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Staying Sober: Alcoholism Relapse Prevention Tools

As with other chronic conditions, relapses following a period of sobriety from alcohol may occur over the course of recovery from a substance use disorder.(1) Though they may be common, and even expected occurrences, they do present setbacks—albeit temporary—to an individual’s recovery. Therefore, it can be helpful to understand what may lead to a relapse and how to possibly prevent it. If someone who previously quit drinking starts using alcohol again, this means they have relapsed.(1) However, should a relapse occur, there are ways to handle it and get back on track with your recovery. Relapse should not signal the end of recovery and doesn’t mean treatment failed; rather, it represents a new opportunity to learn from the past and adjust your treatment plan accordingly.
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Stages of Relapse

It is important to be aware of any red flags that may suggest a relapse is forthcoming in order to take counteractive measures to avoid it. Such preventive techniques may include applying better stress management tools or not putting yourself in situations that may trigger cravings.

One study explains that relapses may develop gradually,  and that it could be helpful to think of them as progressing through 3 broad stages: emotional, mental, and physical.Being vigilant for these emotional, mental, and physical signs and symptoms may help in keeping a relapse at bay.

Yet, preventing a relapse isn’t always possible, regardless of the treatment you received and techniques you applied. But know that you’re not alone; relapse may occur once or several times following treatment. When they do occur, additional treatment measures should be considered.



Relapse Prevention Tips

Physical relapses can occur because of an opportunity presenting itself to the person in recovery. Therefore, it is important to note that “just saying no” when presented with drugs or alcohol is likely not a sufficient plan to prevent relapse. It can be helpful to practice these types of scenarios and then determine what the plan will be to avoid relapse.3 Preparation will help a person learn the skills needed to prevent giving in to any temptations should a situation like this arise.

Understanding Your Relapse

Remember, experiencing a relapse shouldn’t be seen as a failure. It also doesn’t mean that your treatment didn’t work. You may need a different approach to treatment, or perhaps to return to inpatient treatment. Regardless of what led to a relapse, getting back on track quickly gives you the best chance at long-term recovery, rather than waiting until the problem worsens. It is hard to admit to others that you have experienced a relapse, but it is the best thing to do. It is always better to be honest and work on getting the process of recovery started again as quickly as possible.


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What to Do After a Relapse

If you relapse, you should be honest and ask for help as quickly as you can. The faster you discuss your relapse and/or return to treatment, the better. In the immediate aftermath of a relapse, seek medical attention if you experience anything physical or mental that is alarming to you, such as unusual pain or mental distress.2 You should also contact your main treatment provider, such as your counselor or doctor and your sponsor or other members of your support network, even though you may feel it is hard or embarrassing to do so.2

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Relapse Prevention Treatment

If you’ve experienced a relapse and are ready to seek treatment, American Addiction Centers’ (AAC) admissions navigators can discuss your treatment options with you. is a subsidiary of AAC, a nationwide provider of addiction treatment services.

Remember, a relapse doesn’t mean you have failed; it simply means you need to adjust previous treatment plans. Don’t let it keep you from getting the help you need and deserve. Additionally, if you’ve successfully complete 90 consecutive days at an AAC facility and experience a relapse, you are welcome back for a complimentary 30 days of our treatment.*