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Clean Living with Emily

By: Emily Guarnotta

Emily Guarnotta holds a Psy.D. Her most recent work was her dissertation, “A Comparison of Abstinence and Perceived Self-efficacy for Individuals Attending SMART Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous.”

The Challenges of Summer Sobriety

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Jul 16, 2015

Recovery is difficult no matter the season, but summer can bring its own unique challenges that can test anyone’s sobriety. Summertime can pose risks to sobriety for two reasons: our prior associations and our earlier experiences. We can look to explanations from science and psychology to understand why.

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov coined the term classical conditioning to refer to the way that we learn associations. In simple terms it means that you have two paired objects or experiences that cause a specific response. For example, an iced cold beer causes a slight euphoria, often called “a buzz.” When you pair the cold beer with an outdoor BBQ on a warm, sunny day you learn to associate the same positive, euphoric feelings with the weather and even the environment. The environment or the association can then become a relapse trigger, causing a spike in cravings each time you are faced with it.

One important thing to keep in mind is that even though we can learn associations in addiction, we can also unlearn negative patterns in recovery. After going to that BBQ sober a couple of times your cravings will likely go down and it will gradually become easier. In psychology this process is called extinction, which is just a fancy way of saying that you unlearned something. Remember that no matter what your association is to summer you can unlearn it!

Another reason that summer can be a hard time in recovery goes back to the early years. Social learning, another theory from psychology, says that one of the most common ways we learn is by observing the behavior of others. This is especially true when we witness behaviors from our closest relationships, like our parents. If we consistently observe others having positive experiences using drugs or drinking in certain environments, then we can also learn that using and drinking in those same environments produce positive results.

 While social learning can play a part in developing an addiction, it can also play a large role in recovery. By finding a 12 step or other support group meeting that you like, you can observe other people enjoying the benefits of recovery. Surrounding yourself with positive, sober people provides protection from negative peer pressure and constant reminders that sobriety has its advantages.

The coping skills that you rely on during the winter, spring, and autumn months are just as effective in the summer. Here are some additional tips to keep in mind this summer:

1.     Pace yourself and engage in self-care to ease the burden of extra responsibilities.The summer months can bring extra demands which can make managing your schedule more difficult, especially if you are used to having your kids in school.

2.     Identify triggers that might come up at events, especially if there is a setting where you have used or drank at in the past. There may be a greater number of temptations as invitations for graduation parties,  weddings, and BBQs roll in.

3.     Have a detailed relapse prevention plan on hand to bring with you. Identify healthy, sober people that you can call if you feel triggered. Write down healthy coping skills that you can use, keeping in mind that it is important that the coping skills are applicable to that setting. For example, exercise is a useful coping skill but might not be something you can use at a wedding or graduation party. Instead think about what is practical, like politely excusing yourself to go on a short walk or reciting a positive affirmation.

4.     Practice refusing alcohol in a way that is assertive and clearly conveys your message. Some people find it helpful to carry a non-alcoholic drink, like a soda or coffee, to fit in. Find what works for you and makes you most comfortable.

Despite the summer months bringing thier own challenges for recovery, summer also has its advantages. The warmer weather allows for more time spent outdoors, and longer hours of daylight make it easier to catch a late night meeting. Use this summer as an opportunity to relearn new ways of having fun!

 

Related:

The Many Faces of Recovery

A Love Sparked by Recovery

Finding Light in the Darkness

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