How are alcoholic relapses managed?

Updated: Mar 23, 2020
  • Author: Warren Thompson, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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If the patient has a relapse, find out what happened (make a diagnosis) in order to formulate a new treatment plan. Below is an outline for dealing with relapses. Insist that the patient be actively involved in devising solutions; do not attempt to solve the problem for the patient.

Make a diagnosis.

  • How long had the patient been sober before relapse?

  • What were the circumstances of the relapse?

  • What was (were) the triggering event(s)?

  • How does the patient feel about the relapse?

  • What social support systems are available to the patient?

  • Does the patient believe that he or she can quit again?

Institute a treatment plan.

  • Determine what the patient thinks is appropriate treatment.

  • Reinforce the patient's decision to seek help.

  • Emphasize that complete abstinence is the only solution.

  • Reframe the relapse as a learning opportunity.

  • Provide support and empathy. For example, reassure the patient with encouragement such as "We can do this together."

  • Have the patient come up with ways to avoid the triggering event or find alternative ways to deal with it.

  • Rehearse what to do in high-risk situations, including making use of the patient's social support system.

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