What To Do When Relapse Becomes Reality

Over 60 percent of people who are addicted to alcohol relapse within the first year.  Because alcohol is so highly addictive, with profound effects on both body and brain, recovery isn’t a one-time event but a process – and that process can be derailed.  When relapse becomes reality, here are a few things to consider to help get your recovery back on track.

Is it a Slip or A Relapse?

A “slip” isn’t the same as a relapse.  You might be at a party and have a few drinks because everyone else is – or pick up a bottle after a fight with a partner.   But the next day, you realize you slipped up, and you recommit to your recovery by calling a sponsor, returning to your program, or attending a group.  You learn from the slip and then leave it behind.

Relapse, though, is different.  It’s not a one time event, but a return to the old patterns of drinking and the behaviors that go with it – lying about drinking, getting into trouble with the law or the boss, fighting with family and friends, doing whatever is necessary to keep getting alcohol.

What Causes Relapse?

Relapse Becomes Reality

Stress is a major relapse trigger.

Relapses don’t just happen. To see why, it’s necessary to look at how addiction works.  Studies reveal that addiction isn’t simply a failure of willpower and moral fiber – there’s a powerful biological component to addiction that makes it work more like a disease.

Like other addictive substances, alcohol\ affects the brain’s centers of pleasure and reward more immediately and strongly than external triggers such as pleasant experiences or positive behaviors.  Long-term alcohol use “rewires” these pathways in the brain.  When an alcoholic in recovery encounters events and circumstances that are associated with drinking, the desire to drink is stimulated all over again.

Social situations play a major role in triggering relapse.  Being around old friends from drinking days, or going to events where you used to drink, can be enough to start the cycle all over again.  Stress, too, can cause cravings for alcohol as a way to cope with difficult situations. That’s why so many recovery programs emphasize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which helps people learn how to recognize and manage their particular triggers for using alcohol.

It’s a Relapse – Now What?

If you or a loved one has really relapsed, the familiar signs of addiction are present again – and easily recognizable.  The first step is to acknowledge that relapse has happened, and to realize that relapsing doesn’t mean recovery has failed.   It simply means it’s time to reconnect with the resources that started recovery in the first place.

If you’re connected with a recovery program or group, contact them. Talk with a sponsor or counselor about what’s happened and work with them to plan your next steps.  A severe relapse might require detox before returning to recovery work. Other issues such as financial or legal problems caused by relapsing also need to be managed.  Recommitting to your recovery program provides support for moving forward.

If you aren’t already involved with a recovery program, seek one out. Since relapse is so common, just about every rehab program has resources specifically designed to help people understand how the relapse happened and get back on track.

Recovery is a journey, and relapses are bumps in the road. To move forward, it’s important to accept that relapse doesn’t make recovery impossible – and to connect, or reconnect, with the people and resources that can help.

Are you worried about relapsing – and what it means for your future?  We’re here to help.  Contact us at 800-839-1686 to get the answers you need right now.

What Should I Do if I Relapse During AA?

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