Euphoric Recall

Ever wonder why we make the same mistakes over and over? Why do we date the same kind of people that we know are bad for us? Why do we eat too much on Thanksgiving? Why do we start drinking again when we know it just isn’t good for us?

There’s a psychological term for what amounts to a rose-colored rear-view mirror: euphoric recall. Its the idea that you’ll be more likely to remember to good feelings associated with a behavior than the negative outcomes that may have followed. And its one of the major contributing factors for a relapse. It seems its easy for us to think about the good feelings that alcohol gave us. Those feelings are powerful, guttural even. But remembering what happens afterwards? That requires actual cognitive work. “Damnit I want a drink” just wells up, seemingly out of nowhere. “But things won’t end well if I do” has to be mustered up out of our psyche, pulled like a fish on a line, trying to stay in the water.

So one technique at remaining sober is to try to minimize opportunities for euphoric recall. Don’t go to the same restaurants. Don’t hang out with drinking friends. Don’t keep alcohol in the house. Unfortunately, the devil’s juice (I just made that up) is everywhere, and the devil’s pitchmen (advertisers) are cunning, and determined.

At a recent AA meeting, the reading was The Seven Month Slip, and it was written by a gentleman who had struggled with alcohol dependence, had sobered up, and then had a seven month relapse. While we were reading, I honestly thought “damn, I wanna drink again.” That sounds horrible now, and I can muster the fortitude to say “drinking again would be bad”. And it would be. But there’s just something enticing about the idea of being completely obliterated, and checking out for a while. But no, it would be terrible, I know that. I KNOW that.

So I sat there in the meeting feeling guilty, and blaming euphoric recall. During the discussion after the reading, one guy said “Damn, I really feel like a drink now.” My words coming out of his mouth. And there was nervous laughter throughout the room that told me he and I were not alone. We all felt it to some degree or another.

Which makes me wonder, why does AA share detailed stories of relapse? Yes, I think it is valuable to acknowledge that “relapse happens” and to work against the stigma and guilt a relapser has. But do we need to know what it was like for someone while they were relapsing? Its almost like having someone on a diet watching cooking shows. It is just simply going to be incredibly enticing.