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Maintaining Recovery in an Alcohol-Saturated Culture

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Maintaining Recovery in an Alcohol-Saturated Culture

Simply put, America has an alcohol-saturated culture. Findings from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) demonstrate the widespread use of alcohol in American society, and they include the following:

  • 52% of Americans aged 12 or older (i.e., 136 million people) are current drinkers
  • 23% engaged in binge drinking (five or more drinks at a time) in the past 30 days
  • 7% reported heavy use that includes binge drinking on five or more days in the past 30
  • People aged 21 to 25 had the highest rate of current use at nearly 70%
  • More than 11% had driven under the influence at least once in the prior year

According to a 2012 article in the Chicago Tribune, the alcohol industry is a $60 billion a year business, and high consumption rates correspond with an extensive marketing push. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal provided data on alcohol-related television advertising in 2011, which included the following:

  • Beer companies spent $922 million on commercials
  • Liquor companies spent $141 million on commercials
  • Liquor ad spending increased 59% in the first quarter of 2012
Maintaining Recovery in an Alcohol-Saturated Culture

Television marketing also reaches most teens. In a position paper updated in 2010, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) said high school students see approximately 2,000 alcohol commercials each year, while a 2013 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criticized alcohol advertising for its high rate of youth exposure.

Alcohol is the leading substance of abuse, and professional rehabilitation remains the most effective method to break an addiction. Per the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), more than 724,000 individuals sought alcohol abuse treatment in 2011, which made it the primary substance of abuse in 39% of all admissions. In 2003, the Addictionjournal reaffirmed the value of rehabilitation in overcoming substance abuse, and common treatment services include detoxification, integrated mental health care, and an array of individual and group therapies.

Nevertheless, to maintain any type of substance abuse recovery in this alcohol-saturated society, recovering addicts need to utilize positive life tools and strategizes, including the following:

  • Continue to identify and avoid cues that may trigger substance cravings
  • Refrain from alcohol-centered events and gatherings early in the recovery
  • Steadfastly follow a defined course of action such as a 12-Step program
  • Develop healthy lifestyle goals involving exercise, nutrition, and hobbies
  • Envision recovery as a daily process and not as a final destination
  • Avoid unnecessary drama and conflict and eliminate negative influences
  • Regularly set new goals and celebrate accomplishments like sober birthdays
  • Repair positive relationships that the alcohol abuse may have strained
  • Employ anger and stress management skills learned during treatment
  • Do not linger at social drinking events and leave if cravings start to emerge

The 2005 book Relapse Prevention lists coping strategies, self-efficacy, outcome expectancies, motivation, emotional states, and social support as determinants of substance abuse lapse and relapse. Support networks are particularly important for several reasons, including the following:

  • Recovery partners can help provide alternative options to alcohol-centered activities
  • Local support groups are good places to discuss the influence of alcohol culture
  • Sponsors can provide accountability and support at unavoidable events involving alcohol
  • Sober companions are options for people who need more extensive accountability

Recovering alcoholics need to reach out to their sponsor or therapist if seeing alcohol at the supermarket or in a restaurant triggers strong cravings. In such cases, more therapy or accountability may be necessary. In time, the various alcohol-related cues will have less impact, though it is also important not to become too overconfident. Several recovery mistakes can compromise a person’s sobriety, including the following:

  • Faltering commitment to support groups, networks, and recovery sponsors
  • The self-deception that going to parties or having one drink will not lead to relapse
  • Failure to admit setbacks and struggles and involve recovery support groups
  • New friendships and relationships that produce negative behavior and emotions
  • Regressing old habits, behaviors, and attitudes that put the recovery at risk
  • Allowing physical or mental health problems to go untreated

During recovery, people have different cues and triggers, and they often need to deal with society’s drinking culture in different ways. While some people may be unfazed by the presence of alcohol, other recovering addicts may relapse simply because they unintentionally walked by a bar. These differences highlight the importance of aftercare counseling, recovery sponsors, support networks and diligently utilizing recovery tools. Rely on the support system when temptation emerges, and get professional help should a relapse occur.

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