Alcohol Relapse Prevention: Tools You Can UseBy Michaela

Alcoholism is a chronic disease that requires continuous treatment and support for recovery. Relapse is a common issue for those in recovery, but it can be prevented with the right tools and resources.

Preventing relapse is a common reason for individuals seeking treatment for their alcohol dependence. After multiple attempts at quitting on their own, many individuals turn to professional help in their quest for a more effective solution. The repeated failures to abstain from alcohol without outside support can leave individuals feeling discouraged, but seeking treatment offers a new opportunity for recovery and the chance to learn the skills necessary for maintaining long-term sobriety. It is important to remember that seeking treatment is a courageous step towards a better future and that success is achievable with the right tools and resources.

Relapse is common in the recovery journey from a substance use disorder, including alcohol dependency. Similar to other chronic conditions, relapses can happen even after a period of successful sobriety. While they are a common part of the recovery process, they can be a temporary setback to an individual’s progress. To mitigate the risk of relapse and maintain sobriety, it is essential to understand the triggers and potential causes of a relapse and ways to prevent it. By gaining knowledge and tools to address and prevent relapse, individuals in recovery can increase their chances of achieving and maintaining long-term sobriety.

In this article, we will discuss what relapse is, the role of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in relapse prevention, and the ways in which The Alcohol Coach can help individuals in recovery prevent a return to drinking. We will also provide some practical tools that can be used to prevent relapse and maintain long-term sobriety.

What is Relapse & How Common is it?

Relapse is a return to drinking after a period of sobriety. It is a common occurrence in recovery and can happen to anyone, regardless of the length of sobriety. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, relapse rates for individuals with alcohol dependence can range from 40 to 60 percent. The exact relapse rate can vary depending on several factors, including the severity of alcohol dependence, the length of time the individual has been in recovery, and the presence of co-occurring mental health conditions.

The stages of relapse have been studied extensively, and one widely accepted framework was outlined in a paper by Steven M. Melemis and published in the National Library of Medicine. The paper identifies three distinct stages of a relapse, which are:

  1. Emotional Relapse: This stage involves the return of negative emotions and thoughts related to drinking. This can include feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as a decrease in motivation and a sense of hopelessness. At this stage, individuals may also start to ruminate on past drinking experiences and feel a sense of nostalgia for the “good times.”
  2. Mental Relapse: During this stage, individuals start to make excuses for why they can drink again and begin to rationalize their behavior. They may start to think that they can drink in moderation or that they can control their drinking this time around. At this stage, individuals are still not physically drinking, but they are actively thinking about drinking and making plans to drink.
  3. Physical Relapse: This is the stage at which individuals actually start drinking again. At this point, they have given in to the urges and cravings that they have been experiencing in the previous stages. Physical relapse can occur quickly and without much thought, so it is important to be aware of the earlier stages and to seek help before reaching this stage.

It is important to note that these stages are not always linear and can occur in different combinations and at different times for each individual. However, by being aware of these stages, individuals in recovery can identify when they are at risk of relapse and take steps to prevent it from happening. With the right support and resources, individuals can overcome the challenges of relapse and maintain their sobriety for the long term.

Why Does A Relapse Happen

Relapse from alcohol dependence can occur due to various reasons, including but not limited to:

  1. Triggers: Some individuals may experience certain triggers such as stress, depression, anxiety, or exposure to places or people associated with previous drinking experiences. These triggers can provoke cravings and lead to relapse.
  2. Neglecting self-care: As individuals in recovery start to feel better, they may neglect their self-care and stop doing the things that helped them stay sober. This can increase their vulnerability to relapse.
  3. Boredom or feeling disconnected: Some individuals may feel bored with their recovery program or disconnected from their support network, leading to decreased motivation to maintain sobriety.
  4. Underestimating the power of addiction: People may feel that they have a better understanding of alcohol and may underestimate the power of addiction, which can lead them to think they can control their drinking and avoid negative consequences.
  5. Emotional stress: Emotional stress can be a major factor in relapse, as individuals may turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication to cope with their emotions.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Relapse

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a self-help organization for individuals in recovery from alcoholism. While AA can be effective for many individuals, relapse rates are still high. In fact, research has shown that individuals who participate in AA may experience higher rates of relapse compared to those who receive other forms of treatment. A study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that among individuals with alcohol dependence, 44 percent of those who participated in AA experienced a relapse within the first year of recovery, compared to 34 percent of those who received treatment in a professional setting.

However, it is important to note that AA is just one form of treatment and that the support and structure it provides can still be beneficial for many individuals in recovery. The NIAAA recommends that individuals with alcohol dependence seek a comprehensive treatment plan that includes behavioral therapy and medication, if necessary, to increase their chances of success.

The Stages of Recovery From Alcohol Dependence

The stages of recovery from alcohol dependence can be thought of as a journey toward personal growth, with each stage presenting its own unique challenges and opportunities for development. It’s important to understand that these stages are not the same for everyone, and the length of time spent in each stage can vary, but they can still provide a helpful framework for understanding and teaching recovery. The four stages of recovery are as follows:

Abstinence Stage

The Abstinence Stage of recovery from alcohol dependence is the first stage after a person stops using and typically lasts 1-2 years. The main focus during this stage is managing cravings and avoiding alcohol use. Key tasks include accepting addiction, practicing honesty, developing coping skills, getting involved in self-help groups, practicing self-care, understanding the stages of relapse, ending relationships with friends who continue to use, understanding cross-addiction, dealing with post-acute withdrawal, developing healthy alternatives, and seeing oneself as a non-user. Risks during this stage include physical cravings, poor self-care, temptation to use just once, and uncertainty about having an addiction. It is advised to avoid major life changes in the first year until individuals have enough clarity on their role in these issues.

Post-Acute Withdrawal

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a common cause of relapse during the abstinence stage of recovery from addiction. It is a psychological and emotional phase of withdrawal that occurs after the acute physical withdrawal phase and can last up to two years. Symptoms of PAWS include mood swings, anxiety, irritability, low energy, sleep disturbances, and decreased concentration. These symptoms can overlap with depression and tend to improve gradually over time. It is crucial for individuals in recovery to understand the prolonged and fluctuating nature of PAWS, so they don’t fall into relapse during unexpected episodes of symptoms. To cope with PAWS, individuals in recovery should measure their progress over time and engage in self-care and support groups.

Repair Stage

During the repair stage of recovery from addiction, individuals may temporarily feel worse as they confront the damage caused by their addiction to their relationships, employment, finances, and self-esteem and overcome guilt and negative self-labeling. This stage involves tasks such as using cognitive therapy to address negative self-talk, repairing relationships and making amends, improving self-care, and developing a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Common causes of relapse in this stage are poor self-care and not participating in self-help groups.

Growth Stage

In the growth stage of recovery, individuals develop new skills that may have contributed to their addiction. This stage usually starts 3-5 years after quitting drugs or alcohol and is a lifelong journey. It involves dealing with any past trauma or family-of-origin issues and learning healthy coping skills. The tasks in this stage include identifying and repairing negative thinking patterns, challenging fears, setting healthy boundaries, giving back, and periodically reevaluating their lifestyle. Failure to develop healthy life skills can result in unhappiness and the risk of relapse.

Tools for Relapse Prevention

There are several effective strategies for preventing a relapse for individuals who are recovering from alcohol dependence. These strategies can be helpful in maintaining sobriety and avoiding triggers that may lead to a relapse. Some of the most helpful strategies include:

Positive Self-talk

Encouraging and empowering self-talk can be a powerful tool in preventing a relapse. This can include affirmations, such as “I can do this. I’ve done it before,” which can help individuals stay focused and motivated during times of stress and temptation.

Honesty and Accountability

The act of addiction requires lying, not just to others but also to oneself. In therapy, it’s crucial to help clients practice honesty and to understand the importance of a “recovery circle,” which is a group of trusted individuals such as family, doctors, and counselors where clients can be completely honest. However, there’s a difference between being honest with oneself and others and being honest about the faults of others. A test of complete honesty is if one feels “uncomfortably honest” when sharing within the recovery circle.

Mindfulness and Self-Awareness

Developing mindfulness and self-awareness can help individuals in recovery identify triggers and warning signs of relapse.

Relaxation Practices

Engaging in relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga, can help calm nerves and reduce the stress and anxiety that often accompany cravings.

Coping Skills and Stress Management

Stress is a common trigger for relapse. Learning coping skills and stress management techniques can help individuals in recovery handle stress in a healthy way and prevent relapse.

Lifestyle Changes

Making changes to your environment and habits can be an effective way to avoid high-risk situations, such as bars or being around individuals who use drugs. This can include finding new hobbies or activities, avoiding places and people that may trigger cravings, and seeking out new social networks.

Social Support and Building a Support System

Having a strong support system is essential for preventing relapse. Building relationships with others in recovery, seeking out therapy, and participating in support groups can help individuals in recovery stay on track and maintain sobriety.

Relapse Plan

It is important to be prepared in case a relapse does occur. This can include developing a plan for how to cope with a relapse, considering how friends and family will react, and thinking about what steps you need to take to get back on the road to recovery. Having a plan in place can provide a sense of security and help individuals feel more confident in their ability to overcome any challenges that may arise.

Personalized Treatment and Continuing Care

Personalized treatment and continuing care can help individuals in recovery address underlying issues and prevent relapse. This can include therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and aftercare support.

The Alcohol Coach and Relapse Prevention

The Alcohol Coach is a program that provides personalized support and resources to individuals in recovery from alcoholism. The program is designed to help clients prevent relapse and maintain long-term sobriety. One of the key benefits of The Alcohol Coach is its focus on individualized treatment and continuing care. This approach has been shown to be highly effective in preventing relapse and helping clients achieve long-term sobriety.

The Alcohol Coach is a program that goes beyond simply helping individuals quit alcohol. Instead, it focuses on addressing the root causes of alcohol dependence and equipping participants with the necessary tools and skills to break free from its control. This program aims to provide a comprehensive solution for individuals struggling with alcohol dependency by focusing on their relationship with alcohol, identifying triggers and challenges, and developing strategies to overcome them.

By exploring the underlying causes and empowering individuals to take control of their habits, The Alcohol Coach provides a path toward a healthier and more fulfilling relationship with alcohol. The supportive environment provided by the program encourages participants to be honest and open about their struggles, allowing them to work through their issues and make positive changes.

The Alcohol Coach program helps participants achieve a functioning lifestyle free from the traps of alcohol dependence by empowering them to take control of their habits. By focusing on the root causes of alcohol dependency and providing participants with the tools and skills they need to succeed, The Alcohol Coach offers a comprehensive solution for those seeking a better future free from the constraints of alcohol dependence.

Managing Relapse: A Step-by-Step Approach

A relapse after a period of sobriety from alcohol can be a common, though disappointing, occurrence in the recovery journey. However, it’s important to view it not as a failure but rather as an opportunity to reassess and potentially adjust your approach to treatment. The quicker you can address and address the relapse, the better chance you have of returning to a stable and sustainable recovery.

Admitting to a relapse can be difficult, and trying to hide it or minimize its impact can be tempting. However, being honest with others, such as friends and family, is crucial in getting the support you need and getting back on track as quickly as possible. Seeking additional help or treatment, such as inpatient care, may be necessary, but taking action is the key to returning to a fulfilling and healthy relationship with alcohol.

Understanding the underlying causes and triggers that led to the relapse is also important. Reflection and self-awareness can help you identify patterns and behaviors that need to be addressed in order to prevent future relapses. This may involve making changes to your environment, relationships, or coping strategies.

In addition to seeking support from friends, family, and treatment professionals, there are a number of practical tools and strategies that can be helpful in preventing relapses. Some examples include positive self-talk, relaxation techniques, lifestyle changes to avoid high-risk situations, and a plan to cope with potential relapse.

If you experience a setback in your recovery journey, it is important to act quickly and seek help. Admitting to a relapse can be difficult and embarrassing, but it is essential for getting back on track toward a successful recovery. I would like to point out that you’re reaching out to your medical provider, counselor, and support network as soon as possible.

There are common rules for recovery to help individuals avoid relapse and stay committed to their recovery journey. These include:

  1. Surrounding yourself with supportive people who will encourage and support your sobriety. Avoiding old friends and habits that may trigger a relapse.
  2. Practicing honesty, both with yourself and others. Know your limits, ask for help when needed, and have a trusted individual you can reach out to if you’re considering drinking.
  3. Participating in support groups and working with a sponsor. Recovery is not a solitary journey, and ongoing support from those who understand the struggles of addiction is critical.
  4. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through self-care. Taking care of yourself, avoiding exhaustion, and finding healthy alternatives to past habits can help reduce the risk of relapse.
  5. Adhering to the rules of recovery. Temptations to deviate from the path of recovery will come up, but it’s important to stick to the rules and avoid exceptions that can lead to a relapse.

Let’s Recap

It’s important to keep in mind that experiencing a relapse does not equate to a failure in your journey toward recovery from alcohol dependence. A relapse can indicate a need for a readjustment in your current treatment plan and should not discourage you from seeking the support and care you require. It’s essential to acknowledge that seeking help and making modifications to your approach toward recovery are vital steps in ensuring long-term success. 

Relapse is a common issue in recovery, but it can be prevented with the right tools and resources. Alcoholics Anonymous can be effective for some individuals, but its high relapse rates highlight the importance of individualized treatment and continuing care. 

The Alcohol Coach is a program that provides personalized support and resources to help individuals in recovery prevent relapse and achieve long-term sobriety. By using tools such as mindfulness, coping skills, social support, and personalized treatment, individuals in recovery can increase their chances of success and maintain sobriety for a lifetime.

In the coaching programs provided by The Alcohol Coach, students are taught relapse prevention skills to prevent substance abuse and improve their ability to utilize relapse prevention techniques.

It is important to remember that the goal of recovery is to achieve a fulfilling and healthy life, and relapse should not prevent you from reaching that goal. Seeking help and utilizing available resources is crucial in overcoming challenges and moving forward toward recovery. Do not let fear hold you back from obtaining the support and resources necessary for a successful and long-lasting recovery.


Hi, I'm Michela

I’m a leader in the science of transformational freedom for women, and someone previously addicted to alcohol. I have walked the path. I understand your concerns and fears. Here you will find some of my thoughts and insights. Happy browsing!

Keep me in the loop!

Want more inspiration, knowledge and ideas about alcohol and how to make the changes you want stick? Sign up here to receive more articles and news like this.

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.