Alcohol Relapse: What You Need to Know
What Is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol consumption has become so normalized in the United States that it sometimes feels strange to be at a restaurant, a pub, or a party without a drink in hand at all times. Nobody plans on developing an addiction to alcohol, it is a condition that tends to come on gradually, starting with having a drink every once in a while, then, as tolerance increases, starting to have a few more, then drinking to fill time when you are bored or drinking to mask anxiety or other unpleasant emotions.
When you are drinking heavily (over one drink per day for women or more than two drinks per day for men) or frequent binge drinking (having four or five drinks in one sitting), alcohol makes chemical changes inside the brain, affecting the way dopamine and other neurotransmitters work, causing a physical dependence on alcohol that makes you feel anxious, sick, or irritable if you do not continue drinking regularly. This is the beginning of addiction.
Some of the signs of alcohol addiction include:
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol, meaning you need to drink more to achieve the same level of intoxication
- Drinking in secret, hiding your drinking, or feeling ashamed about drinking but continuing to drink anyway
- Feel like you need a drink first thing in the morning, or you need to drink just to get through the day
- Showing up to every social event with alcohol in hand, or drinking before social events
- Finding yourself in dangerous scenarios or taking unnecessary risks while drunk (drunk driving, getting into fights, etc.)
- Being unable to control how much you drink once you get started (there is no such thing as just having a beer, you need to get drunk every time)
- Continuing to drink even when it begins to negatively affect your finances, your health, your job, and/or your relationships
- Feeling obsessed with alcohol and constantly thinking about when you can have your next drink
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut back or stop drinking
- Being unable to stop drinking even when you really want to, experiencing alcohol relapse after stopping for a short while
Why Alcohol Relapse Happens
Alcohol relapse is what it is called when your alcoholism was improving but has worsened again. Most people who quit drinking experience some type of relapse at least once, but often many times. It could simply be an emotional relapse, where you feel down and stop taking care of your well-being as much as you could, it could be a mental relapse in which you begin to romanticize drinking or tell yourself it wasn’t that bad, and you could handle a few drinks and be fine, or you may simply start drinking again. Some people have what is called a “slip” or “lapse,” where they just have one drink or spend one-night drinking, then stop again, while others fall back into old habits and routines and problem drinking again.
It is important to remember that alcohol relapse is not a failure on your part. Whether you have gone through a full detox and rehab program or not, the fact is that whatever you did to quit drinking may not have provided you with the correct skills you need to be able to stay away from alcohol, or you may not have gotten to the emotional or psychological root of what caused your initial addiction in the first place. Only one in five people with alcohol use disorder will stay completely sober in the first year of recovery, with around 80% experiencing alcohol relapse that year, with a 40% chance of relapsing in the second year.
Some of the things that can cause a person to relapse may include the following:
- Being triggered by being around friends and family who are drinking
- The pressures and drinking culture surrounding the holiday season or any party atmosphere
- Experiencing relationship issues or going through a stressful time
- Emotional distress, or being bored or lonely
- Feeling a loss of control over life or feeling unsafe
- Untreated mental health issues like anxiety, trauma, or depression
Some early signs of relapse to look out for include:
- Beginning to isolate yourself from loved ones, skip group meetings and therapy, or not participate in group activities
- Not practicing self-care, skipping the gym, eating unhealthy foods, and experiencing poor sleeping habits
- Lying to others
- Bargaining with yourself or telling yourself you can have just one drink and it will be fine
- Romanticizing the “good old days” when you were drinking a lot
- Feeling cravings for alcohol
Try not to be too hard on yourself if you experience a relapse. After rehab, there is a lot to deal with, including changing your friend groups, modifying the way you think, and creating new habits while constantly working to stay away from drugs and alcohol. Even if you have a strong relapse prevention plan in place, with plenty of people to call when you are overwhelmed, addiction is not easy to overcome. Sticking to healthy habits, daily routines, and exercise plans, regularly attending meetings, honestly checking in with yourself, and getting help when needed is the best way to avoid relapsing.
7 Steps You Should Take If You Experience an Alcohol Relapse
If you begin to see signs of alcohol relapse in yourself, it is important to act right away. Some of the steps you can take include the following:
- Making more of an effort to stick to your relapse prevention plan, keep up with good habits, and good communication with others who can help you during difficult times
- Talking to somebody about your thoughts and feelings, whether that is a therapist, a trusted family member, or somebody in your sober community
- Go to meetings (12-step, SMART recovery, etc) for additional support from people who get it
- Avoid people and places that may cause you to want to drink, and be selective when meeting new people, as not everybody will work out as a friend, especially if they drink or use drugs. Put your recovery first
- Staying busy because boredom and loneliness can be relapse triggers
- Focusing on your health and prioritize exercise, sleeping, and eating well, because the better you feel, the more likely you are to want to take care of your body
- Be honest with yourself. Do you need to move into a sober living home for extra accountability? Do you need to go back to rehab? Only you can know for certain
Learn about foods that can reduce alcohol cravings here:
Work Through Your Alcohol Addiction Issues at Muse
Whether you have been to rehab ten times or considered it for the first time in your life, Muse is a safe place to work through alcohol addiction issues. We integrate medical care, behavioral health, group therapy, and holistic methodologies into one comprehensive treatment plan that will help you safely detoxify your body, regain control over your life, and become the sober person you want to be.
Alcohol relapse is not the time to quit, it is the time to get back in the saddle and try new methods to heal the underlying causes of addiction, get effective mental health care, and gain a community of like-minded individuals who will become your long-term support system. At Muse Treatment, we offer inpatient and outpatient rehab programs that address issues affecting your body, mind, and spirit. Please contact our team today at (800) 426-1818 to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about what we can offer you. We are here for you, and we can help you right away.