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When Feeling Good Is Dangerous

Most people with substance use issues use drugs and alcohol to cope with some kind of pain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than half of adults and more than 60 percent of adolescents who seek help for a substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental health issue. Drugs and alcohol are typically a way of self-medicating these symptoms, which often stem from trauma and almost always include distressing emotions. When people enter recovery, most identify feeling stressed or overwhelmed as the biggest triggers of cravings. A crisis, such as losing a job or getting dumped can make you think about using drugs or alcohol to cope. However, what gets less attention is the danger of feeling good.


Men may be more likely to relapse when feeling good.

There is some evidence to suggest that men are actually more likely to relapse when they’re feeling good than when they’ve had a terrible day. One study by the University of Pennsylvania looked at a group of people in treatment for cocaine addiction and found that women were more likely to relapse after experiencing negative emotions, often stemming from interpersonal conflict. However, the study also found that men were more likely to relapse after experiencing positive emotions and were more likely to engage in rationalization after the fact. What’s more, the study found that while 56 percent of the women who relapsed did so right after the thought of using occurred to them, only 17 percent of men did the same. This casts doubt on the familiar idea that someone can be doing well in recovery then decide to drink after an especially bad day. 


Why does this happen?

The differences in substance use patterns between men and women are complex and are affected by biology, social expectations, and different risk factors. It appears that men, in general, may be more likely to use drugs and alcohol as a way of seeking pleasure, seeking thrills, or bonding with a group. In other words, men may be more motivated by pleasure than avoidance, so they may be less likely to experience cravings as a result of emotional distress. However, this also means they are more vulnerable to relapse when they’re experiencing positive emotions. It’s common to be having a positive experience, say a trip to the beach with friends, and think, “This is great but it would be perfect if I could have a drink.” They may also feel like if they’re in a positive place emotionally, they will be able to control their substance use.


While people in recovery often spend a lot of time thinking about how they will cope with stress and negative emotions, they rarely give much attention to how they will cope with positive emotions. However, that’s important too, especially for men. At Tree House Recovery of Orange County, California, we help men build mental and physical resilience to help them stay sober for good. Call us today at 855-202-2138 to learn more about our holistic addiction treatment program.

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