Is having one drink a relapse? For many people in addiction recovery, one drink leads to another, and once they’ve started, they can’t stop. Oftentimes, that one drink comes with shame and guilt, leading to a full-out episode of binge drinking that seems more intense than they ever remembered. For others, however, relapse is considered to be a minor “slip.” At that point, they may stop everything they’re doing, go back to alcohol rehab, and “start over” with a new sense of purpose. But does one drink break sobriety? Or is it possible to manage your drinking after recovering from addiction?
What Is Relapse in Addiction?
In terms of addiction, relapse is when a person engages in substance use again after a period of abstinence or sobriety. Relapse can happen to anyone in addiction recovery and is a normal part of the healing process. Especially in the early stages of sobriety, a person recovering from drug or alcohol abuse may struggle to manage cravings, stress, and any other challenges that life may throw their way. Developing the right skills is crucial in staying sober long-term, which is why many patients at our Palm Beach addiction center join our alumni programs after completing their treatment.
With that being said, relapse is not a failure. Whether you’ve relapsed once or three times, relapsing does not mean you’ve failed or that your drug or alcohol treatment didn’t work. It simply means you have to try a new tactic. Relapse is an indication that the person has to speak to their doctor to resume treatment, modify their treatment plan, or try another form of treatment.
What Happens When Alcoholics Relapse?
Relapse isn’t an impulsive decision but rather the accumulation of particular symptoms and behaviors that weren’t nipped in the bud, so to speak. Oftentimes, when a person relapses from alcohol, it happens in three stages: emotional, mental, and physical.
An emotional relapse occurs even before the person notices what’s happening. This stage refers to the rise or resurfacing of negative emotions like stress, anxiety, or irritability that can overwhelm the person. If the person doesn’t apply the coping skills they may have learned in treatment, they may set themselves up for eventual relapse.
Signs of emotional relapse include:
- Abandoning your routine
- Missing your meetings or therapy sessions
- Difficulty sleeping
- Poor hygiene
- Binge eating unhealthy foods
- Isolating yourself from others
During this stage, the person is actively considering the idea of drinking again to alleviate the emotional distress they feel. At first, it may start as thinking about when they used to drink but eventually evolves into romanticizing and rationalizing drinking alcohol again.
The final stage of relapse is physical relapse, which involves both actively seeking out drugs or alcohol and using them. In this stage, the person may be driving to the liquor store or calling a drug dealer. Although it’s possible to stop the person in their tracks before they actually drink or use drugs again, the individual should still revisit a facility and revise their treatment plan to avoid relapsing again.
Does One Drink Ruin Sobriety?
If you’re wondering, “does one drink break sobriety?” Yes, it does! If you’ve been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) and have abstained from alcohol, even one drink can break your sobriety. With relapse, the risk of returning to active alcohol abuse is a real threat. Another risk of relapse is overdosing because the person’s body is no longer used to the amount of alcohol they drank while they were addicted.
However, some people can bounce back after one drink. They may immediately stop themselves and seek out professional help to avoid relapsing in the future. But for others, one drink can lead to an ongoing bender that may take another round of treatment to completely recover from. While there is nothing wrong with returning to rehab to ensure you stay sober, the shame and guilt that’s often caused by relapse can make the process more difficult.
Treatment for Alcoholism
At Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches, not only do we offer alcohol detox to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings, but we also offer alcohol treatment that involves individual and group therapy to help patients heal physically and mentally from addiction.