Signs Your Client Could be Headed Towards a Relapse

Client having emotional conversation over Zoom with her Treatment Professional
June 16, 2021
|   Updated:
August 15, 2023

For a person struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder, achieving sobriety is a huge accomplishment, but it is also an everyday struggle. No matter how long a person has abstained from drinking alcohol, they are still at risk for relapse. However, with the help of a Treatment Professional and a strong Recovery Circle, it is easier to identify triggers, spot the early warning signs of relapse, and stay on the road to recovery.

The Likelihood of Relapse in Clients with Alcohol Use Disorder

Prior to the pandemic, evidence suggested that about 90 percent of people with Alcohol Use Disorder may relapse within four years post treatment. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has caused this likelihood to increase even more. While these statistics are staggering, there are many methods that can be used to help those with AUD stay sober, even in the face of an isolating pandemic. As a Treatment Professional, it's essential to stay educated on relapse prevention strategies and use all tools available to aid in the recovery process. With the right support, it’s possible to decrease your clients’ likelihood of relapse.

Identifying Triggers for Relapse

There are often warning signs that a person with AUD may be headed towards relapse — and being able to identify these signs and avoid potential triggers is an essential part of recovery management. With enough awareness, it’s possible to prevent relapse simply by noting any potential triggers and developing tactics that will help your client deal with them as soon as they arise.

Common Triggers for Relapse include:


While everyone experiences stress from time to time, there are both positive and negative coping mechanisms for dealing with it. Those with AUD often turn to drinking as a maladaptive coping mechanism. To combat this, clinicians should help their clients develop better ways to mitigate stress to prevent relapse. By adopting beneficial behaviors like healthy eating, exercise, and effective time management, stress can be prevented — and practices like meditation, relaxation training, and spending time with loved ones can help alleviate stress when it arises.

People or environments that encourage drinking

Being in a place where alcohol is present or spending time with others who are drinking can be challenging for a person in early recovery. By identifying which environments and individuals may have contributed to a client’s AUD, it’s possible to create effective ways to avoid these potentially compromising situations. For example, if a group of friends is going for a drink, a person in recovery can have another activity planned for themselves, making it easier to turn down the invitation.

Holidays and celebrations

Not all triggers for relapse are inherently negative. Sometimes moments of happiness and celebration can also tempt someone in recovery to consume alcohol. Even if a person feels in control of their sobriety, they still should not risk the consequences of having a drink. For people with AUD, one sip can quickly turn into a binge. Educate your clients on these risks and create a plan for how they can navigate celebratory events. By establishing these rules ahead of time, relapse may be less likely to occur.

Fortunately, pinpointing specific triggers for relapse is easier with the help of tools like Soberlink. Soberlink is a comprehensive remote alcohol monitoring system that combines wireless connectivity with a professional-grade alcohol testing device to document proof of sobriety in real-time. The intuitive system’s scheduled testing allows clients to establish healthy daily routines and remain accountable for themselves and their Recovery Circle who receive daily updates. In addition to remote testing, Soberlink also offers Advanced Reporting™ capabilities helping Treatment Professionals make patterns of potential triggers easy to identify and avoid.

Signs of Relapse

Stressed man holding hands to temple

Even with the proper tools in place for identifying triggers and developing healthy coping strategies, relapse can still occur. However, if the signs of an impending relapse are recognized quickly enough, it can be easier for the person with AUD to regain focus. 

Keep an eye out for signs of relapse: 

  • Spending more time with people who drink
  • Appearing irritable, anxious, or depressed
  • Missing support meetings
  • Behaving secretively
  • Acting more isolated
  • Neglecting personal tasks
  • Changes in physical appearance

Tools for Preventing Relapse

Soberlink Connect and Cellular Devices

As a Treatment Professional, it’s important not to wait for these tell-tale signs before implementing healthy habits for relapse prevention. Work closely with your clients to identify potential triggers and try to do everything possible to set them up for success by establishing consistent routines and a strong support system.

Consider the following tools to reduce the chances of relapse:

Exercise. Moving the body is an excellent way to alleviate stress and release endorphins. Encourage your clients to find a physical activity they enjoy, whether it be running, yoga, or playing a team sport.

Support Groups. Establishing a community of people who understand the struggle of AUD can help with feelings of loneliness and isolation and can provide encouragement and motivation when triggers arise.

A System for Accountability. Accountability often helps people in alcohol recovery stay on track. Soberlink not only provides proof of sobriety to Treatment Professionals and an individual’s Recovery Circle, it also offers additional safeguarding for people with AUD when temptation arises. By maintaining routine check-ins, Soberlink can motivate people to abstain from drinking alcohol even when they are isolated from their support network.

Creative Outlets. One beneficial way to process the negative emotions that can trigger relapse is by creative self-expression. Art, journaling, and crafts can provide outlets for difficult feelings and can be used as positive coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety.


Many people don’t understand the daily struggle that people in recovery face. The likelihood of relapse is high, and temptation is everywhere. What’s more, the isolation and challenges associated with the COVID pandemic have only made it more difficult for those with AUD to stay sober and remain accountable. 

Fortunately, Treatment Professionals can help their clients recognize behaviors that put them at risk for relapse and create a plan on how to deal with triggers. By using alcohol monitoring systems like Soberlink in combination with preventative strategies, those with AUD will feel more motivated to stay sober — and should they start showing signs of a relapse, Treatment Professionals can intervene sooner and identify patterns for potential triggers, increasing their clients’ chances for success moving forward.

Learn More About Soberlink

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