Why do we go back to drinking?

Some Daybreak members talk about the ‘pink cloud’, or the feeling of euphoria or exhilaration when they stop drinking. When we think about it, it is probably an effect of the depressant effects of alcohol wearing off, and the other associated benefits that come from not drinking, including better sleep, better digestion and improved mood – as well as a feeling of achievement and pride in being able to make significant changes.

Many members will describe this as a bit of a ‘honeymoon period’ – where everything feels better, when anything is possible. The idea of going back to alcohol seems ludicrous, and it is clear that an alcohol-free life is the way to go.

This is an incredible experience for members, many of whom have struggled for years with physical and mental health issues that have resulted in their drinking – to suddenly feel ‘better’, and have a good explanation for this, is really powerful.

Why, then, do many people return to alcohol at some point in their lives? If we feel so great when we aren’t drinking heavily and frequently, then why doesn’t it become our new normal? We know that not drinking feels great (especially if we have been drinking heavily for some time), but we also know that most people struggle with recurring relapses, or occasional forays back into regular drinking.

The answers lie somewhere in the grey area of reality – the place that is always there, regardless of whether we are inside a ‘pink cloud’ or a cloud that is a different colour altogether. Here are a few possible explanations:

Explanation 1: We change, but the rest of our world doesn’t

One thing that can sometimes come up for people after they have been in the ‘pink cloud’ for a couple of weeks, is the unfortunate reality that there are some things in our lives that don’t necessarily change when we stop drinking. Yes, we feel better and have more energy – we are able to save money and maybe get more done around the house. But, our financial situation might still be unpredictable, we might feel lonely, and we might continue to experience problems within our relationships. This can be an unpleasant awakening after the ‘pink cloud’ dissipates – that an alcohol-free life is much the same as life with alcohol – it is just us who have changed. We can argue that we are much more able to manage these challenges without alcohol – and this is undeniably true – but it can be hard to accept that this is not a ‘fix all’ for all of the problems in our lives.

Solution: Daybreak members who have described this ‘bump in the road’ have all agreed that it is disheartening to see that, even though they have changed and progressed, the world around them has not really changed much at all. One thing that has been helpful, however, is considering how progress happens slowly and that each day of doing things differently is an improvement. The question of ‘how might I have handled this previously?’ is helpful – because we can see that, even though things are not perfect, they are probably better than they were when alcohol was being used on a regular basis. The euphoria of the ‘pink cloud’ often wears off, to be replaced instead by a sense of hope and optimism, but also realism – that while we probably can’t expect perfection, gradual improvements are sometimes good enough – and in six months or a year’s time, the world around us and our relationships might be substantially better than previously.

Explanation 2: Life happens

If you’ve ever been in a regular exercise routine, it is likely that you told yourself that this would be a part of your life forever. The benefits of exercise are enormous, however most of us exercise less than we would like. Life gets in the way; priorities shift and we can forget about the cost/benefit ratio of exercise. Alcohol use is similar – for many people achieving the ‘pink cloud’ effect is the result of significant work and planning, and over time alcohol can creep back into their lives. Just like exercise, changing our pattern of alcohol use can take a degree of motivation and sacrifice – we need to really want to change, and there need to be compelling reasons for us to invest time and effort into it.

Solution: Just like with exercise, we need to trust that the benefits are worth it and are going to come, and then tailor our behaviour accordingly. If we can acknowledge that having a period of not drinking, or drinking in moderation, is something that will likely improve our quality of life – just like getting enough sleep, or exercise, or drinking water – then it makes perfect sense to invest time and effort into this. Just like with exercise, it does take motivation to actually do it, but if we can be guided by past experience, we can trust that it is certainly worth it.

Just like with the ‘pink cloud’, the reality is that this kind of thing is sometimes hard work. Drinking in moderation, or not at all, requires some effort and sacrifice and sometimes this can mean missing out on things or going without. Many people who have made significant changes with their relationship with alcohol have developed this perspective – that their lives without alcohol are easier in some ways, better in some ways, and more stable in many ways – but that there are still experiences of sadness, distress and struggle, just as in everyone’s life. The key is that these experiences are probably easier to deal with when we have a solid foundation of mental and physical health, good relationships and stability in our lives.

If you have struggled with the ‘pink cloud’ effect or the bumps in the road that come after it, it might be helpful to discuss this with a health coach at Daybreak. Having a conversation about the realistic outcomes of not drinking – and what we want to change – can be a great way of setting ourselves up to handle these bumps in the road and keep our eyes focused on the big picture.

What a great article. Gives real insight. Thank you.

Yes I am struggling with a bump in the road right now. I know how wonderful the feeling is when I am not drinking alcohol and I make a deal with myself regularly to have a break but just can’t seem to make that leap. It is very disheartening.

Hi there, this article is bang on for me and my train of thoughts its great being alcohol free but not perfect.I realise its going to take time to feel completely free from this drug that constently hangs around trying to temp you to just have 1 or 2,then comes back 24hrs later to say yes its time to have another drink!

It’s happening to me right now. I feel like hell. I haven’t had a drink in 5 months and was for a while feeling almost giddy with euphoria. I knew it wouldn’t last and sure enough wham, I’m on my knee’s in a dark place. I don’t understand how I got here so quick. I’m sober today and know these feelings will pass. Don’t lash out at anyone causing irreparable damage. Don’t cut myself off from everything. Don’t cancel all social functions. Don’t click out of chat rooms, text groups. Just let it pass and it will.

Hello there, Finding this e mail this morning was great timing. It has been 4 months since my last drink ( I have drank off and on for maybe 35 years and over the last three years drank 20-25 units a night, 7 days per week!). I have suffered the gloomy period recently. I knew what it was but you have helped me confirm that and helped me with some solutions. My pink cloud lasted a couple of months and it was brilliant…but yes life keeps rolling on and yes giving up alcohol, like kicking cigarettes doesn’t solve world politics, relationships, work issues or even an over done steak!

I would like to speak to a health coach about the pink cloud and it’s realism once I sober up for weeks.

I find the constant bombardment of ’alcohol is good’ advertising and social cues requires regular defence checks. I don’t feel I am abstaining from alcohol; I know I don’t want it. But when my defences are low, these constant messages of the need for alcohol start sounding in my head.. These blogs and reflection on my reasons for stopping in the first place help to remind my subconscious and stop the internal disquiet. (Thanks to Annie Grace for helping me to get here, my life is much better now.)

Sustaining a new behaviour might be the most challenging step in the behaviour change cycle. There’s a lot to read about this. Go for it!!

Thanks so much daybreak team that was really helpfull for me.

Can you please include a link on your articles so that we can email these articles to our self to print for reference. They are so helpful.

This is right on the money! I’m at day 25 of my second AF attempt for the year, and hoping that now I am more equipped with information, that I won’t have that moment three months in and cave.

Day 11 for me, can’t wait for the pink cloud lol

I find this article to be depressive and totally wrong. Surely at the beginning there is sacrifice in not drinking, but your mind set must change. If you are continually feeling you are deprived from not drinking, no matter what your will, you will never overcome your dependence. The person who has written this article, I’m not sure if they have experienced offered a drink and saying no because they truly don’t want it as compared to bringing in will power. I have never seen a pink cloud. Take care

Great article. Yes, it can come as a surprise that life can still be hurtful and that the reality we face is the reason many of us chose to drink . . . life can give us huge rewards but there are always the tough moments. The coaches at Daybreak are wonderful and have helped me understand so much about my life beyond the alcohol use. I also love Mick’s wise comment “Just let it pass and it will”. To me, this is what mindfulness is about. Watching those thoughts fly through our minds and observing them with curiosity as they leave again. Everything passes.

@Susan Brown – if you copy the address https://www.hellosundaymorning.org/2019/10/16/going-back-to-drinking/#comment-10810, you should be able to send that to your email. Otherwise, you can right-click on the article and click “print”. You will then get a print-friendly article. Hope this helps.

This is very true, i feel great after a couple of weeks but I don’t deal with personal issues and end up caving in

Great Article. Yes for sure the ‘pink cloud’ is real, well for me at least. That’s my pattern. The good thing is for me and ,maybe others? Is that you don’t need many AFD’s (alcohol free days), in a row to start feeling a little pink. Three AFDs in a row and you’ll start to feel it, for me at least. So that’s my goal each week. Though most weeks am lucky to do 2AFDs in a row, but the goal is there and when i get past 3+ its certainly pink!

Great and very accurate article. It happens. I got that ‘pink-cloud-wow-I-feel-great’ thing for a while after I stopped drinking. But I also mostly stopped doing any work as well. I know, I’m lucky I can do that. But I couldn’t continue to not work. So when I started back, the frustration I usually encountered with ‘technology’ on a regular basis threw me right back into an old habit — drinking out of frustration. As a programmer, I have a lot of STDs (Stupid Technology Days). Things in this industry constantly change so the majority of “answers” to problems I encounter are either outdated or plain wrong. So yeah, I’m still struggling but at least I’ve learned A LOT ! And I’ll keep on fighting it, trying to substitute healthier behaviours to deal with the frustration.

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