Experiencing a relapse is a real possibility for someone who is recovering from an alcohol addiction. But, this doesn’t mean that the person has failed; they can use the relapse as an opportunity to learn and take positive steps forward.
If you are worried that someone you know is going through an alcohol relapse, we have outlined the signs to look for and the things you can do to help them to get back on the road to recovery.
What are the warning signs of an alcohol relapse?
It’s important to be aware of the warning signs of an alcohol relapse so you’re able to spot when a person may be struggling. The signs of an alcohol relapse can be subtle at first. A person may:
- Talk about missing alcohol and wishing they could have a drink
- Gradually become more isolated
- Appear to be depressed or anxious
- Begin socialising with other people who drink regularly
- Lie about their whereabouts or activities
- Stop going to aftercare or therapy appointments if they have been in treatment for alcohol addiction previously
When a person has relapsed, they will typically begin to show some of the more general symptoms of alcohol addiction. You may find that they:
- Drink heavily when they’re on their own, even to the point of passing out
- Miss out on important events or special occasions because of their drinking
- Need a drink first thing in the morning in order to function
- Become irritable and angry when they haven’t had a drink
- Are defensive about their alcohol consumption
- Continue to drink even though it has had a negative impact on their life
- Neglect their personal hygiene and grooming
These are all signs that a person has relapsed and needs professional help.
How to help an alcoholic who has relapsed
If you’re worried that someone is experiencing an alcohol relapse, it’s crucial that you take steps to support them.
Speak to them about your concerns
Talk to the person about your concerns and let them know that you’re worried about them.
Try and pick a time and place that’s private and where they feel comfortable. Remember, they may be feeling defensive and ashamed, so don’t come across as accusatory or frustrated. Try to use phrases that place the onus on you, using the word ‘I’ instead of ‘you’. For example, say things like: “I’ve noticed that your mood has changed recently and I’m worried about you.” Focusing on you instead of them means they’re less likely to feel criticised and more likely to open up.
It’s really important to keep a gentle and sympathetic tone throughout, and use words such as ‘difficulties’ and ‘challenges’ instead of negative labels like ‘addict’. Let them know that you’re there to support them and have their best interests at heart. This way, they’re more likely to want to discuss what they’re going through, helping both of you to gain a better understanding of their relapse and the steps you can take.
Avoid enabling their behaviours
If someone is showing signs of an alcohol relapse, you may want to try and make things easy for them as a way to help them out. However, this can lead to ‘enabling’ behaviours.
Enabling refers to things that you do that help the alcoholic continue with their destructive habits. Examples include calling in sick on their behalf when they are hungover, or making excuses for their drunken behaviour. In both of these examples, the person doesn’t have to take any responsibility for their drinking, which makes it easier for them to continue abusing alcohol.
Practising ‘tough love’ can be hard, but ultimately, you can’t recover for them; it is something they have to do on their own and it’s important to make this clear to them.
Help them to get professional support
When it comes to helping an alcoholic who has relapsed, the most important thing you can do is to help them access professional treatment. Without expert support in a specialist environment, an alcohol relapse can worsen.
Offer to make a GP appointment and go with them as moral support. Their GP may refer them to a centre such as Life Works, where they can receive expert support for their relapse.
If the person has already gone through a professional addiction treatment programme, you could call the centre where they received help to talk through their options.
In addition, while we prefer people to have a GP referral, this isn’t essential and you can also call Life Works directly to enquire about the alcohol addiction treatment that we offer. We are able to treat people who are going through an alcohol relapse, even if they didn’t receive their initial treatment with us.
Our evidence-based alcohol Addiction Treatment Programme at Life Works consists of:
- A free, no obligation addiction assessment
- Medically assisted withdrawal detoxification for alcohol addiction, if this is required
- Group therapy, family therapy and individual 1:1 therapy programmes
- A wide range of therapeutic techniques including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) informed groups, dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) informed groups and mindfulness
- A high quality family programme
- Access to 12-Step support groups
- Access to free aftercare for 12 months following treatment
- Access to free family support for 12 months following treatment
We are also able to provide advice and support on staging an intervention to help people enter treatment and seek support for a relapse.
Experiencing an alcohol relapse doesn’t mean that a person has failed in their recovery journey. At Life Works, we are committed to helping people who have relapsed to get back on track and equip them with the tools they need to keep going from strength to strength in the future.
This blog was reviewed by Siobhan Ward (BA(Hons) Graphic Design, MSc in Addiction Psychology and Counselling, PgDip in Addiction Psychology and Counselling), Addiction Programme Lead at Life Works.
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