Falling Off The Wagon – Explained

Relapse happens.

Before we find our own alcohol off switch, there is a good chance that we have tried to quit alcohol before, and have experienced ‘falling off the wagon’ numerous times. This is (sadly) the nature of addiction. This is absolutely not to say that this cycle cannot be broken, but for many, falling off the wagon is a part of their own sober journey.

We will look at relapse, why people go down that path and all the rest…but first of all let’s look at the actual phrase that we choose to use when someone has a relapse with alcohol.

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Table of Contents

    What does ‘falling off the wagon’ mean? Where does it come from?

    Falling off the wagon – it is a bit of a strange choice of words, is it not?

    Whenever you hear of someone falling off the wagon, it is usually referring to someone who has tried stopping drinking alcohol and is back on the the booze again.

    The same falling off the wagon phrase is also used when referring to giving up other things like smoking or not following a diet etc.

    Start your journey with our 9 step guide to giving yourself the best chance of sobriety!

    In fact, the hindu.com views the start of the saying to ‘fall off the wagon’ dates back to prohibition in the 19th century where there were wagons that were used to clean the streets.

    The men who worked on these wagons swore an oath to remain without alcohol and be ‘on the water) wagon. This was then shortened to being ‘on the wagon’.

    Whenever the workers strayed and had a drink of alcohol, they were said to have ‘fallen off the wagon’.

    Who would have thought?

    Why do we do it to ourselves with the drink? Why do we go back?

    What makes us fall (or in many cases, hop skip and somersault!) off the wagon?

    Why do we fall off the wagon?

    As we go along our own sober journey, there are 3 ‘broad reasons’ why we fall off the wagon, or relapse with alcohol. Reasons are often referred to as triggers, and triggers to drinking can be very individual or personal but there are some very common grounds. These are

    1#Moderating – or ‘having just a couple’ of drinks.

    This danger period could be weeks, months or even a few years into abstinence. We get to a point were we feel that we have ‘cracked it’ when it comes to the drink. We decide that it will be ok to have just one drink. Time and time again, the world is littered with stories of people who were once addicted to drink and think that they now have a handle on it. And time and time again….the same old story of being back to the levels of drinking (and beyond) that they first tried to climb out of.
    This particular trigger is very common in the pink cloud phase of quitting alcohol.
    Quitting is hard, but not as hard as moderating.

    2#Drinking in stressful situations

    Stress is part of life, and can be a healthy experience – but as we all know, stress can be a very unpleasant experience.
    Alcohol itself can surpress stress (very well in the short term), and as humans, when we find something that elevates a pain, it can quickly turn into our ‘go-to’ when it comes to stress.
    If we do not deal with the actual stressor – the very reason that you ended up falling off the wagon and getting rid of it with drink – then using alcohol again and again is far more likely. We have learned a resolve. A very unhealthy coping mechanism in the longer term.

    3#Drink by association.

    Anyone who has ever drank alcohol learns to associate it with different scenarios. This could be location, people, events.
    All too often, we romantacise alcohol and all that comes with it, remembering seemingly good times.
    During our own sober journeys, I am sure we can relate to being concerned with going to a pub, meeting up with a certain friend or even holidays etc. Whatever it is to you, there will be somewhere that you associate with drinking. And this is a common ground that people fall off the wagon.

    We all fall off the wagon. It’s only one day; it’s not the rest of your life. Pick yourself up and go again.

    Nikki Sixx

    What should we do if we fall off the wagon?

    If you have found yourself back on the booze, all is absolutely not lost. But priority number one is to get yourself back on the correct path.

    Stop drinking asap

    Falling off the wagon and into a drunken stupor is a slippery slope, with the drink telling us that we should carry on and drink more as we have already slipped up anyway.

    A kind of twisted logic, but what would you expect from a highly addictive poison. The issue being, the more we drink, the harder it is to stop.

    And here lies in the cycle of addiction!

    The sooner you stop consuming alcohol after falling off the wagon, the ‘easier’ it will be to rid yourself of alcohol again and get back on the straight and narrow.

    The nature of alcoholism, and of the drug that is alcohol encourages us to continue drinking.

    Find your support

    Support comes in all shapes and sizes nowadays. With the explosion of the online comminuties and also the long overdue acknowledgement of mental health, the support out there has never been so big and available.
    There is the traditional AA route, again with more online groups and meetings available as the internet expands.

    There are plenty of other groups on most, if not all social medias now.

    We have our own private support group on Facebook – you can find it here

    The Alcohol Off Switch Facebook Group

    Educate yourself further by knowing your own triggers

    identify your triggers for alcohol

    A trigger is what made you decide to drink, in a nutshell. Triggers can be people, places, scenarios in your life, habits, whatever relates to alcohol for you. What pushes your button to drink.


    So a trigger could be something as obvious as a party or work night out. Or something less obvious such as walking past a shop, a certain time of night or day. Identifying your own triggers are a strong weapon in your arsenal to not falling off the wagon and remaining on your sober journey.

    When a craving hits, rather than giving in to it, analyze it. Stop and let yourself process the craving, the trigger, and what you are feeling. Listen to your body and your mind. Be aware and be mindful.

    THIS NAKED MIND by Annie Grace

    Start your journey with our 9 step guide to giving yourself the best chance of sobriety!

    Often cravings and triggers go hand in hand. A situation or memory triggers a craving, and you are finding yourself aiming straight for wherever the drink is. Identifying your triggers and knowing your cravings will bolster your chances of remaining clean and sober.

    Plan so you do not slip again

    Most importantly – Learn from falling off the wagon!

    If you have hit the drink again, accept it and move on. First step, stop drinking!! Then re-gather yourself and start again, but this time arming yourself with the knowledge of what happened and why.
    Take a step back and make a plan.
    Life puts us in social situations that sometimes we just cannot avoid. This could be the company of someone who sis drinking alcohol, or at a gathering where there is often an expectation to drink. We know this though, we know that this will happen, right? So, we have the upper hand. Use it!!

    By identifying situations or places that we may be find ourselvses falling off the wagon again, create a plan to deal with theis. TThe plan could include coping strategies, leaning on certain people for support, thinking of exactly what to say when the topic of drinking comes up – or ways to aviod them totally.

    Whatever you take away from your experiences with falling off the wagon, make sure you take the positivity out of it and come back stronger!

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    FInd Your Own Alcohol Off Switch

    Make that change.  Work out whatever it is that hits your switch, and gets you on the road to sobritety.

    This could be a book, a group, a meeting, a whole new approach to life.  Finding 'your' reason to quit alcohol is personal, on every level.

    Learning to change your relationship with alcohol, your views, your beliefs.

    Read our guide on how you can begin the journey to find your own 'Alcohol Off Switch'.

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