Warning Signs of a Relapse and What to Do About It

A woman with glasses comforts a man who relapsed
March 31, 2021
|   Updated:
November 3, 2023

While Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is treatable, recovery is often a difficult journey. For many, relapse is a common occurrence in the alcohol recovery process. Compared to other chronic illnesses such as asthma and hypertension, Substance Abuse Disorders have a relapse rate of 40% to 60%. Typically, warning signs may signal a relapse long before an individual starts drinking, making it easier to prevent a reoccurrence or slip. Understanding the changes in behaviors, attitudes, and feelings that gradually lead a person to a drink can be essential to prevention. Read the following warning signs of a relapse and discover tips for taking action.

The Warning Signs

There are various warning signs to look out for when recovering from alcohol addiction. Recognizing them can help you stay sober and avoid relapse.

An older man dealing with a headache

Elevated Stress

One of the most prominent conditions that can lead one back to misusing alcohol is stress. Whether the stress is due to a major circumstance or an accumulation of little things, it can make it all the more tempting to ease the situation with a drink. Most people need a way to cope with their stressors; those prone to addiction tend to rely on substances to cope with stress in their lives.The danger lies in pushing boundaries and giving in to these stressful events.

Loss of Structure

When the daily routines and schedules you set for yourself during recovery are slowly abandoned, that may be cause for concern. For example, relapse can look like sleeping much later than your bedtime, ignoring personal hygiene, or skipping meals, amongst other things.

Loss of Judgment and Control

Another sign of relapse can be confusion or an inability to make decisions easily. This is a dangerous headspace to be in, as overwhelming feelings may lead a person to make irrational choices. If there are thoughts about returning to social and recreational drinking with the intent to control it, then you may be on the cusp of relapsing. Sometimes, people experiencing loss of judgment or control may lack confidence in their ability to manage their lives and, therefore, their recovery.

Avoidance and Isolation

People who are relapsing often start feeling uncomfortable around others and may isolate themselves. For instance, you may start making excuses about not wanting to socialize. This can include avoiding interactions with your support network, family, and friend

What to Do About It

While the above warning signs may seem troublesome, they can actually help a struggling individual get the support they need. When a loved one or treatment professional is aware of the signs, they can devise an immediate plan of action to help prevent relapse.

A treatment specialist talking about the warning signs of a relapse to a patient

Identifying Triggers

One of the most helpful ways to prevent relapse is to know what your triggers are. Triggers are any stimuli that may cause you to crave alcohol. They can be anything, from fond memories of drinking to peer pressure and even certain dishes that you enjoyed with alcohol. Self-awareness allows you to take the necessary steps to minimize situations where you would be exposed to those triggers. You can also build stronger coping mechanisms such as rationalization to help fight temptations. The more attuned you are to your triggers, the more you can empower yourself and remain accountable to the recovery process without letting a relapse undermine your progress.

Reach Out to a Professional

A significant part of overcoming addiction involves improved mental health. Many individuals who are diagnosed with Substance Abuse Disorders also struggle with mental health conditions and vice versa. Therefore, treating this aspect of addiction on equal footing with the physical and environmental factors is essential. Receiving therapy is often essential to helping strengthen recovery outcomes.  Fortunately, clinical assistance can easily be accessed these days through various online mediums. Now, more addiction experts with psychology credentials have telehealth services available. Such professionals are trained in the discipline to master clinical and cognitive care as well as counseling. By working with professionals like an addiction treatment counselor or recovery coach, an individual living with AUD can learn the behavioral and cognitive skills required to maintain a lifestyle that is conducive to sustained recovery. More importantly, addiction professionals can equip you with ways to combat relapse should the risk present itself.

Utilize Technology

Preventing relapse is often best achieved alongside a robust support system. An individual’s Recovery Circle can help them remain accountable and, therefore, sober for more extended periods. For some, however, additional accountability may be helpful.

A man trying to utilize the Soberlink technology

Remote alcohol monitoring systems like Soberlink help individuals document and provide proof of sobriety in real-time to their support network, helping to foster transparency and rebuild trust during the recovery process.

Written by Alicia Keith

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