According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 90% of alcoholics will relapse within four years. But relapse doesn't have to spiral back into full-blown addiction.
There are many reasons why people recovering from alcohol addiction relapse. Some people are triggered by stress or exposure to situations they associate with the euphoric feeling previously brought on by alcohol. Others revisit drinking as a coping mechanism for underlying anxiety, depression, or chronic pain.
If you find yourself having relapsed, it is crucial to first accept that the relapse happened and then find a way forward. Let go of guilt and shame surrounding the slip and create a strategy for avoiding relapsing again.
The following steps can help you move past your relapse and get back on track.
1. Stop drinking as soon as possible
When alcoholics relapse, they often keep drinking, feeling that there is no point in stopping since they already slipped up. But continuing to drink will make it much harder to stop, leading to a renewed entrenchment in your addiction.
“One of the most important things you can do if you relapse is stop as soon as you can,” addiction counselor Lin Sternlicht, LMHC, MA, EdM tells WebMD Connect to Care. “The better able you are to contain your relapse in terms of quantity and duration, the easier it will be to move forward.”
2. Seek support
No one can succeed in recovery alone. Ask for help from trusted family members and friends to give you the support you need to prevent any future relapse.
Twelve-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous can be tremendously helpful, offering a safe space to talk and learn from other people’s experiences in recovery. A professional addiction counselor can help you identify treatment options, including alcohol rehab and medications for AUD.
3. Identify your triggers
Triggers are stimuli that cause you to crave alcohol or drugs, potentially leading to relapse. They can include anything from being around people who abuse alcohol, places that bring back memories of drinking, stressful situations, or even certain foods.
Becoming aware of your triggers can help you avoid or minimize situations that could cause you to relapse. When faced with a trigger, you can use coping strategies like rationalization to overcome the temptation. A professional clinician who deals with substance use disorder can help you pinpoint your triggers and develop coping methods for them.
“The more attuned to one's relapse triggers a client is, the more they can understand those triggers and become empowered to not let them undermine their recovery efforts in the present and future,” psychologist Dmitri Oster, LCSW, CASAC II tells WebMD Connect to Care.
4. Make a plan to prevent relapsing again
With the help of a therapist, a professional addiction counselor, or a sponsor, try to analyze your relapse and create a plan to avoid a similar scenario in the future. This should include triggers, coping tactics, and specific people in your support network who you can ask for help.
“By connecting with sober supports and clinical resources, a framework for prevention can start to take shape in one’s life,” Harshal Kirane, MD, medical director of Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research tells WebMD Connect to Care. “Recovery from alcohol use disorder is ultimately a personal journey, but it can only begin by reaching out for support.”
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If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.