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Why Is Alcohol Relapse So Common?

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When you take the first steps to recovery to get help for your alcohol use disorder (AUD), it is only natural to feel good about the progress you make as you complete detox and your initial partial hospitalization (PHP) or intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment. However, one question on most people’s minds when recovering from AUD is, “Why is alcohol relapse so common?” 

What Is Alcohol Relapse?

Alcohol relapse is when you stop following your aftercare treatment, which could include attending meetings, following a structured routine, and returning to drinking. This “slip-up” could be a one-time occurrence where you find yourself weak and give in. A single occurrence, while considered a relapse, is often called a lapse because it is a singular event. 

A complete relapse is when you fall back into your old habits and resume drinking at your former levels and frequency of use. In other words, a full relapse is like you never underwent detox and addiction treatment for your AUD.   

Why Is Alcohol Relapse So Common? 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40% and 60% of people experience a relapse within their first year of AUD treatment. Part of the reason for such high relapse rates is some people feel overconfident in their ability to remain sober. Unfortunately, this overconfidence can leave them underprepared to properly manage their triggers and cravings. 

Another reason for high relapse rates is that people stop working on their programs. They may skip meetings and individual therapy sessions. They might stop following their structured routine and slowly slip back into former habits, like not exercising or eating unhealthily. 

Other causes for relapse include:

Not Being Aware of “Hidden” Triggers

Triggers are those things that can bring about cravings for alcohol and prior alcohol use. They can be related to objects, people, locations, and events. Some people do not fully uncover their triggers during rehab, especially during the first year of recovery. Some remain “hidden” away, leaving themself vulnerable because they have not yet developed effective coping skills.  

Placing Oneself in Situations of Extreme Anxiety and Stress

In the past, the way an individual dealt with extreme anxiety and stress was to drink. However, now that a person is working on their sobriety, it can be very challenging to remain sober when put into similar situations. Even though meditation, yoga, and mindfulness can help, when anxiety and stress become too much to manage, it could result in relapse. 

The Recovery Environment Is Unsupportive and Unhealthy

In some situations, it is the recovery environment the person returns to after AUD treatment. For example, if there are other people in the household with substance use problems, it can leave the person feeling vulnerable as they can feel pressured to give in. In addition, when there is a lack of support in the home, it can make it seem like the person in recovery is all alone. Even though they know they are not the only person recovering from AUD, the sense of isolation in one’s home can be enough to cause a relapse. 

Does the Risk of Alcohol Relapse Ever Decline?

Fortunately, the longer an individual can remain sober, the lower the risk of alcohol relapse. According to research data provided by the National Library of Medicine, approximately 60% of those recovering from AUD maintain their sobriety for life once they reach this milestone. Furthermore, the risk of alcohol relapse during year two drops to around 22%. Should a person make it to year three sober, their risk of relapse drops to about 10% for years three, four, and five. After five years, the risk of relapse is still possible, but it is less likely to occur. 

What Should I Do If I Relapse?

If you relapse, it is essential to move past the relapse to get back on track with your AUD recovery using the following tips:

  1. Discontinue drinking and undergo medically supervised detox as soon as possible. Even if you only resumed drinking for a short time, you can still experience unpleasant and intense withdrawal symptoms. So, going through supervised detox is recommended.
  2. Do not beat yourself up because you “slipped up.” It is easy to blame our shortcomings and hold ourselves accountable by being very harsh on ourselves. However, this is counterproductive to recovery. Instead, accept that you have relapsed and seek support to become stronger and reduce the risk of relapsing again. 
  3. Work on uncovering “hidden” triggers. It is essential to continue to identify triggers throughout your recovery journey. The more undercover, the better equipped you can become at managing them effectively.
  4. Continue working on your coping skills and methods. To become more resistant to relapse, you must constantly improve your coping skills and methods. If you find some are no longer effective, discard them and replace them with new ones. 
  5. Enhance your relapse prevention plan. Your relapse prevention plan should help prevent relapse. However, when it does not, you need to re-evaluate it and make changes to strengthen it. 
  6. Re-establish and maintain support networks. You are not alone in your recovery. Nor are you the only person who has ever relapsed. Seek the support you need through your support network.

AUD Relapse Detox and Addiction Treatment in Murfreesboro, TN 

If you relapse and want to take the steps to get back on track with your recovery, Tulip Hill Recovery in Murfreesboro, TN, is here to help. We offer personalized AUD relapse detox and addiction treatment programs. Get the help and support you need by contacting us today.

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