Relapse should not be looked at as a failure or lack of commitment. Relapse happens to many if not most people in sobriety – even those who have been sober for decades. Substance abuse is a chronic disease and therefore relapse can happen to even the most dedicated individuals but is important to learn how to bounce back in a healthy and effective manner.
Alcohol recovery consists of powerful urges that sit in the back of the mind looking for a weak moment. Stages of recovery often feature indelible memories of family vacations, summer barbeques – enjoyable events that involved alcohol. It involves the notion of “missing out”, being a burden or sacrificing one’s entire lifestyle to accommodate for recovery. The recovery process is not always clean and easy; the reality is that it involves daily, if not hourly, struggles to practice the skills learned to not cave into to the relentless tug of the disease.
If you ask a recovering alcoholic about their relapse, chances are they often feel deep regret, humiliation and sorrow. They will often say they feel as though they failed or have let themselves down. But, in these times of self-descriptions comes a renewed focus on sobriety and an enhanced commitment to conquer the demon of alcoholism.
If you or a loved one has succumbed to the grasps of addiction, it is important to remember the next and vital step is to pick yourself up and get back on that horse.
If you know someone who has had a relapse, your loving and social support can be the difference maker in their recovery. It is crucial that you do not guilt them or make them feel worse about their actions as this will only exacerbate the problem. Show compassion by asking to attend a meeting with them or help them through the process of finding a therapist. Attempt to distract them by taking them to a movie or going on a hike, but most of all tell them you believe in them and they can and will succeed in the end.
What are the Risk Factors of Relapse?
These may be more commonly known as “triggers”, but nonetheless it is important to understand the situations that can provoke alcoholic tendencies. The alcoholic brain has developed ingrained neural pathways during addiction that can act like a rubberband sending a person back into the same drinking behaviors they are used to. For this reason, those in active recovery are often aware of the various risk factors that can contribute to relapse. These types of things can include but are not limited to:
- 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?
Often times a person can seem to be actively working on their recovery and out of nowhere a relapse happens. So what happened? In most cases, there were warning signs, but for those of us who are not familiar with addiction, these signs can be easy to miss. Signs to look for can include emotional, mental, and behavioral signs that can be the precursor to relapse.
8 Signs of an Alcohol Relapse
- Secretive behavior
- Missing A.A. meetings, reduced interaction with a sponsor, stops working the steps
- Canceling appointments with a therapist
- Isolating behaviors
- No longer taking care of self, eating an unhealthy diet, not exercising
- Placing themselves in situations where there is heavy drinking
- Signs of depression or anxiety
- Lying or deceptive behaviors
How to Prevent a Relapse
For those loved ones who are able to recognize these signs, the next question is how do I prevent the impending relapse? Well first, it should be noted that it is their recovery to live and navigate. Codependency can actually be destructive to their process as they may become reliant on your actions. You cannot call their sponsor for them, these are the types of actions they should be taking on themselves. Nonetheless, if these moments are sparse and non-redundant, then offering a helping hand can truly help them through a fleeting difficult time. 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.
Safeguarding Against Relapse
There are activities a recovering alcoholic can participate in to change their lifestyle. By shifting a person’s hobbies and activities away from drinking and towards healthy and productive activities it can help reduce the risk of relapse. Some of these activities can 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
In the event that relapse does occur, it may be beneficial for the individual to return to treatment or counseling. 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 may be another alternative option for those who do not have a strong support system at home.