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It’s possible for someone recovering from an alcohol addiction to experience a relapse. However, if they do, it doesn’t mean that they have failed in their recovery. Instead, try to view it as a chance for them to learn and take further positive steps towards abstinence and wellbeing.

If you’re worried about someone, this blog provides advice on how to help an alcoholic who has relapsed. We outline the signs of a relapse to be aware of and the things you can do to help them get back on track with their recovery.

Spotting the signs of an alcohol relapse

It’s important to learn about the warning signs of an alcohol relapse, so you can spot when a person might be struggling. The signs may be subtle at first and can cause the person to:

  • Say that they wish they could have a drink or talk about missing alcohol
  • Begin socialising with other people who drink regularly
  • Gradually withdraw from friends and family
  • Appear to be depressed or anxious
  • Lie about their activities or whereabouts
  • Stop going to aftercare or therapy sessions if they have previously received treatment for alcohol addiction

When a person has relapsed, they will usually start showing some of the typical symptoms of alcohol addiction once again. You might notice that the person:

  • Drinks heavily when they’re on their own, even to the point of passing out
  • Denies they have a problem with alcohol and becomes defensive whenever they’re questioned about their drinking
  • Seems to be angry and irritable when they haven’t had a drink
  • Misses out on special occasions or important events because of their drinking
  • Needs a drink first thing in the morning in order to function
  • Continues to drink, despite the negative impact it has had on their life
  • Neglects their responsibilities

If you notice these signs in someone you care about, this suggests they may be going through an alcohol relapse and need professional treatment. The sooner this help can be sought, the better.

How to help an alcoholic who has relapsed

If you’re worried that someone is experiencing a relapse, there are a number of things you can do to support them.

1. Have an open and honest conversation with them about your concerns

An important first step when you’re trying to help an alcoholic who has relapsed is to talk to them about your worries.

When planning this conversation, choose a time and a place that’s private and where the person feels safe and comfortable. For example, you could suggest going for a walk together, or having a cup of tea at home when you won’t be disturbed by anyone else.

Remember, it’s likely that the person may be feeling defensive and ashamed so try to approach this conversation gently. Use phrases that begin with ‘I’ instead of ‘you’, such as ‘I’m worried about you’ so the person doesn’t feel attacked or criticised. Also, try to use neutral language such as ‘challenges’ instead of negative labels like ‘addict’. Approaching the conversation in a sympathetic and compassionate way makes it more likely that the person will be able to open up to you about what they’re going through and speak about their alcohol relapse.

However, it’s important to prepare to be met with denial, at least at first. If this is the case, avoid getting frustrated with your loved one and instead, remind them that you’ll always be there to talk to them if they ever did want to open up about their thoughts and feelings. Just because they don’t want to talk to you the first time you try, that doesn’t mean they won’t want to at some point, so it’s important that you keep the lines of communication open.

2. Avoid enabling their behaviours

When someone you care about is showing signs of an alcohol relapse, it’s normal for you to want to try and make things as easy as possible for them in order to help. However, this can lead to ‘enabling’ behaviours – things you do, whether consciously or unconsciously, that help the person continue with their unhealthy drinking habits. For example, you may make excuses for why they’ve suffered a relapse or offer to call in sick to work on their behalf when they are hungover. While you may have the best intentions in the world, enabling an alcoholic’s behaviour means that they don’t have to take any responsibility for what they’re doing, which makes it easier for them to continue with their destructive drinking.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that you can’t recover for them – it’s something they’ll have to do on their own. Therefore, making it clear to them that you won’t enable their behaviours means they understand that they’ll have to take steps to tackle their alcohol relapse.

3. Help them to get professional addiction support

It’s crucial to understand that alcohol addiction is an illness that will need specialist treatment in a dedicated rehab environment. Therefore, when it comes to helping an alcoholic who has relapsed, it’s really important that you support them to get the professional treatment they need, before their addiction becomes worse.

You could offer to make a GP appointment on the person’s behalf and then go along with them for moral support, where you’ll be able to discuss your worries and learn about next steps for treatment.

If your loved one has already received treatment in a specialist addiction rehab centre, you could also call the centre on their behalf to talk through their options.

Alcohol rehab at Manor Clinic, Southampton

Alternatively, you can call Manor Clinic directly to discuss your loved one’s needs and find out about the expert alcohol addiction rehab that we can offer to an alcoholic who has relapsed.

Our evidence-based alcohol Addiction Treatment Programme consists of:

  • A free, no obligation addiction assessment
  • Medically assisted alcohol withdrawal detoxification, if this is needed
  • Structured group therapy
  • A high quality family programme
  • Access to 12-Step support groups
  • Free aftercare for life
  • Free family support for life

Experiencing an alcohol relapse doesn’t mean that a person has failed in their recovery journey. At Manor Clinic, our addiction specialists are committed to helping alcoholics who have relapsed get back on track with their recovery so that they can continue going from strength to strength in the future.

This blog was reviewed by Sarina Wheatman, (Emotional Freedom Technique Master Practitioner (EFT), Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP) NCAC), Addiction Treatment Programme Manager at Manor Clinic.

For more details please call 023 8046 4721 or click here to book a FREE CONFIDENTIAL ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. Alternatively, you can enquire online and one of our team will get back to you via your preferred contact method.  

Coronavirus information

While the current coronavirus restrictions and social distancing measures are in place, we are offering online support to both new and current patients. We continue to offer access to inpatient services where this is required. For more information on our online therapy service, please visit our Priory Connect page or read our latest online therapy blog. For the latest information on how Priory are responding to coronavirus, and keeping our patients and staff safe, please visit our COVID-19 preparedness blog.

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