But while the health outcomes from succeeding or failing in that mission can be fairly benign, those attached to recovering from alcohol addiction can be a matter of life or death. The ability to stick to your resolve in this ambition is vital, as the repercussions of relapse can lead to brain damage, cancer, relationship breakdown, imprisonment and, yes, death.
“Picking up a drink to feel relaxed is like burning your house down just to get warm.”
It’s worth looking at just a few of the reasons alcohol addicts relapse.
“Our greatest glory is, not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
(Those who proudly share news of their alcohol-free ‘streak’ on social media do neither themselves nor other addicts any favours. The crux of recovery is to take each day at a time. The number of days in total is needlessly irrelevant.)
To ward off temptation, a person on the road to recovery is reminded of the triggers that might make them feel they ‘need’ a drink – for example, HALT (hungry angry lonely tired) – along with plenty of ‘fridge magnet’ philosophies.
“If you hang out in a barbershop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut.”
In a world where alcohol is the norm and little importance or focus is placed on its dangers, animation can play a crucial part in making information readily available and easily understood. It is a creative, relatable and dynamic platform for communication. Animation has a unique part to play as an adjunct to traditional treatment of alcohol addiction; its immediacy and accessibility can help addicts – and anyone – understand the dangers of alcohol and the difficulties of remaining sober in a non-threatening way. Animation can also be accessed anywhere at any time, freely via social media.
Animations’ infographics or moving schematics can provide all the essential information clearly and immediately, with contact info and resources for support at the end of the reel.
- Improves understanding
- Provides company and connection
- Is accessible
- Is easy to absorb
- Is non-judgemental
- Is non-threatening
- Provides practical information and advice
“As a person in recovery, I can assure you that if I could drink like a normal person I’d drink ‘normally’ 24 hours a day, seven days a week”
The siren call of alcohol
Despite all the pledges they’ve made (and wanting to stop drinking is a prerequisite of entering most programmes), some people cannot let go of the idea they may one day drink ‘normally’ – or ‘drink like a gentleman’, as Alcoholics Anonymous’s Big Book1 puts it. They still believe there’s an as yet undiscovered stratagem that will allow them to take just one or two tipples and then stop. All they remember are the instantaneous feelings of relaxation that alcohol once gave them – and not the ill health and bottomless pit of addiction – and it’s an ever-present siren call. If they fail to take the downsides into proper consideration, and give in to means, motive and opportunity, they might just also give in to that call.
“Drinking even one glass would kill me. I’m an alcoholic, so it would be the kiss of death for me to start drinking again”
Subtly related to the (to some, incredible) inability to remember what put them into recovery in the first place, some addicts can have a ‘blind spot’; that is, they are unable to ‘play the tape forward’ and think through the potential consequences of their actions. While a person may honestly have wanted to completely stop drinking and even have successfully done so for perhaps even years, they begin to wonder if it’s possible to dabble again. They simply forget ‘you can’t turn a raisin back into a grape’, as I like to put it. The romantic memory seems to seduce them and, armed with several months of sobriety, they believe they’ll be able to control their drinking from now on.
The way an addict stops drinking can play a crucial part in their success remaining sober. Were they required to stop by law? By their own volition or via a family intervention?
A 2013 study (Dunlop & Tracy) looked at the notions of self-redemption and its correlation to the ability to stay sober. Newly sober alcohol addicts with little sensation of self-redemption in their journey find it harder to maintain their behaviour change and stay sober. Conversely, those for whom sobriety was a personal choice described a personal moment of realisation leading to a positive change in themselves. The studies found that relapse was 40 percent less likely over a two-year period in those who felt it was their choice. People with more ownership over the decision, and personal agency, seem to have a stronger sense of identity and feel their life has meaning, direction and a sense of purpose when becoming sober.
“If the police came over to my house and said, ‘If you drink tonight, we’re going to take you to jail’, I’d start packing. I couldn’t stop because the disease and the addiction is progressive”
What booze means to the addict
While the primary focus of getting sober and staying sober is, of course, sobriety itself, personal tools have to be developed to replace the role alcohol played in an addict’s life – what alcohol meant or even symbolised. Did alcohol mean acceptance? Was it used as a common interest to make and meet friends? Was it seen as a reward or a relaxant? Once it’s clear what alcohol meant, it can be replaced by a substitute. For example, if alcohol had been a common interest with a group of friends, new friendship groups can be formed around a new activity to provide a similar outcome. The addict could take up tennis or yoga instead of going to the pub. The extent to which a person invests in and has ‘success’ in their new endeavour, combined with the ‘glue’ of companionship and likeminded friendships, is a strong precursor for success. Failure to replace alcohol with an alternative reward/activity/friend group that satisfies the craving alcohol fulfilled will lead the addict to circle back to booze.
Personal history, traits and states
Singer/songwriter Kay Hanley once said, ‘If you want to find out why you drink, stop drinking.’ For many people alcohol is a way of numbing an aspect of their past. They might not even understand or have identified why they drink. The journey to sobriety, therefore, is not simply about not drinking but is a re-examination of how their lives have been lived to date. Through this personal examination (often with a therapist or sponsor) of their past, patterns will be revealed. Some of these will be unhealthy patterns of thinking and/or behaviour, such as perfectionism, people pleasing, etc. Courage is then required to address these issues and reframe them to adapt behaviour. It can prove incredibly, sometimes impossibly, difficult for an addict to see past their harmful ways of thinking, and relapse in this case is often inevitable.
Getting sober and staying sober is a huge challenge for anyone. The one-day-at-a-time approach is central to the therapy and recovery supported by, for example, Alcoholics Anonymous. Relapse is an ever-present threat that can arrive from any direction and any time. There are many tools and approaches that can be learned and incorporated to shore up a person’s resolve and stop them reverting to habitual and self-destructive patterns; but finding them is one thing – utilising them is the holy grail of recovery. Removing a perceived stigma, and understanding that alcoholism is a user’s adaptive response to their lived experience, can help demystify alcohol’s addictive hold.
- According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse, the relapse rate in addiction recovery is around 40–60%
- The risk of relapse decreases by about 7% for each year of abstinence from alcohol (Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research)
- The introduction of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 saw the abolition of the Alcohol Education and Research Council and means responsibility for alcohol treatment now rests with local councils2, not the UK government. ‘Austerity’ has led to these services seeing funding cuts of £170 million
- ‘There’s a feeling of hopelessness, as addiction services like ours do everything they can to help those suffering with alcohol and drug addiction, knowing full well that alone, we won’t be able to provide essential and potentially life-saving care to everyone that needs it.’ (Lester Morse, director, Rehabs UK)
- Celebrity alcohol addicts who have relapsed include: Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Robert Downey Jr, George Best, Amy Winehouse, John Bonham, Johnny Cash, Robin Williams, Matthew Perry
- Many musicians have explored the complex nature of relapse/addiction: ‘The Beast In Me’ by Johnny Cash; ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’ by David Bowie; ‘Rehab’ by Amy Winehouse
1 Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism
2 In England and Wales
Benefits of animation
- Animation is accessible, especially via social media, and completely free to air for people who require it (via mobile phones).
- Animation can reach cohorts who struggle to read and write, eg those with a neurodivergence (20% of the population) and/or SEND (15% of the population).
- Animation can be translated to reach people for whom English is not the first language.
- Waiting times for CAMHS and community mental health services is typically months – from script to screen, an animation can be created in two weeks, making it ideal for ‘disaster’ work.
- Animation voiceovers can be quickly translated and revoiced in any language at a rough cost of only £1000.
- While the initial animation can cost about £10k, subsequent digital copies are completely free (unlike print). Small amendments to ‘end slates’ to, for example, localise helpline numbers cost very little, so one trauma video can be used 10,000 times nationally at pretty much no extra cost.
- Animation works brilliantly across all social media channels so it’s instantly and freely accessible and provides a ‘language’ for the person and their caregivers to understand what’s going on.
- Still images can be taken from the animation and used within other collateral. For example, a dozen still images can be laid out in front of a child, enabling them to choose which image from the animation spoke to them (a good way to introduce tricky subjects, eg sexual abuse).