How to Avoid Another Alcohol Relapse

If you have tried to quit drinking or using drugs but had a relapse, you are not alone. Statistics suggest that up to 80% of people who try to quit have at least one relapse before achieving long-term sobriety.

In some cases, it may only be a momentary lapse which we, in recovery circles, refer to as a slip. It differs from a full-blown relapse in that the person immediately regrets the action. It may be the result of something that happened on the spur of the moment or when the person's focus was somehow shaken. But, it is ultimately characterized by the fact that the individual wants to correct the mistake immediately.

By contrast, a relapse suggests that a person has fallen back into old behaviors. It is most often used to describe when a person who has been sober for some time returns to alcohol or drugs and is less able to stop.

Reasons for Slips and Relapses

In some cases, people will slip because they don't have the tools to overcome certain emotional situations. They may have had a horrible day and use that as a justification to start drinking again. Alternately, they may be overwhelmed by cravings that frequently occur during early recovery.

In other cases, people will use alcohol or drugs to "punish" those around them for "pushing" them back into old behaviors. It allows the individual to put the blame on someone else rather than acknowledging the addiction is an issue of its own.

The main point about a slip is that the sense of regret is almost immediate. The problem arises when the slip turns into a full-blown relapse and the total abandonment of one's sobriety. When this happens, the ability to turn things around becomes increasingly difficult for several reasons:

  • Once a person starts to drink or use drugs again, his or her ability to make rational decision decreases.
  • The person's motivation for sobriety was probably low in the first place, making it even more difficult to reapproach recovery a second time.
  • The relapse will often confirm to the individual that he or she can't overcome the addiction.
  • Those who supported the recovery in the first place may be less willing to do so the second time around.
  • Some people will fool themselves into thinking that they can achieve sobriety again when things are "better," and they are in a "stronger place."
  • Others will convince themselves that they need to hit "rock bottom" in order to fully commit to sobriety, failing to understand that it is simply a ploy to buy time and perpetuate the same behaviors.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Deal With a Slip or Relapse

The best way to prevent a slip from becoming a relapse is to act immediately. It is something you cannot do alone, and the seriousness of the slip should never be downplayed by you or those around you. However "serious" or "minor" the slip may have been, it is a clear sign that something is wrong and that there are issues that need to be addressed so that the slip doesn't happen again.

It is not enough to commit to quit; you need to explore the reasons behind the slip and to understand what triggered it in the first place. Without some serious soul-searching, you will be less able to avoid another slip should the same issue return.

In the end, there is no benefit to feeling guilty about the slip. What matters is that you take it seriously and acknowledge that it is a mistake from which you have something to learn.

On the other hand, if you have experienced a relapse and have now recommitted to recovery, there are several things to remember:

  • Instead of feeling guilty, redouble your effort to achieve and maintain sobriety.
  • The fact that you are recommitting means that you understand the depth of your addiction.
  • Instead of feeling shame about your mistakes, look at them squarely and identify what you need to do to avoid making them again.
  • Do not feel like you've lost everything and gone back to day one. Everything we do in life informs our recovery is moving forward. A person who has been sober for several days often experiences sobriety in a more profound way than someone who has been sober for years. Use that feeling to move your recovery forward.

And, most importantly, remind yourself that the only true failure is giving up on yourself. Do not give up.

3 Sources
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