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Relapse is a sad reality of alcohol addiction. For many alcoholics, "falling off the wagon" is a common occurrence. It is frustrating for family and friends and emotionally painful for alcoholics, who may feel a total lack of control over alcohol.

Personal conflict, stress, work problems, family issues, negative emotions, and environmental cues are just a few antecedents that may initiate a relapse. Emil Cicuzzi* described four factors that may lead to relapse.

  • Personality Traits - characteristics that impede recovery such as inappropriate defense mechanisms, antisocial personality, or lack of control
  • Substitute Addictions - exchanging alcohol addiction for new addictions such as work or another substance of abuse such as drugs
  • Narrow View of Recovery - not paying enough attention to the daily work of recovery from alcoholism, and avoidance of examining the underlying issues that accompany addiction
  • Warning Signs - ignoring personal or situational cues that may precede relapse

It is essential to help alcoholics in recovery analyze potential elements that may cause relapse, and their therapy should include skills to withstand the pressure to drink. Those who work with alcoholics should be aware that relapse prevention education should begin with onset of treatment and be ongoing.

*Source: Cicuzzi, E. (1990). Breaking the patterns that lead to relapse. Psychology Today, 23 (12), pp. 18-19.