What Happens When an Alcoholic Relapses?

What Is a Relapse?

A relapse is a recurrence of symptoms of a disease after a period of improvement. With alcoholism, it happens when an alcoholic drinks excessively again, even though they have been sober for a significant amount of time. Relapse is a pretty common occurrence, especially among recovering alcoholics. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 90% of alcoholics will relapse. Despite this, it doesn’t always end in addiction.

Stages of a Relapse

A person may not even realize that they are in a relapse. A person suffering from an alcohol relapse makes excuses to drink again or rationalizations about why they should start drinking again. Relapse occurs in three distinct stages that progress gradually.

Stage 1: Emotional Relapse

The first stage of relapse is an emotional one. The craving for alcohol returns, and the individual’s progress during previous periods of sobriety starts to go out the window. Their emotions and behaviors worsen and can lead to relapse later on, even though they understand the consequences involved in doing so. A person begins to have feelings of self-pity and self-disgust. There are sure signs to look for if a person is emotionally relapsing, such as:

• Mood swings
• Anger
• Mentioning alcohol casually
• Cravings for alcohol
• Denying that there is a problem
• Isolation
• Poor sleep schedule
• Unhealthy eating habits
• Poor self-care

Stage 2: Mental Relapse

The second stage of relapse involves a mental struggle. This person may think that they suffer from alcohol-related cognitive declines, such as memory loss and poor judgment. The individual is likely to feel frustrated and discouraged. During this stage, a person may be fighting with themselves over whether or not to drink again. Common signs of mental relapse include:

• Troubled sleep
• Social isolation
• Planning physical relapse
• Glamorizing drug or alcohol use
• Minimizing the consequences of using

Stage 3: Physical Relapse

This final stage of relapse involves the person actively using drugs or alcohol. Alcohol and drug use require individuals to consume more than they will ordinarily consume to feel the effects. It can lead to dangerous health consequences, such as liver or brain damage. In the physical stage of a relapse, the individual will consume alcohol and drugs regularly, and they will not stop even when faced with negative consequences. In addition to this, they may also:

• Use drugs or alcohol in a public place
• Experiment with new mood-altering substances
• Take risks while under the influence
• Have increasingly poor work performance or attendance problems

Warning Signs of a Relapse

While each stage has its warning signs, there are general relapse warning signs to look out for. A person about to go through a relapse will usually show specific signs. These will help you identify the state of mind before a relapse occurs. The most common signs are:

• Change in attitude
• Elevated stress
• Reactivation of denial
• Recurrence of withdrawal symptoms
• Behavior changes
• Social breakdown
• Loss of structure
• Loss of control

Relapse Risk Factors

The risk factors involved in relapse are similar to those involved with addiction. If a particular risk factor is present, this will increase the likelihood of a relapse. Some common risk factors for relapse include the following.

Drug or Alcohol Dependence

If a person has been dependent on drugs or alcohol for some time, an alcoholic relapse is likely to occur. Alcohol dependence can lead to cravings, which can be extremely difficult. The person may also be unaware of the risks and consequences of an alcoholic relapse.

Mood Disorders

Depression can lead to relapses in alcoholics because their mental state cannot deal with the stress and anxiety involved in drinking alcohol again. It can lead to a negative impact on general health, which can, in turn, increase the risk of relapse.

Exposure to Stressors

Because alcohol is a coping mechanism, exposure to stressors and situations that are stressful can also lead to relapse. If a person can’t cope with these situations, they will be more likely to drink again. For example, if they are constantly exposed to stressful jobs or relationships they cannot escape from, they may be tempted to drink again.

Lack of Social Support

If a person is alone or doesn’t have a support system, they will not be able to deal well with the stress involved in alcohol relapse. It can lead them to overuse drugs and alcohol for temporary relief, making it easier for them to give in to the temptation to drink again and again. In this situation, the individual may turn to drugs and alcohol to prevent their problems from getting worse.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can also lead to alcohol relapse because a person may feel left out in social situations involving others consuming alcohol. Once a person gives in to the pressure, it becomes easier to engage in drinking on a regular basis when out with others. This, in turn, can lead to drinking when alone.

Low Self-efficacy

When a person has low self-efficacy, they will be unable to deal with the stress caused by drinking alcohol, leading to a relapse. Low self-efficacy can be caused by a lack of confidence when dealing with stressful situations. People are more likely to use alcohol and drugs to cope with them better when under stress.

Effects of Alcoholic Relapse

Recovery from an alcoholic relapse is a long process involving suffering from the physical effects of drinking alcohol again. These effects are most likely to be experienced during the first few days of relapse when the individual is at their most vulnerable. The first signs of relapse will be reduced attention span, memory problems, and social decline.

Physical effects

The most obvious physical effects of relapse affect the body on a chemical level. An alcoholic relapse may include some of these effects:

• Increased blood pressure
• Increased heart rate
• Sleep loss
• Headaches
• Loss of appetite and thirst
• Tension, agitation, and anxiety
• Nausea and vomiting
• Seizures or jerky movements
• Inability to concentrate
• Slurred speech
• Dizziness or loss of balance
• Cramps or pain in the limbs
• Diarrhea or constipation
• Exhaustion

Mental Effects

The mental effects of an alcoholic relapse are not always noticeable to the casual observer. These include issues such as:

• Poor memory
• Loss of concentration
• Irrational thinking patterns and confusion
• Diagnosis-resistant depression
• Inability to cope with daily tasks such as work or study
• Loss of interest in pleasurable activities and hobbies
• Difficulty in making decisions
• Depression and anxiety
• Inability to sleep

How a Relapse Affects the Body of a Recovering Alcoholic

A person will experience a relapse of drug and alcohol use for many different reasons. After not drinking for a while, the body can’t process alcohol the same way, and it is especially dangerous for the brain.

When a recovering person has been sober for an extended period, they are likely to lose control over their drinking habits. If they try to drink again, this can cause severe consequences in the body. The most common consequences include:

• Increased risk of developing liver disease
• Liver damage
• Alcoholic hepatitis
• Cirrhosis of the liver

Steps to Help You Move Past Your First Relapse

The following are helpful recovery tips that can get you through a possible relapse.

Stop Drinking as Soon as Possible

If a person begins drinking again and doesn’t stop, this can be highly hazardous for their recovery. The longer a person drinks, the worse things are likely to get. When a relapse happens at this stage, the damage can be irreversible. If a person returns to their old drinking habits, they may find it difficult to escape from them again. Doing this will prevent them from taking positive steps in recovery.

Seek Support

Seek the help of others if you have a relapse. It is essential in the recovery process because it can help you overcome the problem. Ask for help from trusted family members and friends, or seek assistance from a support group. It is constructive if the relapse occurs due to a lack of social support. If you need professional help to address the issue, try and see a professional therapist.

Identify Your Triggers

Relapses can occur for many different reasons, and when this happens, it’s essential to identify the triggers. The person can avoid these triggers to prevent themselves from using alcohol again. If you have a family member or friend who pushes you to drink, try and distance yourself from this person because their influence will only lead to a relapse. They may also have a relapse themselves, leading to more drinking for both of you.

Make a Plan to Prevent Relapsing Again

When a person experiences a relapse, they will likely experience severe guilt and shame. It can lead to continued drinking because they want to avoid these emotions. If you want to prevent relapsing again or stop drinking, then you need to remember that you have the power to do so. You can positively change your life by creating healthy and positive goals. Try visualizing what you want your sober life to look like in your mind, which will help motivate you toward your goals.

Treatment Options After a Relapse

Relapse can be a challenge when a recovering person returns to using alcohol, but they can be helped through the use of drug addiction treatment. The treatment process can help them identify the underlying issues that led to a relapse and learn how to address these. There are various types of alcohol addiction treatment available, including:


Detoxification is often the first step in treating alcoholism, but you may have to repeat it several times before you can stop drinking. The hospital or treatment center will also provide medical assistance, medications, an education plan, and evidence-based support services to help you avoid relapse.


Counseling is one of the crucial parts of treatment at a drug addiction center. An addiction specialist will work with you to understand the underlying issues that led to relapse and address these issues with you. The counselor will work to better understand your addiction and how things got out of hand.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a standard treatment for drug addiction. It helps you identify thoughts and behaviors that led to relapse and then change them to prevent relapse from happening again. Behavioral therapy is often beneficial because it helps you address issues that you have trouble with and deal with them without alcohol or drugs.


Sometimes, even with counseling, therapy, and other factors, you are still struggling with addiction. In these instances, medication may be used to help you reach your goal of stopping drinking or using drugs. Medications can help manage the underlying issues that make it difficult for you to stop using alcohol or drugs and help you cope during recovery.

Support Networks

In recovery, you may feel that you need extra support when going through the emotions of recovery. Support networks can help provide this type of support for recovering people. These networks can provide you with everything necessary for your recovery and address issues that may lead to relapse. You can find support networks in various places, including healthcare facilities and community organizations.

Contact BlueCrest Recovery Center

Many people who know how difficult addiction can be can develop anxiety when they think about alcohol and drug abuse. It can lead to people experiencing cravings, which is the most common reason for relapse. If you or someone you know is experiencing cravings, it’s essential to learn about the causes of relapse. A person can learn how to prevent relapse and get the benefits of support from one of the treatment programs at BlueCrest Recovery Center. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs and the treatment plan that will work the best for you.

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