Alcoholic relapse is not the result of a lack of commitment to sobriety. In fact, relapse can happen to even the most dedicated, determined individuals. Relapse is the outward sign of just what a chronic disease with compulsive features looks like.
Alcoholism recovery features powerful cravings that sit there, etched in the memory, looking for a weak moment. It features indelible memories of the fun, enjoyable outings or events that included alcohol. It features the difficulty of changing one’s entire lifestyle to accommodate recovery goals. Alcohol recovery is not a nice, clean straight arrow upward, but in reality is characterized by daily, often hourly, struggles to not cave into to the relentless tug of the disease.
Ask any recovering alcoholic how they feel about their relapse. Unequivocally they express deep regret, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, and sorrow. They will tell you they feel like a failure, a loser, a weak person. But in these humble self-descriptions comes a renewed focus on sobriety and an enhanced commitment to conquer the demon of alcoholism.
When a loved one has succumbed to relapse it is important to encourage them to get back up on that horse and try again. As a source of support for them, it is crucial not to make matter worse with a thick guilt trip, as they already feel horrible enough about letting you down. Show compassion toward them and ask if you can attend a meeting with them, or get them to their therapist. Distract them from the negativity they are experiencing by suggesting a hike or a movie together. Most of all, let them know you believe in them, that they can and will succeed this time.
What Are the Risk Factors for Relapse?
It is important to respect the powerful pull of the alcoholic brain. Deeply ingrained neural pathways that developed during active addiction act like a rubber band, pulling the past drinking behaviors into present consciousness. For this reason, alcoholics in treatment are educated about the various risk factors that can instigate a relapse. These might include:
- An untreated co-occurring mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety
- Interpersonal relationship strife
- Sudden loss of a loved one, or a traumatic event
- Chronic stress
- No defined purpose in life, feeling rudderless
- Not cutting ties with partying friends
- Romancing the memories of active addiction, believing you are in control now
What Are the Signs of an Alcoholic Relapse?
Many times, it seems as if the relapse occurred out of nowhere. The individual seemed to be solid, actively working their recovery and fully committed to sobriety. So what happened? The reality is that in most cases, the signs of an alcoholic relapse were flashing warning signals that might have been easy to miss if you did not know what to look for. These include emotional, mental, and behavioral signs that can set the scene for a relapse.
8 Signs of an Alcoholic Relapse include:
- Secretive behavior
- Missing A.A. meetings, reduced interaction with sponsor, stops working the steps
- Canceling appointments with therapist
- Isolating behaviors
- No longer taking care of self, eating unhealthy diet, not exercising
- Placing themselves in situations where there is heavy drinking
- Signs of depression or anxiety
- Lying or deceptive behaviors
One of the most difficult aspects of an impending relapse for the alcoholic in recovery is knowing that they should call someone, their sponsor, a close friend or family member, but choose not to because they don’t really want anyone to stop them at that point.
How to Prevent a Relapse
For the loved ones who do take note of the warning signs of relapse, there are some steps that can be taken. By keeping the lines of communication open and honest from the beginning of recovery it helps address your concerns with your loved one. Simply asking if they are okay, or if they’d like you to accompany them to a meeting may be enough to change the course of the impending relapse.
Other than being there for them and letting them know you are sensing their struggle, the fact remains that the alcoholic must own their recovery. It is their recovery to navigate and live, and codependency between you and your loved one can actually be destructive and harmful to their recovery. You cannot call their sponsor for them, these are actions he or she must take themselves.
Safeguarding Against Relapse
The recovering alcoholic will be making fundamental changes in their lifestyle. This helps replace the everyday compulsive drinking habits with healthy and productive activities. Some of the activities that help reduce the risk of relapse include:
- Volunteering or opportunities to serve others
- Taking on new projects
- Learning new career skills to improve employment prospects
- Becoming involved in sober social events or activities
- Becoming a sponsor to others
- Getting involved in new hobbies or sports
- Practicing holistic activities, such as yoga and mindfulness exercises
Remission to Rehab Following Relapse
If a relapse does occur, the individual may benefit from returning to rehab. Whether it is an outpatient or inpatient program, they will refresh their recovery knowledge and skills, and work through the issues that may have preceded the relapse. Sober living is another useful option, especially for individuals who do not have a strong support system at home.
Solutions 4 Recovery Provides Alcohol Recovery Treatment in Orange County
Solutions 4 Recovery is a leading dual diagnosis and addiction treatment program located in a coastal community in South Orange County. Throughout the program, Solutions 4 Recovery has relapse prevention as a core element, and places an emphasis on the recovery skills and tools that will help each client avoid relapse following treatment. Continuing care services are also offered, such as outpatient therapy and referrals to sober living housing, which can reinforce recovery in the vulnerable early months. For more information about the details of our program, please reach out to Solutions 4 Recovery today at (888) 417-1874.