Relapse Prevention

relapse preventionSo you’ve stopped drinking, or maybe you’re just not doing it every day now, and you want to know how to prevent yourself from relapsing, or (if you want to keep it simple) how to make sure you don’t drink today.

Relapse prevention requires some planning, specifically –

  • what situations might I encounter that could make me want a drink? (my triggers)
  • how might I deal with my feelings sober?
  • what action can I take instead?

You need to identify your internal triggers (like boredom, frustration, loneliness, anxiety etc.), and your external triggers (like arguments, bars, other people drinking etc.). Can any of these triggers be avoided? If so, plan how to do that. For those that can’t be avoided, you’ve got to learn to deal with them some other way.

So, what do these triggers mean to you? What beliefs do you hold about them that lead you to drink? A few common beliefs might be –

  • “drinking helps me get rid of stress”,
  • “drinking makes me more confident”,
  • “some people drink more than me, so that makes it ok for me to drink as much as I do”.

What thoughts go through your head when you’re exposed to these triggers? You may not even be aware of these thoughts, they’re so habitual, so you’ll have to listen carefully to your internal dialogue here.

Once you’ve got an idea what some of your automatic thoughts are, you need to learn to challenge them. So for example, the next time you’re feeling stressed and you think “a drink would relax me” you might then say to yourself “yes, it does, but it’ll make me even more nervous and stressed tomorrow”.

Relapse prevention is just knowing about your habits

Of course by the time you’ve got to this stage, you’re probably craving a drink, and you’re thinking about how to get some. You might be arguing with yourself – part of you doesn’t want to get drunk again. You’ve told yourself you’re not doing it any more (or today at least). So here’s when you might start looking for permission, to make it ok:

  • “just this time won’t hurt”,
  • “I’ll be able to hide it, so no-one will know”,
  • “I’m not at work tomorrow, so it doesn’t matter if I’m hungover”
  • “I can’t cope with this craving, so I might as well just get on with it”

As far as behaviour goes, we’ve already mentioned avoiding triggers, but another option is distracting yourself (look at our earlier article on ‘how to cope with alcohol cravings‘). Other things you might do are more general – make some new friends, find new things to do with your time, get into the habit of some exercise. Most importantly – find some support, people you can talk to about what’s troubling you.

Try going through our worksheet on Relapse Prevention Strategies.

Remember though, a binge does not mean failure, you just made a mistake, try not to think “oh well, I’ve failed, so obviously I’ll never beat this, I might as well just keep drinking…”


  1. Barbara Bell 30 June, 2016 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    I am desperate to quit.Thanks to everyone who has written!

  2. andy 3 August, 2014 at 5:22 am - Reply

    help me

  3. Sonja 14 November, 2013 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    Hi all, I’m back on this sight again for the second time, iv been batteling addiction for about ten years, and I’m only 26. I’m now 7months into my second attempt of sobriety and is going well, no lapses, I’m a all or nothing kind of person, I just wanted to say to the person whom feels guilt try to over come that, you can’t grow and change when you allow guilt get to you, ask your self what is the point in guilt? It helps no one. Not the people you’ve hurt or urself, all it dose is slows down your recovery, try to learn to give your self companion and live in the here and now, try to remember your sorry for what you’ve done and now you want to try make a change for the better, one second at a time, then hour then days.

  4. Tom 21 May, 2012 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    Here is a free 278 page relapse prevention workbook. You can download it anytime. Lots of ideas and worksheets to help people stay on the road to sobriety. Hope it helps those looking for a way out.

  5. toby 14 October, 2011 at 10:53 am - Reply

    I have been drink free for 3 weeks now after a major binge. I am determined to take every day now as it comes and make it drink free for me.

    I have battled with alcohol for years and did manage a 6 month absence but foolishly thought I was back in control and I could now be a sensible drinker which was not the case.

    I am getting cravings and thinking about drinking alot but I now associate the pleasure of drinking with the pain of feeling rubbish once I awake after a binge which now take me 2-3 days to recover from. Well not anymore I am now stronger than my addiction and I will stay in my corner and the drink can stay in its corner and we will no longer fight each other.

    I have just opened up a new chapter in my life and so far its all going well.

    • Bruce 18 January, 2014 at 12:11 pm - Reply

      How do you stay drink free for 3 weeks? I relapsed when I left the VA rehab on 11/7 and have been drinking every day since. I want to make today 1/18 my sober date. I wasted so much money on alcohol and actually drank because I wanted to drink. Please help me so I can be successful for 1 day. I have little voices in my head telling me it is okay to drink. I don’t have withdrawal symptoms, probably because I don’t drink enough to get them. But I need to quit. I am a 58yrold veteran and need to stop or it will kill me. If anybody out there relates to my story and can help me, please text me on this page. I will take any suggestions because I feel I am beyond hope with this disease. THANKS

  6. Nic 25 August, 2011 at 5:51 am - Reply

    God, I’m glad I’m not the only one! I left a review today for the Allen Carr book on this website if anyone should care to read it.

  7. Ken 26 November, 2010 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    I’ve been trying to quit everything for 10 years now (drink, fags, drugs) but I always relapse. My best detox was 7 months but I recently messed up. I’ve been trying to get back on the wagon but I just can’t do it, my attempts are awful. It’s sending me mad because I think I’m gonna lose my job and mess everything up but for some reason I keep letting it happen. I’ve tried everything. I don’t even know why I’m typing this. I’ll stop now.

    • Pat1 24 June, 2011 at 1:13 pm - Reply

      How did you get on Ken?

  8. sonya 5 May, 2010 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Uggggg! I know how all of you feel! I have a large family (5 kids, a uncaring husband) I feel lonely despite them. Plus I have been drinking for about 14 years on and off. Its gotten so bad that I have gone to the hospital because I was going through withdrawl so bad that I was shaking and could not keep anything down. Not even a sip of water. They gave me some valuim. But only enough for a couple of days. After that I relapsed at a restaurant. Then I just kept buying wine. I lost my job because I could not go due to withdrawl. I am so scared and embarresed by this. I have always been a pretty girl but lately my skin has been really dry and peeling. And my eyes are either red or yellow. I think its killing me.

    • Alan 25 July, 2011 at 4:33 pm - Reply

      I hope you’re ok now, Sonya.

      • JB1982 17 April, 2012 at 3:18 pm - Reply

        Yellow eyes means trouble with your liver. I hope you are ok now.

  9. Rosaleen 14 April, 2010 at 5:58 am - Reply

    Hi to everyone. I have been binge drinking for several years. I stay off it for 3 or 4 days and then drink 2 bottles of wine or whatever. I wish I could stay off it and be normal. I go to work and some days I do not know what I am doing because my head is so bad. I have just lost my partner and I feel so lonely. I have no one to go out with now so I drink in the house. I know that is no excuse but I went to AA once and it got told to someone. Things like that should not be discussed to outsiders. I feel so depressed and lonely. Sometimes I think I am going to die like my partner did.

  10. Rolypoly 13 March, 2010 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Hi to everyone, new to this so not sure what to say, but I have taken the decision ( once again) to cut down on alcohol. Have been reading some of your comments and am feeling inspired. I think i drink out of boredom anyone any ideas what I can do in the dark evenings bearing in mind that at the moment I don’t have spare cash ( another reason to stop the drink ).

    • Rosaleen 14 April, 2010 at 6:03 am - Reply

      I do not know what to say to you. Lonelyness is terrible. I have no friends to go out with so I know how you feel. I sometimes drink fruit juice but then I relapse again.

  11. Jo-anne 14 February, 2010 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    Hi All,

    I work as a PA to Directors and feel like i need to drink for confidence…i got days without “binge” drinking then find myself almost in a coma for the next 4 days…silly thing is when i’m sober i love life and feel full of hope, but some how this craving for alcohol as got the better of me!!..i don’t mean to sound selfish, but the fact others understand and go through what i go through helps

    • Bruce 18 January, 2014 at 12:17 pm - Reply

      I totally relate to your story. I love life when I am sober but still drink every day. Every morning I wake up thinking I will be sober today but then slip into my old ways and go to the liquor store to get a load. I want 1/18 today to be my sober date. I am dying of alcoholism and it will kill me if I continue. I just got out of rehab 11/7 and drank every day since that date. I don’t get withdrawal symptoms yet. But I have little thoughts in my mind telling me to get vodka and/or beer and I act on those thoughts. I live alone and don’t know what to do with myself. If you have any suggestions that could help me I will gladly listen. I am despirate

      I want to quit now!

  12. Maria 8 February, 2010 at 9:45 pm - Reply

    Good article! Yes, one of the ways of relapse prevention is avoiding the “triggers” that provokes drinking: places where people drink alcohol, people who enjoy drinking, maybe redecorating home and removing table, chair or some other furniture and objects where a person used to drink.

  13. Angelica 13 September, 2009 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    I agree with last writer-be active and helping other alcoholics really helps-i think AA works better when this is ones purpose, including when one shares, having this in mind keeps life simple for me and gets me into life and out of self-obsessions and negative thinking, cheers, Ange

  14. Darren 12 June, 2009 at 10:38 am - Reply

    I’ve been dry for four weeks now and doing ok, this site has been fantastic and helped a lot. I have relapsed a few times, but am doing some volunteer work to which also has helped (keeping busy and interacting with other people). Thank you.

  15. chris williams 11 June, 2009 at 11:08 am - Reply

    ive done about 8 detoxes now with my g.p and the r.s.u,and i keep relapsing for all different reasons,from a simple argument or just thinking f–k-it,ive just come out of hospital after collapsing and losing all feeling in my left leg due to drink and its put the frighteners on me,its been 15 days now and im feeling ok but obviously alot of work to do,but i will give some advise is that the more detoxes you do they become harder and harder each time,i really struggled real bad this time.

    but i think my problem is ongoing support,im really glad i found this web site because its good to know your not alone and theres some excellent advise on here.

    i wish everyone the best of luck……speak soon.

  16. millie 22 June, 2008 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this site – It was empowering in the sense that it made me feel good about the positive actions I’ve taken since my last drink, 4 days ago, and gave me new strategies to deal with my boredom. Television is so boring without beer!

  17. dugar puma 14 May, 2008 at 11:21 am - Reply

    It`a great site to be visited as it’s my first visit.Thanks again.

  18. jules 11 May, 2008 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    good site – gives me hope on kudzu

  19. Noelle 21 April, 2008 at 2:01 am - Reply

    I like this page very much. It is good to read it at home in privacy. Today is my first day and
    all i did was cycle and run all day. I can’t believe how much energy i have. I do find though,
    i don’t want to talk to anyone. I am alittle concerned about my resistance to talk about it.


    • holly 30 November, 2010 at 11:02 am - Reply

      Part of my recovery was learning to talk about it.

      I go to AA meetings and realized that don’t like to be open and I don’t like to share my ‘stuff’ ….

      Someone recently made a good point at a meeting….he said you talk not for yourself but for the other people in recovery that need to hear your story…

      I talked the very next day! I see the value in sharing now. Even though it makes me incredibly nervous and it probably sounds like a load of dribble I am learning not to care….and learning not to take myself so seriously…Seriously!

      Wish everyone a Happy 24

  20. Carolann 4 November, 2007 at 10:05 am - Reply

    A brilliant site. From the first time i read some of your advice, got me to realise i had to do something about it. Have been to the doctor for some medication (librium) and have agreed to start some counselling. I know its early days, but also know i have made the right move.

    thanks a million


    p.s.My only problem now is that i have lost family members through my actions, and am feeling guilty.

  21. Judith 27 February, 2007 at 12:00 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for a great series of articles. I feel they’ve helped tremendously already and am planning on reading them as often as I need to to practice my 12-steps successfully “one day at a time!”

Leave A Comment