Temptation is what lies at the very heart of relapse for the people who have given up drinking already. It is also the very thing that creates a wall between those and their attempts to give up an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
It could be the pub down the road where you were practically part of the furniture. Maybe it’s a feeling of anxiety, depression or a lack of self-worth. It could even be the people you are around or an environment you find yourself in. Temptations are all around, there is no need to go looking for them. Even a TV commercial could cause you to feel tempted to drink.
Temptation takes many forms; it can be mental or physical. This problem is far more common in early sobriety but can happen to anyone at any time. Let’s face it, even those who don’t have addictions have trouble curbing cravings sometimes. It’s easy to see how otherwise rational people compromise their long-term health for short-term gains. It is however, possible to adjust how we think of things that tempt us in the short-term and the goals we are trying to reach in the long-term.
Yes, it is possible to alter the balances of these influences and build self-control. The battle can be pretty fierce between different brain regions. Research has shown that an area of the brain (ventral striatum) is involved in the reward processing and that more activity in this area means more craving. The very front part of your brain (prefrontal cortex) however, is responsible for cognitive control such as inhibitions of actions and emotional regulations.
Without too much more talk of brain studies, let’s get to the point. The bottom line is that temptation is all happening in the brain so we need to look at how to teach the brain to help instead of hinder us. The only way the brain will change how it responds will depend on what we do. When we drink regularly, we develop learnt behaviour and the brain records this. By wiring different behaviour into the brain, we can change the way the temptation affects us.
We have two distinct self-regulation systems, one of impulsivity and one of self-control. I have a wealth of experience with both and found the only way to stand up to unhealthy temptations was to refocus and choose to not give in to the impulse and do something that I knew would be bad for me. Not easy to do. It takes effort and dedication to change the way we react to these feelings. It’s important to create mental bridges to provide logical conclusions.
In order for our thoughts to lead us down the wrong path there must first be a lack of vision of what lies ahead. If we stop for just a minute and visualise where our actions will take us and how we will feel, the temptation becomes less appealing. A good technique is to first visualise the stop sign, this gives you time to think first before you act. The second thing is to play the tape forward in your head, taking you from start to finish, from the point of giving in to temptation to the end result and the consequences you will have to face.
Temptation hides within triggers, so these must be recognised before they can be dismissed. We tend to gain power over temptations by giving them an identity. Triggers might include being stressed, tired, emotional or just feeling plain defeated. You might be doing so well and then something creeps up and all self-control seems to go out the window!
*Removing obvious triggers is key to making things easier for yourself.
Get rid of any alcohol that’s in the house. It will only take a second to go to the fridge or cupboard, giving you zero time to re-evaluate. A walk to the shop on the other hand takes more time and effort.
*Control your surroundings. Why put yourself in situations where it is going to make it hard to avoid temptation?
*Distraction from the feeling of temptation will take your attention away from it until it passes… it will pass.
*Consider how giving in keeps the temptation alive but not giving in kills it.
*TALK – pick up the phone and tell someone you are having a wobble. This takes the power out of it. It also allows you to put things into perspective making it less likely that you will make bad decisions.
*Exercise. Putting on your running shoes or getting out for a walk will mean a rush of endorphins reinforcing positive behaviour, improving chances of resisting temptation.
I always found it really helpful and effective to surf the wave.
This involved me accepting my thoughts and feelings and being present. Reminding myself out loud that this feeling will pass, it always does. This would then strengthen my resolve as I knew that soon enough the feeling would be gone.
The voice of temptation might be telling you to have a drink but it is not controlling you, so it is helpful to use temptation as a signal or warning sign that is letting you know it is time to put a coping strategy in place. It is far easier to nip temptation in the bud than to try stopping it when it’s in full swing.
There are also medications available that can help with cravings that are proving difficult to cope with. I think if needed it is something to be considered, however it should not be seen as a long-term solution that replaces healthy coping mechanisms. These options might help get you over that bump in the road but rather than have to rely on any medication it is important to learn how to change your responses to negative feelings.
We all have a choice. If you believe you can lead a happier and healthier life then you will. Life is all about choices and every choice we make will make us. Everything in the past reflects the choices that have been made and the same goes for the future.
Making good choices today means not having any regrets tomorrow. Temptation all begins and ends in your mind. It is about what you give power to that will then have power over you, if you allow it to!