If you or a loved one has struggled with alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the past and are now in recovery, congratulations. Recovery is crucial to overcoming alcoholism and paving the way to a healthier and more meaningful life. However, just like other addictions, alcoholism requires constant maintenance in order to prevent a relapse.
There is no question about it, alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease and can be categorized alongside diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and even cancer. This means it can require life-long care to manage symptoms and maintain control—but it is possible. In fact, alcohol and other drug use disorders affect nearly 10% of the American population, so if you or a loved one has suffered from this condition, you are certainly not alone. With the right tools in place and a solid support system, it’s possible to prevent a relapse. Read on for more information on what alcohol relapse is and 8 tips to help prevent it from happening.
What Is Alcohol Relapse?
Relapse happens when a sober person in remission starts drinking again. When it comes to alcoholism, it’s not uncommon for a person to relapse. In a study on alcohol relapse rates and predictors, people with 3 to 4 risk factors (less education, unemployed status, fewer lifetime drinking problems, and more frequent alcohol consumption), were 86% more likely to relapse within 3 years.
Since alcoholism is a chronic disease, relapse will always be a possibility. Take into consideration another chronic disease such as arthritis. People with arthritis can exercise, manage symptoms with medication, and avoid certain triggers like cold weather, but it doesn’t mean arthritis can’t affect a person in the future. With this information in mind, people suffering from alcoholism should not feel like a stigma is attached to them.
What Causes Alcohol Relapse?
If you or a loved one has experienced a relapse, it’s actually quite common and not a sign of total failure. In fact, a study of over 1,200 participants over 8 years revealed that those abstinent from alcohol less than a year will not remain abstinent. These alcohol relapse statistics highlight the very real chances of relapse, so it’s important to remain hopeful about you or a loved one’s sobriety, while also being realistic.
There are many things that contribute to alcohol relapse and everyone has their stressors and triggers that can lead them back to drinking. It’s vital to understand your personal triggers or those of a loved one, so you can support long-term sobriety and avoid relapse. Some of the most common causes of relapse are:
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- Being around alcohol
- Hanging around places that don’t support sobriety (bars, nightclubs, and parties)
- Mental Illness
Warning Signs of Alcohol Relapse
Every individual will have unique warning signs indicating a relapse is about to happen, but there are three distinct stages of relapse and within those stages, a person can display certain behaviors. The three stages of relapse are:
- Stage 1: Emotional Relapse – A person isn’t considering drinking at this time, but their emotional well-being is unstable. Self-care is not a priority and daily life stressors might be affecting the person in recovery. Behaviors such as self-isolation, not following-through with AA meetings, focusing on negativity, compulsive behavior, poor eating, difficulty sleeping, poor exercise habits, and a loss of commitment to a sober lifestyle can lead to the second stage of relapse.
- Stage 2: Mental Relapse – A person is in a mental tug of war, wanting to drink, but also not wanting to drink. They may be engaging in dishonesty, feeling an urge to visit old haunts, see old “drinking buddies”, downplaying or justifying their past alcohol use, and plotting a way to drink again. A person can’t remain in this stage for too long before they’ll physically relapse.
- Stage 3: Physical Relapse – A person is drinking again, whether once (this is called a “lapse”) or daily at this point. Whether it’s a lapse or complete relapse, this is common and doesn’t mean all progress is lost. However, if someone had a strong alcohol relapse prevention plan in place, they most likely wouldn’t have reached physical relapse.
How to Help a Loved One Avoid Alcohol Relapse
When a person checks into a rehabilitation center for treatment, it’s most likely because it was too difficult to stop drinking on their own. Having a solid prevention plan in place is truly the key to achieving long-term sobriety.
If you have a loved one who is living a sober lifestyle, there are tons of things you can do to support them. Here, we’ve come up with a list of 8 tips on how to prevent alcohol relapse.
1. Join a 12-Step Program & Find a Sponsor
The 12-step program (created by Alcoholics Anonymous) is used in many rehabilitation facilities and support groups, so if you or a loved one has already been to rehab for alcohol abuse, you may be familiar with the 12 steps. This alcohol addiction recovery program is a cornerstone of an addict’s recovery process and consists of the following steps:
- Amends list
- Make amends
- Continue inventory
- Keep in contact
- Help others suffering
You can find an AA group in almost every city, so feel free to drop in on a meeting if you’re visiting from out of town. They’re free and a great place to start if you’ve recently completed a rehabilitation program and are looking for an effective program to promote on-going sobriety.
At AA, you can find a sponsor to keep you accountable and help you work the 12-step program to avoid alcohol relapse. A sponsor can be an important asset to your recovery and provide first-hand experience and support since they too are a recovering alcoholic.
2. Make Your Health & Wellness a Priority
Alcohol can have serious effects on your body depending on how long you’ve been drinking. While you can’t necessarily reverse all the damage done to your body, you can make your health and wellness a priority moving forward.
Daily exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, taking medications as prescribed, and looking after your mental health are paramount to recovery from alcoholism. One of the best ways to implement a new healthy habit is by starting with something small. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a ton of changes and start with one small habit you can practice every day for a few weeks. If you can stay consistent with that goal, you’re ready for more.
3. Identify Your Triggers
Recovering from alcohol addiction can be very stressful on the mind, body, and spirit, so give yourself some extra patience when it comes to you or your loved one’s recovery.
Identifying triggers and managing your daily stressors is extremely important. What triggers you the most? Is it your living situation? Family? Job? Money? Triggers can change throughout life, so be aware if you see a shift and adjust your coping skills accordingly.
4. Trust Your Gut: If Something Doesn’t Feel Right, Speak up
This next point applies to both the person in recovery and their loved ones. As a recovering alcoholic, it’s important to know your triggers. Once you know what causes you to want to drink, you can let someone know that you need additional support.
On the contrary, if you have a loved one in recovery from alcohol abuse and have a gut feeling that something isn’t right, please speak up. An empathetic conversation around your concerns can be more productive than accusing your loved one of alcohol relapse.
5. Explore Your Treatment Options
When it comes to alcohol addiction treatment programs, it’s important to find the right fit, because alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous. However, once a person is out of a rehab facility, they need a long-term treatment plan in place to maintain sobriety. This can consist of having support from medical professionals, family members, friends, and a sponsor.
6. Learn Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Alcohol is a negative coping mechanism that a lot of people use to numb stress, unhappiness, mental illness, and much more. Although it may feel good at the time to drink, it oftentimes leaves people feeling worse about their current situation.
Learning healthy coping mechanisms is a wonderful way to instill hope and positivity into a recovering addict’s life. Some people in recovery discover they love to cope through talk therapy, meditation, exercise, or taking up a new hobby. Once a person can learn healthy coping mechanisms, they’ll be better equipped to handle any stressors that come their way.
7. Make Positive Lifestyle Changes
Making positive lifestyle changes can look like finding a new place to live, ending friendships with toxic people, seeking a new job, taking up exercise and healthy eating, or learning a new skill, just to name a few.
Whatever they are, positive lifestyle changes are always encouraged when someone is recovering from alcohol addiction. These types of changes give you or your loved one a chance to start anew and pursue a healthier life—away from alcohol.
8. Have a Relapse Contingency Plan
Recovery from alcohol addiction is a huge accomplishment, but it doesn’t mean that relapse isn’t possible. It’s incredibly important to have a relapse contingency plan in place so you or your loved ones know what to do after an alcohol relapse.
This plan should include pertinent contact information for your rehabilitation facility, physician(s), sponsor, and critical medical information. Although you may not anticipate a relapse, it’s better to be prepared in case an emergency situation arises.
With the Right Coping Skills, Long-term Sobriety is Possible
When it comes to alcohol addiction recovery, relapse is always a potential. Knowing the signs, triggers, and having the right preventative strategies, can go a long way in helping you or a loved one continue a sober lifestyle.
Remember, alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease that requires long-term maintenance. If you or a loved one is suffering from relapse and want to get sober again, please call AION Health Group today at 888-912-2454 or contact us through email.
We provide patients suffering from relapse with a comprehensive approach to alcohol addiction recovery through a wide variety of treatment programs at three, Florida-based treatment facilities. Our admissions staff is standing by 24/7 to help when you’re ready.