What is euphoric recall?
Euphoric recall is when someone with a substance addiction problem remembers an enjoyable time with rose-tinted spectacles. You remember the “haze of a drunken hour”, but not the hangover in the morning. You remember the joy of the high, but not the despair of withdrawal. And, you remember the excitement of life when using, but not the misery that it involved.
The Psychologist Terrence Gorski told us: “When we are in euphoric recall, we remember and exaggerate pleasurable memories of past chemical use episodes. Then we block or repress our bad memories of drug use or deny the pain associated with them.”
Why does euphoric recall happen? Changes in the brain caused by addiction
Euphoric recall happens due to drugs and alcohol making changes to your brain over time. The area affected is the hippocampus, which is a large structure inside the limbic system. It is responsible for memory formation, storage and retrieval.
Using drugs and alcohol repeatedly changes the way that the hippocampus processes context. This means that someone incorrectly remembers situations and does not recall the negative effects of their addiction.
These changes in the brain can reverse over time, though some changes may be permanent. This means that the frequency and intensity of euphoric recall will decrease over time, but you may still occasionally encounter it years or even decades into recovery.
Strategies for overcoming euphoric recall
As euphoric recall is such a relapse risk, it is vital that you have a game plan in place before you encounter it. This will help increase your chances of successfully navigating out of euphoric recall without relapsing.
Speak with your sponsor or mentor
If you have a good sponsor or mentor, speaking with them when you encounter euphoric recall can be invaluable. This is for two reasons. Firstly, they have made a solemn decision to help you on the path to sobriety. You can count on them, as picking up the phone to you or meeting you in your time of need is part of this.
Secondly, they have plenty of experience of euphoric recall themselves. They might relay to you a time when they felt swept up in euphoric recall but were able to talk themselves out of using. This can be of immense benefit for helping you “come down” from the insanity of how you are feeling.
Talk with a recovery friend
After speaking with your sponsor, talking with a close friend in recovery is your second best option. Sometimes just having someone who you can talk it out with is enough. Make sure that this person is already solid in their recovery. You don’t want to pick someone to share about your euphoric recall with who may decide to join you in drinking or using!
Talk with someone from the “old days”
Speaking with a sober friend who knew you when you were drinking or using can be a wake-up call when you are engaging with euphoric recall. Ask them to remind you of some of the things you did or the way you were back then. They might just be able to remind you of something so horrifying that it snaps you out of your euphoric recall spell.
Revisit your recovery programme
Make sure you are solid in your recovery if you are following a 12 step programme or SMART Recovery programme.
The 8th and 9th steps of the 12 Steps can help you to remember the negative aspects of your addiction, effectively thwarting euphoric recall. These steps involve making a list of all the people that you harmed during your addiction and making amends to them.
These steps are likely to bring up a lot of cold, hard facts. They can be a reason why some people relapse if they are left incomplete.
Likewise, if you are engaged with SMART Recovery, speak to someone who knows you well and revisit your programme of recovery.
Play the tape forward
If you are encountering euphoric recall and have no one around you to help you see sense, you can try “playing the tape forward”. This strategy involves slowing down and thinking about what happens after you drink or use.
Sure, the few minutes or perhaps few hours after you decide to use your substance of choice might be great, but what happens next?
If you are an alcoholic, one beer might feel good, but that is not where it will stop. After your first beer, a compulsion will begin that will have you reaching for a second, third and fourth in quick succession. From here, a blackout will probably ensue.
The next thing you will likely be aware of is waking up and having little recollection of what you have done. It is only when someone tells you what you did or through a glimpse of memory that you realise the terrible things you did the night before.
You can practice this if your substance of choice was a stimulant. You have the first line or the first pipe and feel good for a while. Then paranoia and anxiety kicks in, but you feel unable to stop using. If you have a history of psychosis, this is likely to follow.
Playing the tape forward can work no matter what your substance of choice was. If you did downers, think about the things you did to get money or the awful withdrawal you felt when you ran out of drugs.
When you are playing the tape forward, you can contemplate on the bad situations you got in when you were drinking or using. If you cannot recollect any at first, keep trying! You will be able to come up with some eventually.
Read this list
Here’s a handy list of negative things you may have encountered during addiction. Read this when euphoric recall has reared its ugly head.
- Driving bans
- Loss of relationships
- Prison time
- Loss of physical health
- Loss of mental health
- Lost time
- Reduced income
- Intense feelings of shame, guilt and remorse
- Damage to reputation
- Destroyed career
- Spiritual bankruptcy
- Moral corruption
Euphoric recall: Have a plan
Euphoric recall can severely mess up your judgment. When you are in it, you are not able to think clearly. You should not wait till you are in euphoric recall to make a plan. Make the plan now.
What will you do when you go through euphoric recall? Do you feel like you have a system in place that will help you to traverse it successfully? Or do you need to tighten up your plan? Remember: your sobriety is at stake.
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- What is euphoric recall? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphoric_recall
- Daley, Dennis C. (1988). Relapse: Conceptual, Research, and Clinical Perspectives. Haworth Press. pp. 153–171. ISBN 9780866569194.
- Bornstein, Aaron M.; Pickard, Hanna (2020). "Chasing the first high: Memory sampling in drug choice". Neuropsychopharmacology. 45 (6): 907–15. doi:10.1038/s41386-019-0594-2.