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5 Signs an Alcoholic Is Drinking Again

By Neha Kashyap
Certain personality and behavior changes could indicate an alcohol use disorder relapse.

Alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, can be hard to beat for some. After achieving sobriety, alcoholics could be at risk for relapse, or drinking again. But considering the long-term effects of alcoholism, staying sober is worth the effort. If you’re a loved one of an alcoholic, it’s important to know the signs of an alcoholism relapse.

“Being able to recognize the signs of an impending alcohol relapse allows you to offer your support and encouragement, hopefully fending off the relapse altogether,” Priya Chaudhri, MD, and CEO of Elevation Behavioral Health in Southern California, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Five Warning Signs

Here are some symptoms of an alcohol relapse:

1. Personality changes. Irritability or moodiness could be signs that an alcoholic is drinking again. Sometimes, a shift in mood can happen because of an emotional trigger or guilt over wanting to drink again. The alcoholic might even try quitting again because of that guilt, says Sabrina Spotorno, LCSW, of online recovery platform Monument in New York City.

“This cycle does not necessarily start with the physical relapse, but typically some emotional relapse, generally in the form of fantasizing or obsessing over past use,” Spotorno says. “This can be preceded or followed by a triggering event, then actual use, a sense of loss of control, guilt over use, cessation, and passage of time.”

2. Social withdrawal.Someone struggling with sobriety might start isolating themselves from loved ones and not following through on plans, including support group meetings. But there are ways loved ones can help.

“Offer to drive them to an AA meeting or encourage a Zoom meeting. Recommend they touch base with their sponsor or another sober peer,” says Parool Desai, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Clarity Health Solutions mental health center in southern Florida. “Avoid leaving the person isolated, and do not let them be alone in their thoughts. Physical movement helps change thoughts. Go for a run with the person and get their natural adrenaline flowing.”

3. Old habits. According to Spotorno, if an alcoholic goes back to locations or people from when they were drinking, it might be a sign that they could relapse.

“If you see your loved one returning to any past people and places the individual would go to when using after an extended period of time away from use, you may want to gather more information as to why they are returning to those environments and what boundaries are being set to reduce risk ... ” Spotorno says.

4. Neglecting personal tasks.Trouble with work, school, or caring for family could also signal an alcohol use disorder relapse. Also, alcoholics who are drinking again might neglect personal hygiene or change their eating patterns, says Desai.

5. Ignoring support.If an alcoholic begins to neglect the support groups or therapy that helps them stay sober, then they could relapse.

“For example, a person who had gone to AA meetings, or called a sponsor daily, may be starting to attend less frequently, or make statements such as ‘I don't really feel I need this.’ It may also be a more direct statement, such as ‘I think I can handle drinking now,’ or ‘I can drink in moderation,’” says Heidi J. Dalzell, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Newtown, PA.

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction