You are currently viewing What Happens When an Alcoholic Relapses?

What Happens When an Alcoholic Relapses?

What Happens When an Alcoholic Relapses? The reality of recovery in a broad sense is that relapses happen. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean they happen to everybody, but they can occur. After all, everyone’s recovery road is different. Some are more lateral, and others have a few side-steps along the road. Also, both are merely part of an individual’s story, and neither makes one person better at recovery, or stronger in their journey than the other. Ultimately, relapses sometimes just happen, and more often than many people may think.

According to Doctors Guenzel and McChargue in their clinical write-up Addiction Relapse Prevention, “One primary concern in addiction treatment is the high rate of relapses within a short period after even the most intensive treatment. Many studies have shown relapse rates of approximately 50% within the first 12 weeks after completion of intensive inpatient programs that often last 4 to 12 weeks or more and can cost tens of thousands of dollars.”  

Yes, while the relapse numbers are concerning, they should not be where we are most concerned and not where we should be focusing our energy. More important than the numbers are trying to avoid a relapse before it starts, and what to do right after one happens, like does relapse require alcohol detox?

Recognizing the Signs of a Potential Relapse

One way to think about a relapse is that it is a process rather than an event. This means that a relapse actually happens long before the individual ends up taking a drink or a substance. Now, this may be slightly difficult to understand, but “a relapse happens in the mind before it happens in the hand.”

In 12-Step recovery, addiction is often referred to as “the three-part illness.” These parts include “a spiritual malady, a physical allergy, and a mental obsession.” While a relapse tends to happen due to all three parts, it really centers on “the mental obsession.” This is when the individual cannot stop thinking about drinking or using (also known as “the phenomenon of craving”) until the urge becomes too great and a relapse happens (which in turn flips the switch of the physical allergy).

So, when this uncomfortable obsession takes hold, the signs of a potential relapse may include:

  • Being overly agitated
  • Isolating away from friends and family
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Having trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Talking about “the good ol’ days” of a lifestyle without mention of the toxicity 
  • No longer engaging in a recovery plan, such as attending therapy or 12-Step meetings

Does Relapse Require Alcohol Detox?

Adding the 12 Steps of AA to Your Treatment

Now, the question “Does relapse require alcohol detox?” is very dependent on the situation. This dependence is primarily on how long an individual has relapsed.

For example, an individual who relapsed from alcohol for one night may not require alcohol detox. This is because their physical body has not become dangerously dependent on that substance in such a short amount of time. Now, that does not mean that other forms of treatment aren’t recommended, because the emotional “hang-over” must be addressed so that a pattern of chronic relapsing doesn’t take hold.

However, an individual who has relapsed from alcohol for an extended period of time may require alcohol detox. This is because enough time has passed for the dependence on alcohol to build back up in their physicality, which makes it dangerous to merely stop on their own. In fact, alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances to stop “cold turkey” because it can be deadly. So, in this instance, an alcohol detox would be recommended.