Josh Chandler | April 7, 2021

How to Deal with a Relapse of a Recovering Alcoholic

The road to recovery can have a few bumps. If you or a loved one has a relapse, it’s not the end. Here’s how to deal with a recovering alcoholic who relapses.

For the recovering alcoholic, whether you have just stepped out of a rehab facility or celebrated your 25th year of sobriety, relapse is only ever 1 drink away.

Accurate figures on the actual incidence of relapse are near impossible to get thanks to the anonymous nature of recovery.

A study by the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) estimates that 90% of recovering alcoholics relapse within 4 years. Alcoholics Anonymous hazards a guess at 75% of their members relapse within 1 year.

Bear in mind that these figures exclude those unfortunates who have never made it to treatment but who continue to try and stop drinking on their own.

The bottom line is that relapse is not rare, but it is also not insurmountable. It is something that recovering alcoholics need to be careful of on a regular basis.

Let’s pick apart this powerful phenomenon and find out how to help the recovering alcoholic who has suffered a relapse.

Common Causes of Relapse

The most common cause of relapse is being a recovering alcoholic! Triggers such as an emotional upset or unpleasant event may seem to cause a relapse. However, alcoholism, like any treatable disease or disorder, will resurface unless treatment is ongoing, in some capacity.

Insufficient Ability to Cope

Recovering alcoholics are still learning new coping mechanisms to replace their old habit of turning to the bottle at the slightest sign of trouble. In this light, even small daily stressors can seem like insurmountable obstacles to the newly sober addict.

Mental Cravings

Over the years, heavy alcohol or drug use takes its toll on the brain. While the physical cravings for alcohol may subside over time, the mental obsession rarely does.

Basically, alcohol use floods the brain with the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine, causing feelings of euphoria. After being bombarded with this happy-juice for long enough, the brain slows down its production of dopamine, in an attempt to regain a natural balance.

This results in a shortage of feel-good enzymes and an intense craving for more alcohol. The recovering addict needs to find a way to restore this balance with healthful, productive activities.

Emotional Fatigue

Emotionally, remaining sober after a lifetime of alcohol abuse is hard work and brings with it new responsibilities.

Facing up to the rigorous honesty of a recovery program takes courage and it is easy to see how the recovering alcoholic may prefer to escape back into the familiar, safe cocoon of drink.

Being sober is an alien and uncomfortable sensation for the newly recovering addict. Even those with many years of sobriety behind them experience an intense longing for the escape offered by alcohol from time to time.

Helping the Recovering alcoholic Get Over a Relapse

The best thing you can do for a recovering addict that has relapsed is suppress your own feelings of frustration and resentment. Remain supportive, yet firm, from the moment you find out so that you can get their recovery back on track without any further upheaval.

Whether they admit it or not, they will be feeling intense disappointment, guilt, and failure. These emotions can make them reluctant to seek the support of their peers.

Make it clear that they must reunite with their support group. Get hold of their sponsor immediately for back up. If they have been attending any meetings for recovering alcoholics during their sobriety, get them to the next one. Even if you have to take them there yourself.

It is vital that the relapsed alcoholic returns to the familiar surroundings and positive associations of their home group as soon as possible.

Once you have ‘handed them over’ to the experts, let them work their magic. The number one thing that the recovering addict needs is the support and understanding of fellow alcoholics in recovery.

It may happen that the relapse is too severe, or the recovering addict has become so disillusioned that they need to start over in their recovery. In these instances, there is no shame in repeating rehabilitation treatment at a reputable center.

How to Tell If a Relapse May Be on The Horizon

There is no such thing as a ‘slip’ in the book of most 12-step programs. Any return to active use of a substance is a relapse. What’s more, relapse is seen to be deliberate on a subconscious level.

During addiction treatment Los Angeles, addicts find out how to tell if a relapse may be approaching and what to do about it. However, owing to the deviousness of the addict mentality, they are hardly ever aware of these.

As somebody close to them, it helps if you can recognize the signs and take action early. These are the triggers and symptoms that could signal an impending relapse:

Addict Behavior

The very first sign that something is amiss is a return to addictive behavior. The recovering alcoholic may start to behave erratically without ever touching a drink.

  • Mood swings are a good indication of an internal struggle.
  • Selfishness, dishonesty and self-involvement may resurface
  • Talking about ’the good old days‘
  • Anxiety, anger and extreme sensitivity may arise
  • Visible impatience
  • A desire for isolation
  • Changes in appetite and difficulty sleeping
  • Hanging out with old drinking buddies
  • Talking about relapse
  • An attitude of having recovered instead of being in a process of ongoing recovery
  • Missing out on group therapy is usually a sign that relapse has already begun.

If you notice any of these symptoms, point them out to the person concerned straight away. If they are serious about their recovery there are steps they can take to prevent the inevitable.

Preventing Relapse

Avoiding situations which can lead to relapse is first prize in preventing relapse. Yet this is not always possible, especially after a long period of sobriety.

Help your loved one to set up and carry out a plan of action for when these distressing alcoholic behaviors start to re-emerge, signaling a possible relapse. This could include:

  • Calling a fellow in recovery to talk about it
  • Distraction – getting outdoors, doing some exercise, meditating, reading a book
  • Improving feelings of self-worth – doing something for someone less fortunate
  • Delaying tactics – agree to start drinking again tomorrow (as a last resort)

We can assist you with this and any other aspects of recovery and are available with help and advice at any time. Please reach out if you need help.


When someone you love or care for is in the throes of alcohol addiction, it can be uncomfortable and even nerve-wracking to walk alongside him or her during the path to recovery. Yet, this is a journey that many find themselves on. In the United States alone, 17.6 million people suffer from a form of alcohol abuse or dependence.

It is often through the support of others that alcoholics find long-term relief and freedom. The good news is that even the most severe cases are still hopeful. Industry experts reveal that one-third of those suffering from alcoholism make a full recovery.

If you’re wondering how to help an alcoholic you know get back on the right path, read on. Today, we’re breaking down how you can do your part to offer the guidance, advice, and connection that are so critical at this important juncture.

Learn About the Disease First

It’s easy to say “I understand” or “I realize what you’re going through.” Yet, those words can often fall flat if you’re unaware of exactly what alcoholism is. Before you begin providing support, it’s important to research the disease to the fullest extent possible.

Learn what it entails, where its roots lie, who’s most commonly affected, and what some of the most common signs are. If you can, attend an open session of an existing support group and listen to some of the stories around the room. Though it can be uncomfortable, immersing yourself in this environment can help you understand the addict’s mindset. It can also reveal some of the most common stumbling blocks.

After all, before you can understand how to help an alcoholic, you need to be able to offer support beyond a simple command to just quit drinking. Absorbing all you can on the topic can help you reach a deeper level of understanding and compassion.

Gather Support (For You, Too)

This isn’t a solo effort. To truly help the addict on the road to recovery, you’ll need backup and support from those closest to him or her. Sometimes, this might mean revealing the issue to persons who before now didn’t realize there was a problem.

Speak to the alcoholic’s spouse, close friends, or other family members, and join together to offer united support. If there is a confrontation, discuss the conversation beforehand to ensure everyone is on the same page. You’ll need to be firm in your resolution, yet remain calm throughout the conversation. Need a way to break the ice? Consider bringing informative literature with you so you can start with some key points and eye-opening stats.

In some cases, couples drug rehab could be the best option for you if you and your partner are both struggling with addiction. Couples rehab California can tremendously help you break your addiction and lessen the chances of relapse..

Ensure Against Enabling

You might not be directly lending the alcoholic money, but did you know that you might still be enabling the habit, even without realizing it? Covering up for the person is a prime example. Making excuses for tardiness, sloppy behavior, or missed appointments is one of the most common ways a loved one can, over time, turn into an enabler.

The first step when learning how to help an alcoholic is knowing when to cut the purse string (or to tell others to). Barring a medical emergency, it goes without saying that if you are extending financial support, even under the guise of helping with rent or a making car payment for the alcoholic, you should stop immediately. Yet, also consider what others ways you’re making the road to recovery longer and even more difficult for the sufferer walking it.

Confront and Converse in Private

In a state of desperation, and to reveal to the alcoholic the full extent of his or her damaging lifestyle, it can be tempting to call the person out in public. You might think that if others see and overhear the conversation taking place, the public shaming might be enough to “snap” the alcoholic into sobriety.

Yet, experts reveal that being ashamed of drinking only leads alcoholics deeper into addiction, not farther away from it. It also leads to a greater likelihood of relapse. When the time comes

When the time comes to have those important, intimate talks (whether one-on-one or with a small group), choose a location that’s private, quiet, and relaxed. Putting the alcoholic on the spot or in the spotlight can conjure up the very anxieties that stir a need to drink in the first place.

Encourage a New, Sober Network

Recovery is more than a 12-step process. It’s a total lifestyle change that means shedding old ways for entirely new ones. As such, if you’re interested in how to help an alcoholic, one of the ways you can assist is by helping to recreate the addict’s social circle.

Encourage relationships with sober, like-minded individuals. Discourage those with peers who drink heavily, as this company could spur a relapse. Not sure where to start? Try asking some of your sober friends and family members to make an introduction. You can also encourage memberships in support groups for accountability and friendship.

Learn How to Anticipate Potential Future Relapse

As you navigate the addict through the recovery phase, it helps to be able to realize some of the most tell-tale signs of  a potential relapse. Here are just a few signs the road to recovery might be taking a different turn:

  • Isolation: Is the addict withdrawing from normal activities that used to bring happiness?
  • Indifference: Does the addict no longer care about recovery, no longer attend support meetings, or no longer talk about his or her progress?
  • Inversion: Has the addict returned to his or her favorite bar or watering hole more frequently or started hanging out with the original crew?
  • Intensity: Has the addict started to express strong emotion, such as anger or anxiety, that he or she would normally stifle with alcohol?

How to Help an Alcoholic: Your First Step Starts Today

Maybe you’re just starting out in the support phase, or maybe you’ve been on this journey for a while. Either way, we’d love to help lighten your load.

We’re an affordable treatment center, based in Los Angeles, offering a range of support for those battling addiction. Our offerings include a Detox Program, Inpatient Rehab, Outpatient Rehab, and Sober Living Homes to aid in the transition.

If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to review our program options. Then, contact us and let’s connect. The recovery journey starts with a single step, so let’s take it together.

Addiction,Alcohol Addiction,Alcohol Rehab,Recovery,Relapse,Treatment,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

Research | Editorial
Call Now, We Can Help
Call Now Button (800) 426-1818