Stages of Alcohol Relapse
Relapse is said to occur in three stages, which are described in more detail below.
Stage 1: Emotional Relapse
The first stage of alcohol relapse is labeled as emotional relapse. During this stage, people are not thinking about drinking. In fact, they are remembering the last time they relapsed or drank, and they do not want to return to that stage. However, once emotional relapse creeps in, people are heading toward physical relapse, perhaps without even realizing it.
During the emotional relapse stage, people may begin holding their emotions inside, isolating from others, skipping support group meetings, or failing to share during meetings. They may also shift their attention to other people’s problems and stop practicing self-care. Poor eating and sleeping habits crop up during this stage.
Stage 2: Mental Relapse
Once a person makes it to the mental relapse stage, they are starting to think about drinking again. They experience alcohol cravings, think about the people they used to drink with, and even begin planning a relapse. They tell themselves lies about drinking and may glamorize their past alcohol misuse.
During the mental relapse stage, a person is on the verge of drinking again. They may even engage in bargaining, trying to convince themselves that they can drink just once or twice and learn to control their alcohol consumption.
Stage 3: Physical Relapse
During the final drinking relapse stage, a person returns to physically consuming alcohol. At first, a person may just have a temporary lapse, but they can quickly slip into a full-blown relapse if they do not recognize the need to seek help after that first drink. Physical relapse typically occurs because a person finds themselves in a situation in which they have an opportunity to drink without being caught or having negative consequences.
Signs Of Alcohol Relapse
There are several signs of alcohol relapse, which suggest that a person may be drinking again, or at least headed toward relapse. These signs include:
- Withdrawing from others
- Skipping support group meetings or appointments with a counselor
- Practicing poor stress management skills
- Making comments such as, “Drinking isn’t so bad.”
- Trying to convince others that they can drink in moderation
- Engaging in secretive behavior
- Spending time with people they used to drink with before entering recovery
- Giving up other activities they enjoyed in recovery
- Physically smelling like alcohol, or having bottles of alcohol among their personal belongings
- Beginning to miss work or fail to fulfill important obligations
What Triggers Alcohol Relapse?
Alcohol relapse triggers are situations, events, or other factors that may drive a person to drink again after a period of being in recovery. Some common relapse triggers include life stressors, the loss of a loved one, mental health problems, financial troubles, and spending time with people a person used to drink with, or in places where they used to drink.
Risk Factors for Relapse
Experts often name “people, places, and things” as being top risk factors for relapse. This refers to spending time with people a person used to drink with, going to places where they drank, or coming into contact with things associated with their past use, such as a corner store where they used to purchase alcohol.
Beyond this general risk factor, the following can increase the risk of an alcohol relapse:
- Having a low level of education
- Being unemployed
- More severe drinking problems throughout a person’s lifetime
- Frequent alcohol consumption
- Relying on drinking to reduce stress
- Poor coping skills
- Lack of social support
What To Do After An Alcohol Relapse
People often view drinking again after sobriety as an indicator that they have failed or that treatment does not work, but this is not the case. As with any health condition, an alcohol use disorder may worsen or return at times. After a relapse, it is important not to view yourself as a failure. It’s also important to avoid minimizing your past problems with alcohol or convincing yourself that you can continue to drink heavily without consequences.
What you should do is recognize that it might be time to do things differently. This could mean returning to addiction counseling, spending more time going to support group meetings, or developing healthier stress management strategies. Rather than hiding the relapse and attempting to bottle up your emotions, it’s important to reach out for help after an alcohol relapse.
How To Recover From An Alcohol Relapse
The best way to recover from an alcohol relapse is to be honest with yourself and your treatment team. Remaining in denial may lead you from a lapse to a full-blown relapse. On the other hand, admitting to the relapse and making a plan for moving forward can help you to recover and get back on track as soon as possible. Your treatment team can help you to strengthen your relapse prevention plan and develop healthier coping skills.
Treatment And Prevention
Staying actively engaged in alcohol use disorder treatment is important for avoiding relapse. Working with a counselor or recovery coach keeps you connected to sources of support and allows you to develop coping skills for resisting triggers for drinking. You may also benefit from participating in medication assisted treatment for alcohol use, as prescription drugs used in alcohol use disorder treatment can keep cravings at bay.
While in alcohol use disorder treatment, your team will help you to develop a relapse prevention plan to help you stay committed to recovery. Some common relapse prevention strategies include practicing good self-care through a healthy diet and regular exercise, establishing connections with people who are not drinking, attending support group meetings, and developing a plan for managing stress.
Another critical part of relapse prevention is planning ahead for situations in which you may be tempted to drink. Develop coping strategies you will employ or something you can say when you are faced with an opportunity to drink.