Alcohol Relapse Preventing relapse is one of the core issues in the treatment of alcoholism. Since remission is the underlying goal of disease treatment, clinicians remain concerned about the high rate of relapse.
Rates of Relapse
Approximately 90% of alcoholics experience at least one relapse in the four years following treatment. Similar relapse rates occur for recovering smokers and heroin addicts, suggesting that many addictive behaviors may share the same behavioral, biochemical, and cognitive components.
Reasons for Relapse
Marlatt found that the shift from the first drink (following a period of abstinence) to excessive relapse drinking is dependent on an individual's reaction to that drink. The study found that the majority of relapses were triggered by three situations that the researchers deemed high risk: anger/frustration, temptation and social pressure.
The Hazelden Foundation offers the following tips for recovering alcoholics in order to prevent relapse during the difficult initial detoxification period:
- Maintain stability - resist the urge to move, travel, assume a new job, or make any drastic life changes that could induce stress and drinking
- Join a support group - that is a good fit for you
- Have a daily reflection period
Symptoms of Alcohol Relapse
Certain signs and symptoms are characteristic of alcoholics who are on the verge of relapse. Those closest to the patient should be on guard for potential relapse 24 hours a day, every day. The following symptoms may indicate relapse:
Broad Symptoms of Relapse
- Exhaustion By becoming tired and failing to take care of themselves, recovering alcoholics are more likely to relapse. In general, if one feels well, then he or she thinks well.
- Dishonesty A trail of lies and deceit to friends, family, and co-workers.
- Impatience Recovery is not happening fast enough, or others are not doing what the patient thinks they should be doing.
- Argumentative Patient has the need to always be right.
- Depression Unreasonable despair or despair without basis.
- Frustration Everything is not going the patient's way.
- Self-Pity Patient feels, �Why does everything always happen to me?�
- Cockiness Patient no longer respects and fears the disease of alcoholism.
- Complacency Similar to previous statement - it is always good for the patient to respect and fear alcoholism and not underestimate the severity of the disease.
- Demanding Patient expects others to change their lifestyle since he or she has.
- Breaking Routine Patient ceases to attend regular functions (AA, church, etc.).
- Use of Mood Altering Substances �Drug Culture� results in patient desiring prescription drugs from his or her physician.
- Expecting too much Patient sets unreasonable goals.
- Ungrateful Patient forgets where they started and all the subsequent progress they have made.
- Invincibility Patient expresses the feeling, �It can't happen to me�.
- Omnipotence Patient maintains attitude that no one can tell them anything they don't already know.
Specific Symptoms of Relapse
- Negative attitude shift
- Creates tension in their environment
- Harsh criticism of self and others
- Tunnel vision ("my way or the highway")
- Easily agitated
- Bad mood
- General tension, malaise, and anxiety
- Abandons structure
- Increases TV viewing
- Adopts an "I don't care" posture
- Disregards facts of the situation
- Bleak "Is that all there is?" outlook
- Self righteous (Imposing sobriety on others)
- Moral breakdown
- Placing other activities before goal of sobriety
- Unusual sleeping patterns
- Unusual eating habits
- Believing others lack empathy
- Period of abstinence followed by uncontrolled drinking
Since no permanent cure exists for alcoholism, an individual is always an alcoholic and can never drink again. To a diagnosed alcoholic, social drinking is not a viable option. Social drinkers often lack empathy since many cannot understand why alcoholics simply cannot limit their drinking. Not surprisingly, relapse is frequent in a society where alcohol is plentiful.
Frequently, self-help organizations refer to some recovering alcoholics as "dry drunks" since these individuals are still thinking like an alcoholic. However, it is important for recovering alcoholics to realize that relapses will occur and that they are not failures but normal steps in the process of eventual long-term sobriety.