Throughout recovery, many individuals with an alcohol addiction face great challenges to abstain from going back to consuming alcohol and relapse. In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at what causes a relapse, how to get back on the road to recovery after a relapse and the warning signs to look out for in future.
What Causes an Alcohol Relapse?
Relapsing is a normal and common part of the recovery process and no matter how long or hard you commit to your recovery plan, there is always a chance that you will experience a relapse due to the nature of addiction. In fact, research shows that over 30% of individuals who attempt to become sober relapse within the first 12 months.
Once someone has become addicted to alcohol, their brain no longer functions as it used to and it craves alcohol in order to function like it once did. Even after years of sobriety, the way in which the brain has adapted to the alcohol can lead to strong cravings.
Typically, an alcohol relapse is triggered by a feeling, person, place or thing that reminds the individual of their past relationship with alcohol. When the brain processes this memory, it triggers a strong craving. There have been cases of individuals remaining sober for over ten years and then relapsing, which proves that recovery is an ongoing journey.
Common triggers of an alcohol relapse include:
- Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression
- Financial issues
- Smelling alcohol
- Spending time with people you used to drink with e.g. your old university friends
- Visiting places you used to frequent for a drink
Sometimes, individuals don’t even realise they are experiencing a relapse. They often become overconfident in their ability to manage their addiction and think “just one drink won’t hurt.”
Stages of Alcoholic Relapse
This is when the individual begins to suppress their emotions, leading to feelings of stress and isolation. This will often lead to them failing to stick to their recovery plan, perhaps missing meetings or picking up new, unhealthy coping mechanisms.
When an individual mentally relapses, they start to experience cravings, spend more time thinking about their triggers, glamorise, or misremember their relationship with alcohol. They may also start to lie or hide things from those close to them and start planning for having a drink.
Once an individual has succumbed to the cravings and slipped into drinking alcohol again, they have physically relapsed.
How to Prevent a Relapse
To effectively prevent a relapse, you first have to learn the telltale warning signs. These can be different for each individual, however, some of the most common signs of an impending relapse include:
Change in behaviour
If you notice a sudden shift in your behaviour or find yourself no longer attending recovery meetings, this can be a big warning sign of a relapse on its way.
High levels of stress
If you find yourself feeling more stressed recently, whether at work, home or in your social life, you’re at a much greater risk of relapsing because stress is one of the biggest triggers. Make sure to practice healthy coping skills to try to reduce your stress levels, e.g. taking a bath, doing a hobby you enjoy, getting plenty of sleep and talking about it with a friend or loved one.
Withdrawal from friends and family and self-isolation
Sometimes, before a relapse occurs, individuals start to withdraw from their family and friends, becoming more and more isolated. Make sure to reach out to your loved ones if you begin to feel isolated.
Denial about feelings surrounding alcohol
When you come out of recovery, you may start to forget all of the bad elements of your alcohol addiction and begin to romanticise the memories you had of drinking, remembering only the good times you had. Having this perception of your addiction can be incredibly dangerous, particularly if you start to miss the ‘good old days’ and the lifestyle you used to lead.
Loss of structure and routine
If your structure and routine has recently been disrupted e.g. if you’ve lost your job, just had a baby or stopped doing the things you usually do, this can lead to a relapse as many recovering addicts rely on routine to keep them occupied and coping well.
Sudden outburst of emotions can suggest you are feeling high levels of stress or suffering from mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. Make sure to reach out to a loved one or see your GP to discuss your mental health.
If you find yourself becoming secretive or lying about what you’re doing in order to sneak alcohol into your home or go out drinking with friends, you’re at very high risk of relapsing and should let a loved one know immediately, even if it means getting in trouble. Remember, they’d rather know the truth now than later when it’s too late.
Increase in cravings
Sudden increases in cravings can be one of the biggest causes of relapse as they can be incredibly hard to resist and many give in to the temptation.
Don’t Wait, Reach Out for Support Now
If you are struggling with an alcohol addiction or notice any of the warning signs that a relapse is likely to occur, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at Acquiesce where we can help determine whether you need to go back to rehabilitation to prevent a relapse.
If you have already relapsed, please don’t lose hope. Speak to our team to discuss whether you need to come into rehab. If you believe it was an isolated incident and you’re committed to adjusting your recovery plan, you may not need to go back to residential rehab and may benefit from our dayhab programme instead.