Euphoric recall is a state in which individuals remember the past with “rose-colored glasses.” This addictive thinking exaggerates a positive experience but fails to bring up the negative side—all of the good, none of the bad. The “glory days,” weren’t they amazing?
In this state, people recall specific memories with excessive fondness that can trigger a body’s biochemical reaction. Negative aspects of the past vanish while the positives are embellished.
Psychologist Terrence Gorski wrote: “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.”
How Does Euphoric Recall Impact Recovery?
Euphoric recall can relate to any affliction and become a challenging part of the recovery process.
In the example of sex addiction, euphoric recall might bring up moments of physical pleasure. The intense memory activates the same brain areas as the original act, so it might even feel better during euphoric recall than the event itself.
The part that gets left out is the danger of the situation and the potential for hurt caused by risky behavior.
Someone struggling with drug addiction might remember instances of substance use and focus on the pleasurable effects. Failing to recognize the negative realities (such as worsening health, withdrawal symptoms, wrong decisions made under the influence, etc.) may prompt the cycle of addiction.
The risk of focusing on only the positive aspects is, of course, temptation leading to relapse.
Anhedonia: When the Thrill is Gone
Acting out on sexual compulsions and substance use keeps the brain’s pleasure center stimulated for extended periods. It produces excess chemicals and will again during euphoric recall.
Prolonged periods flooded with high chemical levels (such as dopamine and serotonin) can lead to anhedonia. In this state, a person is unable to gain pleasure from regular activities.
Anhedonia is common for those in early recovery. Many people feel emotionally numb, and life can seem boring without substance use or extreme acts. Ultimately, anhedonia can lead to engaging in risky behavior in the hope of feeling something once again.
Another result of euphoric recall is positive expectancy. Here, the brain minimizes the negative impacts of engaging in undesirable behavior or substance use. A person might start to believe that addiction has changed their lives for the better.
Positive expectancy can also relate to anhedonia. Distortions in thinking caused by anhedonia can make a person believe that good outcomes will follow undesired actions. They might see the drug or behavior as the catalyst for success at work, school, or relationships.
People in early recovery often face problems for the first time instead of self-medicating or masking them with compulsive behavior. The mindset of this thinking is not uncommon but can lead to poor judgment or even relapse.
Are Cravings the same as Euphoric Recall?
Euphoric recall is not the same thing as a craving, but it can signal one’s onset. The mind will rationalize engaging in risky behaviors or substance use and bolster reasoning by romanticizing memories via euphoric recall.
There are ways to reduce the intensity of euphoric recall through relaxation techniques and grounding exercises.
Some may even have to move to a different environment, away from triggering people or locations.
Still, overcoming a craving to prevent relapse can be an immense challenge during recovery.
Signs You’re Experiencing Euphoric Recall
Euphoric recall can have both mental and physical manifestations. These can include:
- an increased heart rate
- inability to concentrate
- blocking out negative consequences from past behaviors
- a sudden, pessimistic view of new life in recovery
- obsessing over the past behaviors
- reaching out to friends that are active in undesirable behaviors
- mood swings
Allowing the mind only to remember the positive might signal the avoidance of dealing with current reality.
It can benefit a person to quickly recognize when their thoughts are trying to lead them astray. Picture it as ‘keeping your brain on a short leash.’
Once you can identify that you are in euphoric recall and choose to stop it, you can use one (or many) of these coping strategies.
How to Cope with Euphoric Recall
Negative Recall: Remembering the Realities of Addiction
The negative recall technique challenges a person to focus on the reality of addiction. Looking back on the results of behavior can re-frame euphoric recall and see it for what it was.
An active way to use negative recall is to replace pleasure aspects with the consequences of engaging in sexual activity or substance use.
How will it feel the morning after? When the high is gone, will it have been worth it? By keeping reality in focus, the power of euphoric recall diminishes.
For those in a Twelve-Step program, the 8th and 9th steps involve listing harms done and then making amends– this is a practice in negative recall.
Grounding Techniques: Activate Your Senses, Be Present
Someone at risk of being swept up in euphoric recall can use grounding techniques to snap back into the present moment. Grounding activates the senses and brings awareness to the Now.
There are many simple and immediately available options to help ground an individual. Here are a few examples:
- Drink herbal tea, note all the individual flavors
- Take off your shoes and feel the grass, sand, or earth between the toes
- Feel the texture of the chair you are sitting on or the fabric of your clothes
- Use aromatherapy or essential oils to anchor your senses through pleasant smells
- Take a bite of something and savor each ingredient
- Create something. Draw a picture, write a poem, play an instrument
Anything that helps you attune to your surroundings, the five senses, and the present moment will help ground and aid in self-soothing.
Meditation and Regulated Breathing
Developing a yoga or meditation practice can promote stillness of the mind, giving the person experiencing euphoric recall a powerful tool to deal with unwanted thoughts. A mantra can help recenter positivity as well.
Meditation is not the mastery over one’s thoughts but instead the recognition of them. The point of reflection is not to control what happens in the mind but to observe thoughts as they appear without reacting.
Breathing techniques can provide an instant sense of calm and reduce intense feelings that arise during euphoric recall. Deep, regulated breathing is also a grounding technique that one can do at any time, in any place.
Sharing with a Trusted Friend
Sometimes, nothing can feel better than just getting it off your chest.
When euphoric recall becomes overwhelming, a trusted ear might be just what is needed. Having someone close, that is trustworthy and without judgment can be an incredible relief.
Being open and honest with another person can be cathartic.
The Importance of Continued Care
Euphoric recall can be overwhelming for anyone in any stage of recovery. No matter how long one has been abstinent or sober, these thoughts can put judgment at risk.
It is incredibly beneficial for a person experiencing euphoric recall to examine and process these memories with a group of professionals.
Integrated Life Center offers an extensive aftercare program as well as weekly Alumni support groups. We also have both 12-Step and spiritual meetings.
You don’t have to face life and your past on your own. ILC can help. Reach out today.