Recovery is not a straightforward process for many people. Many people who have recovered from active alcoholism will experience at least one relapse — a term for when a person who has gotten sober from drugs or alcohol begins using again. Relapses can happen for any reason and at any time. In many cases, relapses are caused by something deeply personal or difficult to manage. Tips to avoid alcohol relapse begin with looking at the root cause of relapse triggers.
Common Relapse Triggers
Ignoring emotions – Emotional ups and downs are part of the human experience. People in recovery may have used alcohol or drugs to cope with emotional lows and may not have learned healthy coping mechanisms to deal with complex emotions. This is why it is so important for people in the recovery community to learn to feel their feelings in a healthy way.
Ignoring feelings doesn’t make them go away. In fact, ignoring feelings and pretending that they aren’t being experienced can prolong the issue and add even more pain to an already problematic situation. As feelings continue to go unresolved, the urge to drink becomes stronger and a person may use alcohol again in order to cope with their distress.
Poorly managing stress – Stress is something that everyone experiences. However, how stress is managed can make the difference between moving through it easily and making it worse. One of the best tips to avoid alcohol relapse is to learn how to manage stress in a healthy way. Someone who does not properly address their stress may find themselves more likely to start drinking again to cope.
Discomfort – Certain people, places, and events can create a great sense of discomfort for someone who is in recovery from alcohol addiction. Dysfunctional family dynamics are often at the forefront of triggers — especially during the holidays. The holidays are a tricky time of year for many people, but more so for people in recovery who may not know how to establish healthy boundaries with friends or family, or who may feel uncomfortable talking about their addiction. The discomfort of fraught social or family dynamics during the holidays can cause someone to want to drink, to feel less socially awkward, to deal with broken relationships, or to just get through being around loved ones for too long.
Understanding the Warning Signs To Avoid Alcohol Relapse
To the outsider, a release may appear to happen suddenly. However, when someone relapses, it does not just occur out of the blue. There are three stages of relapse: emotional, mental, and physical stages. By the time a relapse happens, there have typically already been several things occurring under the surface.
With each stage comes its own set of recognizable symptoms. Knowing the warning signs can help prevent alcohol relapse. During the emotional and mental relapse stages, it is possible to prevent the physical relapse from occurring, and it is generally recommended to get professional help. If the alcoholic has started actively drinking again, it is not too late.
When a person in recovery from alcoholism is experiencing an emotional relapse, they are likely not even thinking about drinking. They probably don’t have difficulty managing cravings, either. The emotional relapse stage occurs when a person stops actively working on their recovery. For example, someone who religiously attended 12-Step meetings might begin skipping some here and there. Or, they may cancel therapy sessions unexpectedly. Some additional signs of the emotional relapse stage include the following:
- No longer engaging in their same routine
- Not prioritizing good sleep and eating patterns
- Poor hygiene
- Mood swings
- Isolating from others
- Holding in thoughts and feelings
The emotional relapse sets the stage for mental relapse, which can feel more severe due to the presence of additional symptoms.
A mental relapse occurs when a person starts actively thinking about drinking again. They might even glamorize their past use despite the pain it caused them and their loved ones. The emotional overload they experience during the emotional relapse often triggers the mental relapse. Additionally, the person may feel like their past wasn’t that bad or their recovery is well enough in hand that they can have one or two and be fine. Other signs of mental relapse include the following:
- Bargaining with oneself about using “just one time”
- Making plans for a physical relapse
- Feeling like they’ll be able to stop drinking once starting
- Glossing over the consequences of their use
As the mental stage of relapse progresses, it eventually transitions into real action, which is known as the physical stage of relapse.
The physical stage of relapse occurs when an individual actively starts drinking again. This means that they are using alcohol often and are not taking any action to stop their continued use. The symptoms that are experienced at this time are similar to those of anyone who is abusing alcohol, including poor decision-making, interpersonal problems, poor hygiene, and neglecting responsibilities.
Tips For Avoiding Alcohol Relapse
While some people might find it easier than others to get back on their feet, overcoming an alcohol relapse can be really challenging for many. Regardless of the pace at which a person is attempting to bounce back from a relapse, using the following tips during that time can be beneficial:
- Reach out for professional help via a therapist, treatment center, or a primary care physician
- Plan ahead of time. Holidays come around the same time every year and if you know that a particular day or time of year will be triggering, call a trusted friend, sponsor, or reach out to your therapist for support.
- Tell a trusted confidant about the relapse and ask for support
- Attend local 12-Step meetings as soon as possible and as often as possible — especially during times of year that may be difficult, like the holidays.
- Do not become discouraged, as relapse is part of the disease of addiction
- Have a plan in place prior to a relapse so that when one happens, the plan can be enacted and repercussions can be minimized
Avoid Alcohol Relapse in Nashville, TN
If you are struggling to maintain your sobriety or if you have relapsed, know that this is not a failure. At Detox Nashville, we understand that this is all part of recovery. We are here to help you overcome the challenges that you face as a result of your alcohol addiction.
To learn more about how we can help you, contact us right now.