Rehab, while often a necessary step toward recovery, is meant to provide a springboard from which to grow. This means that the journey after rehabilitation rests heavily on the recovering addict or alcoholic. We don’t often stop to think of recovery in these terms because we focus so heavily on the therapies and programs that prepare addicts for future success in sobriety. Yet, when we take a minute to examine the process as a personal, lifelong commitment, we can more easily see how hurdles, like a relapse, bend the journey differently for each individual. So, even if you are not here as a recovering alcoholic, you can still learn what to do when an alcoholic relapses.

Slip vs Relapse

What is the severity of the mistake? It’s important to assess the circumstances in which the alcoholic has abandoned their goal. Most professionals in the recovery industry draw a line between a “slip” and a full-blown relapse. The major difference is that a slip is generally done in the spur of the moment and is often followed by immediate feelings of guilt and shame. A relapse, on the other hand, is a return to old behaviors. Relapse is more serious because it often involves a period in which the recovering alcoholic cannot transcend their mistake to see the bigger picture — their goal of sobriety. If gone unchecked, this phase can lead to heavier use, thus reigniting the original problem.

Let’s Get Real About Relapse

The relapse rate for recovering alcoholics hovers around 90%. That is an astounding figure when we consider how many people are attempting to achieve lifelong sobriety. We highlight this point so that we can more accurately illustrate the reality of recovery. Instead of viewing relapse as a failure, we like to think of it as a learning experience. It is an opportunity to step back, to re-evaluate decisions, and to re-align goals. Not every mistake needs to be punished with shame and guilt. The reality is that relapse occurs at an incredibly high rate. Instead of thinking of lifelong sobriety as a sprint to the finish line, we must reimagine it as a marathon — or more accurately — a lifelong jog.

What Happened?

The best tool for continued success is introspective communication. Not sure what to do after an alcohol relapse? Ask the right questions! How did it happen? Whether this is a self-examination or a conversation with a loved one, know that the answer lies in the motive. What is the reason for relapse? It is stress? It is cravings? Oftentimes, these tough questions lead to very real answers, some of which may require professional attention. For example, if relapse is the result of stress or anxiety, a psychologist might be useful in helping pinpoint and eliminate the harmful origins of addictive behavior.

Seek the Proper Professional Attention

A major complication arises when relapse occurs — guilt. Shame is a difficult emotion to process, leading many people to suffer in silence. But, this collision of stifled emotions can lead to a dangerous pattern of internalization. Recovering addicts tend to suffer alone in their shame, suppressing the need to ask themselves tough questions about their decisions. What follows is an increased chance to relapse or outright avoid recovery. Thus, we want to emphasize how important it is to seek help immediately after a relapse, even if it is just as small slip. Setting aside any shame or guilt, it is vital to seek the proper professional attention to decrease the risk for future mistakes.

Bravery on the Journey

The journey toward recovery will look different for each person. Even with the best therapies and professionals, success is still in the hands of the individual. That means we need to get real about making mistakes, even when there is an alcohol relapse after years of sobriety. Success is about learning. It’s about forgiveness when relapse occurs. And it is about dedication. Making mistakes is just part of the journey. Ready to take the next step toward recovery? Check out our robust detoxification, partial-day, sober-living, and alumni programs here!