Whether dealing with drug addiction, alcohol addiction, or another issue, euphoric recall can potentially be one of the biggest problems faced by individuals confronting and overcoming such addictions. That’s because euphoric recall is a way of making individuals think positively about past addictive usage, without remembering any of the negative experiences associated with it.
“You know, it’s funny, when you look at someone through rose-coloured glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.”
Wanda the Owl, BoJack Horseman (Season 2, Episode 10)
Even though the above quote is from an animated Netflix show, the message applies perfectly when trying to describe euphoric recall. A problem with addiction is that it makes the sufferer look back on abuse of drink or drugs by focusing on what they see as the positive experiences from that event, without accepting the negative physical and mental impacts.
What is Euphoric Recall
Euphoric recall generally is the overlooking of negative consequences associated with chemical or alcohol dependency or other addictive behaviors, and instead solely focusing on the positive results from such addiction such as the high, or the indescribable, emotional vibration of connection with friends or acquaintances at a given moment in time. Usually accompanied by a heightened confidence, attractiveness and peace or detached feeling of accomplishment. Music and surroundings often anchor themselves deep in the subconscious, and can be particularly triggering in recovery.
The term ‘Euphoric Recall’ has been in general usage among licensed medical professionals since at least 1989. In that year, substance abuse and mental health expert Terence Gorski highlighted the phenomenon and how identifying it can help to break addiction. He noted that euphoric recall can mask the negative impacts of addiction and make it harder to overcome. Gorski said that,
““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” Gorski (1989)
Medical professionals have researched euphoric recall and in peer-reviewed studies have concluded that it is a real problem, but one that can be identified and managed.
A study published in the United States1https://muse.jhu.edu/article/370840 in the Johns Hopkins University’s Journal of College School Development on women’s ways of drinking found a large presence of euphoric recall when the researchers talked with 10 female undergraduates about their drinking behavior. The study found that “negative outcomes were separated from their drinking experience and minimized while the positive ones were highlighted and emphasized. Indeed, substance abuse and addiction professionals define euphoric recall as remembering and exaggerating pleasurable experiences, while blocking distressful and painful ones.”
The description is one of several ways to reiterate the message that euphoric recall is effectively ignoring the negative aspects of addiction and focusing solely on good feelings derived from it.
Signs of Euphoric Recall
Euphoric recalls is a desire to recapture a past experience that an individual remembers as a positive situation with a complete disregard, or deliberate ignoring, of the negative aspects of that experience however bad they might have been. Specific signs and symptoms of the condition can vary, and can include expressions of negative mental health including obsession, depression and mood swings. Euphoric recall from music can be both emotional and physical in presentation, with sufferers reporting goosebumps, chills, shivers and pleasurable feelings coursing through their body.
Coping with Euphoric Recall
Euphoric recall is a fact of life for most people in recovery, regardless of substance or process addiction. At its most basic function the brain creates pleasurable feelings in order to trick the body into carrying out the old actions identifiable with pleasure and reward, no matter how devastating or destructive they may be.
How then can individuals cope with euphoric recall?
It’s far easier to remember positive emotions than negative ones, yet the negative recall technique does just that. Individuals focus on the realities of using as opposed to the feelings of pleasure. Individuals often use journaling or a positive / negative list to distract the mind into recreating the destructive elements of addiction, until an episode of euphoric recall passes.
A most successful yet difficult technique involves grounding to stop pleasurable reminiscing. Grounding techniques often use the five senses—sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight—to immediately connect with the here and now. For example, singing a song, rubbing lotion on your hands, or sucking on some sour candy are all grounding techniques that produce sensations that are difficult to ignore or distract you from what’s going on in your mind.
Mantras, affirmations and guided meditation can all help to refocus the mind away from negativity into positivity. Meditations can be relaxing or combined with different elements of yoga to have longer lasting effects. Satori Chair sessions have been proven to be particularly successful in combating chronic euphoric recall.
Is Euphoric Recall Craving?
Often, pleasurable recall leads to craving and is sometimes more prevalent in situations or unease causing an individual anxiety or stress, even if these emotions aren’t immediately acknowledged. The following techniques can be used to lower the intensity of euphoric recall and reduce cravings:
- Regulated Breathing
- Herbal teas
- Sharing with a trusted friend
- Physically moving to a different environment
What is Positive Expectancy?
Positive expectancy is another result of euphoric recall. It is the altered perception (or positive expectancy) that substance use changes an individuals life for the better, although the reality is that if there are any so-called positives they short-lived and limited in nature. Substance use disorder amplifies feelings of positive expectancy by creating neurological changes that impair judgment, memory and impulse-control, creating a Catch-22 situation where the user believes themselves to be on the right path to sanity and a more fulfilling, problem free life.
What is Anhedonia?
Anhedonia is defined as an inability to derive pleasure from normally pleasurable events and is especially present in early recovery. Anhedonia2https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.14060723 manifests as a generalized ‘low’ feeling usually accompanied by a lack of motivation to engage in normal pursuits. Because substance use disorder and process addictions hijack the brain’s pleasure center, individuals in all stages of recovery who once derived pleasure from substance use find themselves craving “feeling” again.
Anhedonia is a temporary condition yet chronic in nature. Meaning that episodes of general malaise will manifest at certain times in a recovery journey, though how an individual responds to these feelings comes down to the strength of their recovery and their willingness to do what is required.
References: Euphoric Recall
1. Cannon, R., Lubar, J., & Baldwin, D. (2008). Self-perception and experiential schemata in the addicted brain. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback,33(4), 223-238.
2. Perkinson, Robert R. (2011-06-17). Chemical Dependency Counseling: A Practical Guide. SAGE Publications. pp. 107–108.
3. Fleeman, William (2003). The Pathways to Peace Anger Management Workbook. Hunter House. pp. 87–88.