Dealing With An Alcohol Addiction Relapse

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that more than 29 million Americans over the age of 12 struggle with alcohol to some degree. That’s more than 10 percent of all people in that age group.

Many of those people will find treatment to help them control alcohol use disorder (AUD), otherwise known as alcoholism. But that control can falter, and they may find themselves relapsing.

At Luxe Recovery LA, our world-class treatment center is an oasis of recovery, and we’ll support you even if your conditions don’t require inpatient treatment.

How to Handle an Alcohol Relapse

The first thing that you need to do if and when you relapse is to stop drinking immediately. If you have a drink in your hand, put it down and remove yourself from the situation. Go somewhere you can clear your mind and sober up. Acknowledge what happened and take accountability for it.

The next thing that you need to do in a relapse is to remember to be kind to yourself. You may be tempted to blame yourself or punish yourself somehow, but that won’t help the situation. Yes, accountability is essential in addiction treatment, but self-hatred may exacerbate your alcohol use.

After you clear your mind and acknowledge the situation, the next thing you should do is to reach out to someone. This person can be a loved one who is aware of your alcoholism and is supportive of your recovery; it can be a sponsor, or it can be a professional such as a therapist. Regardless of who you call, they need to be someone who can offer emotional support, guidance, or preferably both.

Once you remove yourself from the immediate circumstance that led to your relapse, you need to reflect on what exactly happened. Relapse may be caused by so many different things, and reflecting on what happened will help you understand what triggered you to use alcohol again. This can be an opportunity for you to learn about a trigger you may not have known about previously.

After that, you can decide to adjust your recovery plan to prevent relapse in the future. This might mean going to more counseling sessions, joining a support group, or developing new coping strategies to manage your cravings.

Above all else, you need to understand that recovery can be a lifelong process and that you need to stay focused on your recovery goals.

Warning Signs of a Relapse

Generally, a relapse isn’t something that happens. Yes, there are some people for whom a relapse can be spontaneous, but there are usually warning signs that a person’s commitment to their own recovery is wavering. Some warning signs that you may need to look out for include:

Emotional Changes

Increased stress, anxiety, depression, and mood swings can wear down a person’s resolve and make them more likely to relapse.

Romanticizing Past Use

Another sign that a relapse may be imminent is if you begin to romanticize your past use. This includes looking back fondly on times when you were drinking heavily and downplaying the severity of your addiction.

Physical Symptoms

Some physical symptoms can precede a relapse. Being persistently tired or changes in appetite, whether it’s eating more or less, can indicate that a relapse is on the horizon.

Health problems can also precede a relapse, as they can be a source of stress. Stress and altered emotional states can trigger drinking.


People in addiction recovery need to remain vigilant, especially for something freely available, like alcohol. But some people can start to feel overconfident in their sobriety and become complacent. This can make it easier for someone to slip up and relapse.

Stages of Relapse

Relapse isn’t something that happens all at once. Understanding the stages of relapse can help with identifying and addressing the warning signs, thereby preventing a full relapse and maintaining long-term sobriety. Generally speaking, there are stages to it.

Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse is the first stage of relapse in which a person may experience increased stress, anxiety, and mood swings. They may isolate themselves from others, neglect taking care of themselves, and bottle up emotions, all while not consciously thinking about drinking. These emotional states set the stage for a full relapse.

Mental Relapse

A mental relapse is the stage where individuals start to struggle internally with thoughts about alcohol or drug abuse. They may romanticize past drinking experiences, crave alcohol, and make plans to drink. 

The internal conflict between wanting to stay sober and wanting to fall back into alcohol or drug use can become intense, increasing the risk of physical relapse.

A Guide to Relapse Prevention

Because relapse is often the worst-case scenario for many people in recovery, preventing it is often a priority. Aftercare programs can help a person sustain their sobriety. Treatment for AUD includes developing coping skills to manage cravings, and keeping these skills sharp is essential to long-term recovery.

Another important part of staying sober is to have a strong support system. Group therapy can provide a person with peers who are facing similar issues, and loved ones such as family, and friends can provide immediate emotional support, provided these relationships haven’t become irrevocably damaged over the course of addiction.

Maintaining a generally healthy lifestyle, including exercise, sleeping well, and eating a balanced diet, can also help maintain sobriety.

A positive mindset can also contribute to staying sober. Positive affirmations can reinforce a commitment to sobriety, and mindfulness can help a person manage cravings.

How Common is Relapse?

The risk of relapse is high, especially when it comes to alcohol misuse. Statistically speaking, the majority of people in treatment for alcohol use will relapse within a year, many within the first 3 months after they quit drinking.

Statistically speaking, there’s a 65 to 70 percent chance that an alcoholic will relapse. 

Relapse is Not a Sign of Failure

Relapsing can feel like a failure. A lot of people who relapse can feel like their treatment plan was ineffective in addressing their substance misuse like it wasn’t comprehensive enough for them. Others may feel as if they failed their treatment program. They may feel as if they are too weak to cope with their cravings.

However, addiction is a complex disease, and there are so many things other than personal failure or treatment falling short that can trigger a recurrence of substance use. Recovery can be a long process, and progress isn’t always linear.

We understand that the road to recovery can have detours. We know that relapse isn’t caused by a moral failing or a character flaw. It’s just the nature of the disease that is addiction.

We also know that it’s not the end and that while a person can stumble, that doesn’t mean that they stop moving forward. Contact us now, and we can focus on helping you move forward.

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