better.