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6 Ways to Prevent Alcohol Rehab from Becoming a Revolving Door

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Managing alcohol use disorder begins with understanding that relapse is part of the process. Studies show that up to 80% of people who reach long-term recovery have at least one alcohol relapse along their journey.3

Read on to learn six ways to help you manage your recovery and prevent alcohol relapse.

1. Recognize the Three Stages of Alcohol Relapse

Relapse does not occur suddenly, and it is important to be mindful of the three stages of alcohol relapse. Recognizing the signs of each stage will help you know when to get help and prevent a full relapse. If you’ve relapsed, don’t be too hard on yourself—relapse is common. Call 800-948-8417 Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers to speak to a rehab treatment specialist and get back on track.

Emotional Relapse

The first stage of alcohol relapse is emotional relapse. The signs of emotional relapse are subtle, but it is important to recognize them and seek help early. They include the following:4

  • Unwillingness or hesitancy to show emotions
  • Self-isolating
  • Not attending meetings or support groups
  • Withdrawing from participation in meetings or self-help groups
  • Neglecting physical needs, such as eating or sleeping
  • Focusing on other people’s issues instead of your own

Mental Relapse

During the mental relapse stage, you begin to think about drinking again.4 You may linger on thoughts of drinking, making it more difficult to resist your urges. Signs of mental relapse to look for include4:

  • Experiencing cravings
  • Dwelling on people and places that remind you of drinking
  • Glorifying your previous times drinking
  • Minimizing the consequences of using alcohol
  • Self-bargaining about how much you will drink or thinking of ways you will control your drinking
  • Lying, especially about alcohol use
  • Seeking activities that may lead to relapse, such as happy hours or parties
  • Planning to relapse

Physical Relapse

The last stage of alcohol relapse is the actual act of having a drink.4 Although it may feel discouraging, relapsing with one drink does not have to become an uncontrollable alcohol relapse. With proper support, your relapse can end with one drink, and you can be on your path to long-term sobriety once again.

2. Recognize and Prepare for Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a group of symptoms that can occur after you stop drinking and can last for six months or longer. About 75% of people in alcohol recovery experience PAWS symptoms. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can disappear and reappear through your recovery.5 Common signs of PAWS include:5

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Memory problems
  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeling anxious or panicky
  • Depression or feelings of apathy and pessimism
  • Developing obsessive-compulsive tendencies
  • Problems with social relationships
  • Cravings
  • Sleep problems
  • Lower tolerance to stress

Recognizing the symptoms of PAWS can help you remain in recovery even if your symptoms are severe. A healthcare professional can help you work through your symptoms to help you stay sober and avoid alcohol relapse. Your provider may prescribe medications, such as acamprosate (Antabuse), to help manage your symptoms. Typically, medication therapy is combined with individual or group therapy as an additional source of ongoing support.6

3. Engage in Aftercare

Developing a post-treatment plan is crucial to remaining sober after you leave alcohol rehab. Living an alcohol-free life after alcohol rehab may be exciting. However, you may also have fears and concerns about living life without the ongoing support of your counselors and providers.

Before leaving alcohol rehab, it is essential to meet with your counselors and providers and develop a post-treatment plan together. This plan may include any or all the following:

  • Access to support groups
  • Individual or group therapy
  • Prescribed medications
  • Social or occupational services
  • Telephone or in-person check-ins

Some people may find that they need additional support when transitioning to life after alcohol rehab. A recovery house, or sober home, might be an option to consider.

A recovery house is an alcohol-free home where you can live temporarily after completing your alcohol rehab treatment and before returning to your previous home. A recovery house offers a balance between the highly structured environment of alcohol rehab and the less structured ways of everyday life.

In a recovery house, you have some supervision and peer support. There are requirements and rules to follow, including a curfew and involvement in a 12-step program. You are not required to always remain in the house or the premises, allowing you to begin easing into your everyday tasks and responsibilities. A recovery house helps lower your chance of relapsing during the vulnerable period immediately following alcohol rehab.7

4. Know Your Triggers

An important step in your recovery journey is identifying your triggers to alcohol relapse. Knowing which people, places, and situations can tempt you to drink again will help you avoid or manage them and prevent alcohol relapse. Everyone has different triggers. You will know your own. Some examples may include:

  • People who used to drink with you
  • Emotions you used to manage by drinking
  • Bars or nightclubs
  • Parties or celebrations
  • Stress
  • Financial worries
  • Family issues
  • Relationship problems

When you know your triggers before they surface, you can have a plan for managing or avoiding them. You may need to socialize with people who did not drink with you or avoid streets and neighborhoods with your old hangouts.

Even after you complete alcohol rehab, triggering emotions and stressful situations will emerge. A counselor or therapist can help you manage your stress and emotions in healthy ways and prevent alcohol relapse.

5. Move Your Body

Studies show that combining exercise with therapy and other forms of support helps alcohol recovery and prevents alcohol relapse.8 The benefits of exercise for staying sober are both physical and psychological. Examples include the following:8

  • Exercise improves your self-confidence and self-esteem. Confidence learned from following an exercise program or routine improves your self-esteem and helps you cope with urges to drink.
  • Exercise helps you manage stress. For some people, stress is a trigger to drink. Exercise can reduce your stress level and help you manage your desire to drink.
  • Exercising with others helps build a healthy social support system. Whether you choose to exercise with one other person or in a group, exercising with others provides a source for healthy and supportive relationships.
  • Exercise helps relieve depression. Depression and anxiety are common triggers for alcohol relapse. Physical activity as simple as walking can help improve your mood and manage emotions that hinder your recovery.
  • Exercise produces natural euphoria (feelings of joy and elation). Exercising releases chemicals in your brain that are associated with feeling good. The effects of these chemicals can last while you exercise and for some time after you finish your activity. The better you feel, the less likely you are to want to have a drink.

You can get the benefits of exercise from activities as simple as taking a walk or joining a structured exercise or fitness class. What you do to get your body moving is not as important as choosing an activity that you enjoy. You have numerous options, including any of the following:

  • Walking around your neighborhood or nearby park
  • Hiking in nature trails
  • Biking
  • Skating
  • Practicing yoga
  • Training for a running, biking, or swimming race
  • Taking part in fitness classes
  • Surfing
  • Mountain or rock climbing

Be sure to discuss any exercise program with your healthcare provider to determine if it is right for you. Although some activities may require travel to another location, many activities can be done close to your home or even via a video in the comfort of your living room.

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6. Prioritize Self-Care

Doing things to take care of your mind and body helps you remain strong enough to fight the urge to drink. Examples of ways to prioritize self-care include:

  • Getting proper sleep
  • Eating well-balanced meals regularly
  • Getting exercise
  • Cleaning or tidying up your living space
  • Practicing relaxation methods, such as breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Making time for hobbies and activities that you enjoy
  • Building healthy relationships
  • Taking time to be alone when you need it
  • Setting healthy boundaries

Self-care is different for everyone. It may even be different for you based on your daily situation or how you are feeling. The important thing is to know when you need to take time for yourself. Then, be sure to follow-through and provide yourself with the care that you need.

Remember that you are not alone in your recovery journey. Recognizing when to reach out for help is crucial in preventing alcohol relapse. Call 800-948-8417 Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers to reach a treatment specialist and get the support you need.


  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Understanding alcohol use disorder.
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Alcohol Facts and Statistics.
  3. Moos, R. H., & Moos, B. S. (2006). Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 101(2), 212–222.
  4. Melemis S. M. (2015). Relapse prevention and the five rules of recovery. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 325–332.
  5. Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. (n.d.). Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). Retrieved on March 10, 2021.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 2020, June 1. Alcohol addiction. Retrieved on March 10, 2021.
  7. Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R., Bond, J., & Galloway, G. (2010). What did we learn from our study on sober living houses and where do we go from here? Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42(4), 425–433.
  8. Manthou, E., Georgakouli, K., Fatouros, I.G., Gianoulakis, C., Theodorakis, Y., & Jamurtas, A.Z. (2016). Role of exercise in the treatment of alcohol use disorders (Review). Biomedical Reports, 4, 535-545.
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