Alcohol Relapse Warning Signs and Prevention

For anyone who has gone through alcohol detox and/or a treatment program, you know how hard it can be to stay sober. Relapse is an all too common occurrence after finishing these programs. In this article we look at why people relapse, what the warning signs are, and how to create a relapse prevention plan to get help if you need it.

Why People Relapse On Alcohol

Some substance abuse experts like Terrence Gorski see relapse into alcohol as a series of problems in progression. He sees this relapse as a cascading set of individual issues that negative situations make worse. Bit by bit, circumstances become increasingly overwhelming to the point that the individual finally loses control. This is when the temptation arises to believe that the only way to get effective relief is through alcohol.

There are other varying views on relapse too. A 2013 study from the Clinical Psychological Science Journal revealed that some individuals suffer a relapse due to feelings of embarrassment and shame surrounding their drinking problem. They come to believe that they are inherently bad individuals who can not change the way that they ultimately are. Such emotions flash alarm bells that their odds of suffering from alcohol relapse and re-abuse are rising or already elevated.

One silver lining in an alcoholism relapse is that it provides a real opportunity to go back and address the triggers and issues that caused the substance abuse or addiction to develop in the first place. Those who have already completed a treatment plan may be signalling that they need a new approach.

What The Warning Signs Of Relapse Are

There are a number of prescient warning signs of impending alcohol relapse. These warning signs can vary from one individual to another, but in general, they include at least some of the following:

  • Anxiety – Those individuals who display signs of anxiety can start drinking again to forget their feelings of panic and nervousness.
  • Dysphoria – Dissatisfaction with their lives can cause people to go back to drinking to escape the general feelings they are having.
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms – Elevated blood pressure, rapid heart beat, tremors, and sweating are distressing and can force a person to begin drinking again to forget their discomfort.
  • Stress – Clinical research reveals people who suffer from stress may turn back to alcohol to obtain relief.
  • Anhedonia – Some individuals lose the ability to enjoy everyday pleasures in life, and this often causes individuals to relapse to what they perceive to be the pleasure of drinking.
  • Not participating in recovery aftercare – Clinical research demonstrates that those who take part in individual counseling or 12 step groups have lower rates of relapse and higher remission levels.
  • Lack of effective family or social support – Those who do not have proper social support show greater recurrences of relapse for lack of those necessary positive relationships that can give them emotional support, reduce stress, and provide their sense of well being.

Not every person will exhibit all of these warning symptoms, and some may show different ones more strongly than others.

How To Create A Relapse Prevention Plan

Among the best and most effective ways to prevent relapse is to come up with an effective relapse prevention plan. This involves a number of elements. Gorski states that effectual alcohol relapse prevention plans include the following:

  • Stabilization – The person must be in control as well as sober. You must concentrate on getting through one day at a time, asking such questions as: What must I do so that I do not drink today?
  • Relapse education – This process teaches invaluable ideas on relapse. One of these is that relapse is typical and not something to suffer shame from in life.
  • Assessment – In treatment, assessment will seek to obtain a detailed family history to look for additional history of alcohol or drug use.
  • Identifying warning signs – Every individual needs to be aware of their triggers for relapse so that they can avoid starting to drink again. In most cases, a process and not just a single problem leads to relapse.
  • Inventory training – Every morning should start with mental inventories that help you to see warning signs during that day. You complete the process by reviewing progress each evening.
  • Recovery planning – The key idea here is to keep in touch with sponsors or go to more AA meetings.
  • Family involvement – It is helpful to have family members coming to the AA meetings or counselling meetings, but for those who do not have such quality family support, they should enlist friends whom they trust or people in their support groups.
  • Follow up – It is smart to update the prevention plan periodically. This should be done once per month in the initial three recovery months, quarterly over the initial two years, and then annually afterward. Each recovery stage possesses its own distinctive warning signs, so an initial trigger from a year ago may be different than the one that impacts you today.

Getting Treatment

Following such a relapse, the network of support (such as a psychiatrist, a therapist, friends, family, or sponsors) will probably recommend going back into a treatment program for another time. This is not an exercise in weakness, but displaying the inner strength to get back up and try again. Numerous relapses throughout a client’s post-alcoholism life are possible and even somewhat commonplace.

Getting back into a treatment program involves overcoming several hopeless attitudes, including:

  • Denial – An individual may refuse to accept that they need help. Admitting that they do need help relieves associated anxiety and stress.
  • Making excuses – Arguing they lack money or time even though their sobriety is the most important thing in their life.
  • Accepting depression – When people believe that life is pointless over their failures, this is the time to seek treatment again, where they may regain their proper perspective on longer term recovery and relapse.

If you are ready to seek help, our staff at St. John’s Recovery Place are here to help. Call our admissions department today so that we can get you the help you need with your own (or a loved one’s) substance abuse problem.

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