Alcohol Relapse: Symptoms, Triggers and Prevention

For someone who is a recovering alcoholic, as well as for their family and loved ones, there is possibly no scarier word than relapse. The idea of a relapse on alcohol occurring can be so frightening, but it’s important whether you are an alcoholic or you have a loved one who is that you learn about relapse and alcohol relapse symptoms, as well as what to do if this situation occurs.

Relapse on Alcohol | Alcohol Relapse Symptoms
In recent decades there has been a lot of research and newly introduced theories relating to addiction and alcoholism, including as it pertains to relapse.

Alcoholism is defined as a chronic disease that is the most severe version of alcohol abuse. When someone is an alcoholic, they can’t control their drinking, and they continue to drink even when there are negative side effects. Alcohol use disorder can be classified based on severity including mild, moderate and severe abuse, and while it’s treatable if it goes untreated, it can lead to serious destruction and even death.

A person who is an alcoholic will feel like they are not able to function in their daily life without the use of alcohol, and this is because how their brain chemistry has changed as a result of their drinking.

As with other chronic diseases, alcoholism does have treatment options, and it can be managed.

People will often go through treatment and have a period of sobriety which is considered being in recovery, but what happens if after being sober someone starts drinking again? This can be defined as a relapse on alcohol.

While relapsing on alcohol can bring about shame and feelings of failure, newer schools of thought on addiction categorize a relapse with alcohol as a part of the recovery process for most addicts. It doesn’t mean that you’ve failed in your recovery altogether.

To put it in incredibly simple terms, a relapse of alcohol means that you go back to drinking after having a period of sobriety without the use of alcohol. It can be compared in some ways to being in remission from cancer and then having it reoccur.

It can be important to make a distinction between a full-blown relapse and a slip-up. With a relapse, you fully go back into old patterns of out-of-control drinking, and it can require more treatment and other steps to get back to sobriety.

With a slip-up, you might have a drink, but you quickly realize it’s the wrong path for you, and it doesn’t go further than that. With an actual relapse, because of the shame and guilt, it can actually be a more dire situation than the alcoholism the person previously received treatment for, particularly if it’s not dealt with early on.

Loved ones of someone who is in recovery from alcoholism should learn to spot alcohol relapse symptoms because the earlier these are spotted, and something is done, the better the chances of the addict having a successful long-term recovery.

Some of the warning signs or alcohol relapse symptoms include anxiety, feeling a lack of pleasure from everyday life, stress, or not engaging in aftercare programs such as 12-step groups following treatment.

Other alcohol relapse signs can include isolation, feeling angry or resentful, starting to deny a problem exists or having overconfidence of complacency.

In some cases, there’s also something called “dry drunk” behavior that can occur. This means that even though a person hasn’t yet relapsed, they begin acting in many of the same ways they did when they were drinking.

For recovering alcoholics and even their families and loved ones, understanding and identifying alcohol relapse triggers is important as well.

If alcohol relapse triggers can be easily identified, it can be easier to avoid a relapse.

Some of the most common alcohol relapse triggers can include being with friends who you used to drink with or visiting places you drank, having negative emotions related to any number of situations, and being exposed to alcohol.

Sometimes while stress and negative emotional states can lead to a relapse, positive emotional states can as well. For example, if something good happens and you want to celebrate it may trigger a relapse.

Other alcohol relapse triggers can include changes in finances, relationship problems, and even boredom.

Is alcohol relapse prevention possible? For some people, the idea of relapse during recovery is an inevitable part of being successful over the long-term because it teaches them how to learn more coping strategies even when they’re triggered, but this isn’t the case for everyone.

There are alcohol relapse prevention steps that can be taken, and these can be valuable because going back to sobriety after a relapse can be extremely difficult.

One of the most important things to do to prevent an alcohol relapse is to participate in your aftercare treatment plan or program. For most people who go to rehab for alcoholism the next step is to participate in a 12-step program, and this is extremely important to prevent relapse. A 12-step program provides support and accountability, both of which are so essential to avoiding relapse.

For people who become overconfident in their ability to stay sober without aftercare, or who lose interest, the risk of a relapse is much higher.

If you are at a point where you feel like you could relapse, you should also reach out to someone or call someone who can support you. This is another advantage of a 12-step program. You’ll have a sponsor as well as other people from the group who can help you get through the urge to relapse.

You should also force yourself to wait before taking a drink, and don’t try to think about how you’ll avoid relapse every day of your life. Instead, as cliché as it may sound, take it one day at a time to avoid a relapse. Think only about the present moment and day, and worry about the rest when the time comes.