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Remember the Bad Times: Overcoming Selective Memory

Remember-the-Bad-TimesWhether you struggle with alcoholism or abuse of another drug, there’s a tendency to only remember the good times. We often romanticize the idea of getting high, remembering only the good aspects of our drug use while selectively forgetting the bad.

Known as euphoric recall or selective memory, this nostalgic phenomenon can be a huge threat to your recovery. When we imagine only the attractive attributes of a drug, we forget our memories of the negative consequences we’ve experienced, the painful lessons learned on the path to a healthier life. We become engrossed in the thought of experiencing the intense pleasure that a drug once gave us, weakening our resolve to continue abstinence and addiction treatment.

Any addict can experience euphoric recall, but it occurs most often in stimulant addicts and frequently intensifies with stress. This kind of idealized thinking often leads to relapse, but two strategies may be especially helpful in overcoming its intoxicating allure.

Keep rude awakenings handy.

If euphoric recall is making it difficult for you to stay abstinent, it may be a good idea to have a few vivid, visible reminders of the consequences caused by your past drug use. This will make the negative aspects of your drug use impossible to ignore and give you a quick reality check whenever euphoric recall threatens your addiction treatment. For example, if you put a big dent in your car’s fender after crashing during your last bout of drug use, waiting to repair it will give you a powerful reminder of why using may not be such an attractive choice.

Think past the high.

We often feel so idealistic about our drug use because we only consider the feeling of the high itself, not what comes after. Though drug use is certainly detrimental to our health in the present, most consequences come later we do things we regret, we come down, we feel guilty or disappointed in ourselves, we waste money on drugs, we feel bad about the negative reactions of others.

Rather than indulging in thoughts about the pleasures of drug use, envision the whole scenario and play the tape to the end. What happens after the fleeting pleasure of the high has faded? How will you feel later? Who will you disappoint? What other responsibilities or goals will you neglect? How might using affect you, those you care about and the world at large? If the pleasure of the drug is really worth it, would you have started an addiction treatment program in the first place? Imagine, in as much detail as necessary, what your hypothetical future will look like if you use and what it will look like if you abstain. Which one seems more inviting?

Euphoric recall can test the limits of our resolve, but being prepared for its influence can help you stay resistant and on track with alcoholism or drug abuse treatment. The next time you find yourself reminiscing about all the great things that your drug of choice has to offer, stop and think about everything it took away from you, every problem it ever caused for you and those you love, every pain and sadness, every hour wasted. You may find that the allure of the drug quickly turns to disgust, and this will bolster you resolve.

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