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Alcoholic Relapse Signs

Knowing the alcoholic relapse signs can help you improve your chances of successful long-term recovery, and knowing what to do if you do relapse is essential for getting back on track quickly.

4 Minute Read | Published Aug 14 2023 | Updated Feb 26 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
David Levin
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
David Levin
Reviewed by

Alcoholic Relapse Signs and Getting Back on Track

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, relapse rates for addiction are similar to those for other chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension. Between 40 and 60 percent of people in recovery from an addiction will relapse. The signs of alcoholic relapse become evident long before a relapse occurs, and knowing these signs is essential for staying in recovery.

What is Alcoholic Relapse?

Addiction is characterized by the inability to stop compulsively using drugs or alcohol despite the problems they cause in your life. Addiction is the result of changes in the structures and functions of the brain, and it affects your thought and behavior patterns.

Addiction is a relapsing disease, which means that once you’re in recovery, using again–known as a slip-up or lapse–can quickly lead back to the changes in brain function that once again cause compulsive drug use that typically requires professional help to end.

Three Stages of Alcoholic Relapse

The good news is that relapse occurs in three stages, and each stage has specific, recognizable signs. Knowing the alcoholic relapse stages and their signs can help you stay on top of recovery and get help before a lapse or relapse occurs.

Stage One: Emotional Relapse

During emotional relapse, you’re not thinking about using again, but your emotions are setting you up for a relapse down the road. Some of the alcohol relapse symptoms associated with emotional relapse include:

  • Bottling up negative emotions like anger, fear, and frustration.
  • Feeling isolated or bored.
  • Skipping meetings, or attending meetings but not participating.
  • Focusing on other people’s problems and how others affect you.
  • Neglecting self-care, including developing poor eating and sleeping habits.

Stage Two: Mental Relapse

Mental relapse is characterized by a war going on inside your head. Part of you wants to use again, but part of you doesn’t. As you progress through mental relapse, your resistance to using again is worn down. Alcohol relapse symptoms mental relapse include:

  • Cravings.
  • Thinking about the people and places you associate with past use.
  • Glamorizing your past use.
  • Thinking of ways to be able to control your use.
  • Lying to friends and family about your feelings.
  • Looking for opportunities to use again.
  • Planning a lapse around loved ones’ schedules.

Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is where the lapse occurs. Using just once can quickly lead back to compulsive use.

What to Do When You Relapse

One of the most important things to know in recovery is what to do when you relapse. How you approach a relapse helps to determine how quickly and strongly you get back to recovery.

Experts now view relapse as a normal part of the recovery process. Relapse is regarded as an opportunity to identify the missing skills that led to the lapse and develop those skills to prevent a similar event.

An article published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine stresses that approaching an alcoholic relapse with a positive attitude is essential for getting back on track. If you beat yourself up and nurse feelings of self-hatred and defeat, you’re more likely to give up on recovery altogether.

If you relapse, contact your sponsor, therapist, or other trusted individual right away. You may need to return to an inpatient or outpatient treatment program for a time to help you evaluate what went wrong and make the necessary lifestyle changes or develop the essential skills to prevent another relapse.

Relapse is not the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean that treatment failed. For some, it takes several tries to get it right, and that’s okay. Recovery is a process, and it’s not always simple or easy.

If you’ve relapsed and need help getting back on track, call BAC today at (800) 429-7690. We can help you find a high quality program that will help you reclaim your sobriety and get back on the road to recovery stronger and more motivated and committed than ever.


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