Alcohol Relapse Rates and Abstinence Statistics

Published On: June 7, 2023

Learn more about the role of relapse in alcohol addiction recovery, how to avoid it and how it may help you to stay sober in the long term as well as the effectiveness of abstinence in addiction treatment.

What Is An Alcohol Relapse?

bucket of alcohol bottles

A lot of addiction recovery is focused on avoiding relapse after treatment, so it’s important to understand exactly what a relapse is.

When someone relapses, they return to the behaviours that they have been attempting to avoid.

In terms of drug and alcohol addiction, this can mean beginning to use these substances again despite the desire to stop.

A relapse can be short or long-term, and many people experience multiple relapses as they attempt to remain sober.

While many people view relapse as a bad thing, it can be a very normal and even potentially helpful part of recovery.

This is because it can show you the aspects of your recovery plan that need to be strengthened and helps you to see that even if you stumble along the way, it is possible to pick yourself back up and keep trying.

Call our addiction support line on 0800 111 4108 for more help.

Why Does Alcohol Relapse Occur?

alcoholic spouse

Many people who experience alcohol addiction have also experienced several personal challenges which may have contributed to the addiction.

As a result, these challenges can also lead to a relapse.

During your addiction treatment, you will learn new and healthy ways to cope with stress, triggers and difficult emotions.

But even with the best of intentions, you may not react to each situation perfectly and may experience one or more relapses.

Factors that can lead to a relapse include:
  • Struggling with a physical health condition, as this can lead to substance use to deal with pain and discomfort
  • Struggling with a mental health condition, as this can lead to substance use to cope with negative feelings and emotions
  • Initially lapsing with just one drink, then feeling extremely guilty and worthless, which can lead to a complete relapse
  • Being triggered by something that reminds you of your addiction or can push you towards alcohol use
  • Experiencing a stressful situation that you find difficult to handle
  • Any situation that can make alcohol use easier, such as walking into a bar or spending time with someone who drinks alcohol

Remember, a relapse does not mean that you are a failure.

It just means that you may still be holding on to behaviours and patterns that are unhealthy and that you may need to tweak your recovery plan.

Call our addiction support line on 0800 111 4108 for more help.

What Are The Warning Signs Of An Alcohol Relapse?

Alcohol addiction

A relapse does not usually happen suddenly.

Instead, the factors that can lead to relapse will build gradually over time. A relapse is often a shift in attitude or behaviour that can eventually lead to the act of drinking alcohol.

Some of the warning signs of a relapse include:
  • Withdrawing from support groups and other forms of recovery
  • Feeling more stressed than usual
  • Experiencing post-acute withdrawal symptoms
  • Lack of routine
  • Making unhealthy and/or irrational decisions
  • Believing that you can control your drinking
  • Looking back at your addiction to rose-tinted glasses
  • Being in denial that external or internal factors are affecting you
  • Feeling as though participating in recovery is not as important

Many people who relapse will initially attempt a controlled drinking session, but this can very easily spiral out of control.

Alcohol Relapse Rates And Abstinence Statistics

teen drink 3

A large amount of research has been conducted on alcohol addiction treatment, relapse rates and abstinence.

Below are some statistics that reflect alcohol relapse rates and abstinence statistics in the UK:
  • It has been estimated that between 40% and 60% of people in recovery from alcohol addiction will relapse at least once [1]
  • Some studies indicate that within one year of treatment, up to 85% of people may relapse [2]
  • 62% of people in the UK who were in treatment for alcohol addiction between 2020 and 2021 completed their treatment programme [3]
  • This group also reported a decrease in the number of days they used alcohol after completing treatment, to only 7.3 days out of six months [3]
  • Between 2020 and 2021, roughly 50v b% of people who left addiction treatment in the UK were no longer dependent on drugs or alcohol [3]
  • One study revealed that people who are abstinent from alcohol as part of their addiction recovery are less likely to relapse [3]

While some of these figures may feel daunting, they also show that relapse does not have to be the end of your recovery journey.

Call our addiction support line on 0800 111 4108 for more help.

What Is Abstinence In Addiction Recovery?

Coffee and book

Depending on the type of addiction treatment you receive, you may be required to practice abstinence when it comes to drugs and alcohol. [5]

This is when you do not use alcohol, drugs or any other addictive substances. Abstinence is a big commitment, and many people feel overwhelmed by the idea, but it is a very effective way to recover from an addiction.

In the majority of cases, we will only refer you to rehab clinics and treatment programmes that focus on abstinence.

This is because we believe here at Rehab 4 Alcoholism that abstinence is the most effective form of addiction treatment.

What Are The Differences Between Abstinence And Moderation?

wine glasses together in a cheers

If you are recovering from alcohol addiction, you may have heard the terms ‘abstinence’ and ‘moderation’ used.

But what exactly does this mean?

When you are abstinent, you completely avoid alcohol and other addictive substances.

This means that you do not use tobacco, cannabis or any other drugs. Some people also avoid caffeine and other addictive behaviours such as gambling.

Choosing moderation means that you will continue to drink alcohol but with strict limits placed on your consumption of this substance.

This may mean that you allow yourself to have two drinks per week, for example, or that you only drink alcohol on special occasions.

Managing and regulating your alcohol intake can be extremely difficult when you are trying to recover from an addiction.

As a result, while moderation may appear to be the easier choice as it still allows you to drink alcohol, abstinence can make your recovery easier.

Call our addiction support line on 0800 111 4108 for more help.

What Are The Benefits Of Abstinence?

A man sitting with a female therapist who is holding a clipboard

Choosing abstinence in addiction recovery comes with many benefits.

While it can be a more difficult decision to make, abstinence can make your recovery simpler in the long term.

There will be fewer temptations, as you will not keep alcoholic drinks in the house and will also not be tempted to drink more than your limit.

It can be easy to lose control of your alcohol use when you are addicted to this substance, so deciding to avoid it completely can be easier than attempting to limit yourself.

Abstinence also drastically reduces your risk of relapse.

If you tell yourself that you are not going to drink at all, no matter what, this clear-cut decision can remove the temptation to reach for alcohol in times of stress and hardship.

It also makes it easier to set recovery goals. Instead of having to decide on limits, you can simply say, ‘I will no longer drink alcohol.’

Finally, choosing abstinence from alcohol can make it easier to recover from addiction as your brain and body are not in constant battle with each other.

Alcohol can cause physical changes to occur in your brain, which makes you more likely to remain addicted.

The only way to heal these changes is to refrain from drinking alcohol rather than allowing yourself to drink smaller amounts.

Call our addiction support line on 0800 111 4108 for more help.

What Are The Three Stages of a Relapse?

A man turning away

As discussed earlier in this article, a relapse does not usually happen suddenly. It is a process that can happen gradually over time.

Some researchers have concluded that there are three distinct stages to a relapse, and knowing what to look out for can help you to catch a potential relapse and prevent it from happening.

These are known as an emotional relapse, a mental relapse and a physical relapse.

The three stages of relapse are explained in more detail below:

1. Emotional relapse

During this stage, the thought of drinking alcohol may not even be on your mind. However, you may be struggling without even realising it.

You may be emotionally ‘checking out’ of recovery by withdrawing from support groups, not expressing your emotions, failing to take care of yourself or focusing on other people and their problems instead of your own.

Catching yourself and reflecting on your feelings can help to get you back on track and prevent you from moving into the second stage of relapse.

2. Mental relapse

Many people describe this stage of relapse as an inner battle. You may have the desire to drink alcohol but struggle to keep your urges in check.

This is when you may begin to feel nostalgic for your former behaviours. You may miss using alcohol, fantasise about drinking, get back in touch with old drinking friends or even actively begin planning a relapse.

It can help to imagine a scenario in which you use alcohol that includes the consequences of these actions. Instead of looking at it with rose-tinted glasses, think about the feelings of guilt and sadness and self-hatred that often follow a binge or relapse.

3. Physical relapse

If you do not address the warning signs of an emotional relapse and a mental relapse, you are at risk of experiencing a physical relapse.

This is when you actively begin to use alcohol again.

Remember, even if you have already started drinking, it is never too late to seek help.

Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, counsellor or support group and share your emotions, and they will help you to regain control and get back on track.

Call our addiction support line on 0800 111 4108 for more help.

How Can I Prevent Relapse?

An older man looking over the mountains

Although relapse is a part of addiction recovery, it does not have to be inevitable.

There are many things that you can do to reduce your chances of experiencing a relapse. These techniques can also help you to feel more comfortable and confident in your recovery.

Some ways that you can prevent relapse include:
  • Make sure you are aware of the potential warning signs of relapse
  • Build a support network and community of people that you can turn to
  • Prioritise your sobriety and recovery above all else
  • Switch from moderation to complete abstinence
  • Remain mindful of your thoughts, urges and emotions
  • Speak to someone that you trust
  • Stay busy with hobbies and activities that you enjoy
  • Learn how to manage your triggers in a healthy way
  • Develop techniques that allow you to deal with negative emotions
  • Lower your stress levels as much as possible
  • Distract yourself from cravings, as many last for just 30 minutes

Remember that recovery from addiction is a lifelong process.

Do not expect to be fully healed as soon as you arrive home from rehab – you will need to continue to put in the work to achieve long-term recovery.

If I Relapse After Addiction Treatment, Does That Mean The Treatment Has Failed?

Man lying down with his hand over his head

It’s common to feel that your addiction treatment has failed if you relapse and even that you need to start the whole process over again.

But relapse is anything but a failure. It’s a very common part of the treatment process and can be used to help you achieve success in the future.

Experts have characterised addiction as a chronic relapsing brain disease. It isn’t your fault.

It simply means that you need to make some changes to your recovery. This may mean attending more support group sessions, finding regular counselling or switching from moderation to abstinence.

Take a close look at your treatment and find out where the holes are. Were you healthily dealing with stress? Did something trigger you? Did you believe that willpower alone is the key to recovery?

If you believe that you would benefit from additional treatment after a relapse, such as a supervised detox or further counselling, then by all means, seek professional help.

Just remember that you are not a failure and that relapse is merely a stepping stone towards long-term recovery.

Call our addiction support line on 0800 111 4108 for more help.








Related posts