Alcohol Relapse Prevention & Common Triggers
Once you’ve decided to quit drinking alcohol and/or have completed an addiction treatment program, your newfound sobriety can feel both freeing and scary at the same time. Recovery is a lifelong process which requires a consistent commitment and maintenance to stay alcohol- and drug-free.
Alcoholism is a chronic, relapsing disorder that is similar to other chronic conditions such as type II diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Because of this, a relapse may occur at least once in a person’s life once they have quit drinking. Understanding that a relapse may occur can be your first defense again preventing one from happening.
By being mindful of your triggers and having a plan in place for them if they come up, may help you minimize the risk of a relapse. Below are some examples of common triggers those in recovery should watch out for:
Common Triggers in Alcohol Relapse
Below are a number of common factors which can often be a trigger for or contribute to relapse during alcoholism recovery.
Friends & Family
People in your life who may have contributed to your alcohol use may be a potential trigger for relapse. This could be anyone from a close friend to family members or even your coworkers. When you’ve made the decisions to quit drinking, it can affect these relationships if they don’t support your sobriety or minimize the effects of alcohol in your life.
One way to decrease the risk of a relapse is to consider finding new friends who can support your new lifestyle by either choosing not to drink around you, offering up activities that don’t involve alcohol or are in recovery themselves. Another helpful tip is to have a list of responses planned out for when a friend asks you to go out drinking so that you’re not caught off-guard with having to say no.
Or, when it comes to family members, speak to them about your sobriety and come up with ways to socialize that allow you to feel safe and supportive. This could look like taking up a hobby together such as running, yoga, cooking or joining a book club. It also may be worth looking into a sober living home if you don’t feel safe around your family members or feel you may be tempted to drink while there.
Places & Destinations
Alcohol is one of the world’s most widely used and easily accessible substances in the world, and often, many places that you used to frequent can be a trigger for relapse. For example, places that you may have never thought twice about going may now be triggers such as bars, restaurants, sporting events or music festivals that promote alcohol use as a part of our everyday culture.
Especially in the early days of recovery, it is important to avoid such places and find new locations to get together with friends. Being sober doesn’t mean you have to give up all the things and places you once loved, but knowing which destinations could be your biggest triggers, can potentially help you avoid picking up a drink again.
Nowadays, there are many locations and activities that serve as sober alternatives to places that promote drinking such as sober “bars,” alcohol-free bowling rinks, coffee shops and VAVI sports leagues.
Stress is normal part of life; everyone experiences it to some degree on a daily basis. It is also considered one of the biggest relapse triggers. Whether dealing with money worries, health concerns or family matters, those issues can trigger a need to drink for those in recovery.
However, it’s impossible to always avoid stressful situations and therefore, learning ways to better cope with stress rather than turning to alcohol, is an important part of recovery. One way to prepare for this trigger is to identify the things in your life that may be causing you stress and look for ways to either eliminate those triggers or avoid situations that may raise your stress levels.
For example, if finances tend to cause anxiety, consider speaking with a financial planner or having a family member work with you to create a budget so that you can minimize the need for financial worry. Or, if you feel overwhelmed after work when it comes to making dinner, consider meal prepping for the week on Sundays so that when you finish work, all you have to do is heat up your meal.
You can find more tips and tricks to manage stress here.
Loneliness & Isolation
Isolation, both feeling alone and physically being alone, can make staying sober feel more difficult or may tempt you to reach for a drink to numb the feelings of loneliness. Additionally, those who are socially isolated tend to have an increased risk of depression or exacerbate the symptoms of depression in those already struggling with it.
Loneliness can also be linked to high-risk behaviors such as substance abuse, and therefore, having a support system is a key component of avoiding relapse. For some, alcohol may serve as a way to self-medicate in order to reduce the pain of social isolation or ease the discomfort felt from feeling like you don’t have anyone in your corner.
One way to combat loneliness and isolation is to ensure you have a good support system whether it be friends, family members, others in your recovery program or even a therapist or counselor. Or, consider joining a club or meetup group based on your favorite activities in order to meet new friends and feel more connected to the community. Becoming a volunteer is another great way to take care of your mental health while also helping others in need.
There are also a number of online resources available such as In the Rooms and Alcoholics Anonymous, offering free online meetings each week for people in recovery, if you’re unable to leave your home. Many therapists also now offer teletherapy options via phone or video conference as well as a number of therapy apps that can connect you to a therapist at any time.
When feelings of loneliness set in or being socially isolated becomes too much, know that you are never fully alone. There are people that care about you and are eager to help you get through these tough times.
What to Do When You Relapse on Alcohol
While the tips above can be helpful in minimizing the risk of a relapse, know that if it does happen, it doesn’t have to completely derail your recovery. Don’t be discouraged or too hard on yourself. The first step to addressing a relapse is to show yourself some grace and seek help from your support network as soon as you can.
The faster you discuss your relapse and/or return to treatment, the better you’ll be able to get back on track. Remember, a relapse is common and doesn’t mean that treatment has failed. It’s simply an opportunity to readjust your treatment plan and learn how to better cope with your triggers in the future.
In the immediate aftermath of a relapse, if you experience anything physical or mental issues that are alarming to you, seek medical attention. It may be helpful to also contact your main treatment provider, such as your counselor.
Get Help For a Relapse
If you’ve experienced a relapse and would like to return to treatment, American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help you get back on the path toward recovery and sobriety. Alcohol.org is a subsidiary of AAC, a nationwide provider of addiction treatment services, and our admissions navigators are available 24/7 to speak with you about your treatment options.
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.*
Call our hotline at to speak with one of our admissions navigators today; all calls are 100% confidential and there is no pressure to make any decisions today.