How to deal with and treat a relapse

How to Deal with (and Treat) Alcohol Relapse

Drinkers, more often than not, return to consuming alcohol even after months or years of being sober. While this might be disappointing for most, alcohol relapse is common – if not a normal part of the process. 

There is good news though. Like other addictive problems, alcohol relapse can be treated. Depending on the extent or severity of the relapse, there are several treatment options available for the drinker. 

But First, The Slip

A slip is a one-time incident where you drink alcohol accidentally. You don’t plan this momentary lapse, compared to a full-blown relapse where there is a conscious effort to drink again. If you have been sober for quite some time, an inadvertent slip might make you feel guilty and ashamed. 

Three Ways you can Recover from The Slip

Three ways to recover from alcohol relapse

The key here is to stop right before your slip turns into a relapse. According to Dr. Devon Berkheiser, these are the ways that can help you recover from the ‘slip’:

  1. Stay away from negative thoughts. Sure, you may have broken your pledge to stay away from alcohol. Although this is the case, you should keep your negative thoughts out of the window. Don’t bring yourself down as you might get depressed. Know that a negative state can make you relapse for good. Be positive and try to get back on track ASAP.
  2. Acceptance is key. You are human and you are bound to make mistakes. It’s a slip and not a full-blown relapse, so you still have time to correct your path. The late Aaliyah has once said: “If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.”
  3. Share your thoughts. You may have slipped but it doesn’t mean that you should isolate yourself. Loneliness can lead to emotional relapse, according to researcher Steven Melemis. Talk it out like you did before. Ring up your friends and families, or your therapist, to be more on the safe side. Share your thoughts and concerns. They can support you with whatever form of ‘intervention’ that may help you with your slip.

Alcohol Relapse Treatment

Alcohol relapse occurs when you deliberately drink alcohol, even after being able to stop previously. Some may even use mouthwash or other alcohol-laced substances to help fuel their desires. When this happens, there are several options available for relapse treatment:

1. Behavioral Treatment

Also known as alcohol counseling, this kind of treatment helps identify the behaviors that lead to alcoholism – and what you can do to change them. This is usually done with the help of a healthcare professional. 

According to the National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, there are several types of behavioral treatments:

1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

The commonly used one in relapse is the Cognitive-Behavioral approach. According to McHugh et al, this form of treatment is widely effective for alcoholics – and other substance users as well. 

The goal here is to change the thought processes that pave the way for problem drinking. CBT can be done solely or with a group, with participants being asked to identify cues that trigger a relapse. 

2. Motivational Enhancement Therapy

This short treatment aims to strengthen one’s determination against drinking. It can also help build the confidence and the skills needed to make you veer away from alcohol.

3. Marital and Family Counselling

A good support system is essential in preventing relapse, and such is the focus of marital and family counseling. After all, the government’s Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Treatment Protocol states that the family can help in the treatment of any health problem, including alcohol abuse. 

4. Brief Intervention

This time-limited treatment involves quick one-on-one or small group sessions. After the counselor informs you about the risks of relapse, he/she will then help you formulate goals and ideas that can help you deal with alcoholism. 

2. Medication

Three approved drugs can help treat alcoholism and possible relapse, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. They are:

  • Naltrexone, a drug that can help reduce one’s alcohol intake. 
  • Acamprosate, a medication that affects the brain, making the process of alcohol abstinence easier for the person. 
  • Disulfiram, a drug that causes nausea, skin flushing, and other uncomfortable symptoms whenever alcohol is taken.

3. Mutual Support Groups 

Before your relapse, you might have taken part in mutual support groups to help treat your alcoholism. Well, it may be time to renew your membership once again. 

Also known as self-help groups, this form of therapy involves non-professional people who have the same alcohol problems. While this is not a formal treatment, your fellow members can help you achieve recovery – so that you can avoid another relapse in the future. 

Examples of good mutual support groups include:

4. Rehab

Should you find yourself in a downward spiral that is relapse, then rehab may be the best treatment for you. There are four types of rehab treatment for relapse, according to the National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

  • Outpatient

If you have mild to moderate symptoms of alcoholism, then this type of rehab is suitable for you. What you need to do is visit the therapist’s office for counseling, medication administration, or both – for 1 to 2 times a week.

  • Partial Hospitalization

Also known as day treatment, this program requires you to attend sessions 3 to 5 times a week, for a meeting that may last anywhere from 4 to 6 hours per day. This offers a high level of support without the constant surveillance that is common in the next types of treatment. 

  • Residential 

True to its name, you get to live in a facility that specializes in alcohol addiction. This program makes sure that relapsed alcoholics receive the needed services 24/7.

In residential treatment, participants get to receive counseling, group therapy, and medications even. The length of the program – which ranges from a month to three months – will depend on the user’s alcoholic tendencies. 

  • Inpatient Hospitalization

In severe cases, a relapsed alcoholic may need to be supervised by medical specialists. This is similar to residential treatment, however, it is more intensive (and more expensive) because it is held in a hospital setting.

The Takeaway

Alcohol relapse treatment is similar to the treatment that drinkers have previously received. However, they may be modified to prevent a slip – or worse, another relapse. 

With that being said, it is best to curb relapse right before it has become full-blown. Whenever you feel the need to drink again, seek the help of your family, friends, or therapist right away. 


Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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