How common is alcohol relapse? How many times does an alcoholic relapse? How long does alcohol relapse last? Why do I keep relapsing on alcohol? These are questions we get asked all the time and unfortunately there isn’t a simple answer.  

If someone is an alcoholic or suffers from alcohol use disorder, there is no “quick fix” or “one and done” approach. In fact, there is no “cure” for alcoholism and the illness does not disappear after 30 days in rehab. While this may sound distressing to some, we know and have experienced ourselves that recovery from alcoholism is possible and that with the right tools and support people can live alcohol free and be happy about it. 


The reason why people relapse after having a period of sobriety will depend on what they are doing to treat their alcoholism. Because alcoholism exists whether you are drinking or not, it needs to be arrested on a daily basis. Trying to “go it alone” and not working a recovery programme are two common reasons people relapse. We find it’s not usually enough to simply attend the occasional A.A. meeting and not actively working through the 12 Step Programme. Most people struggle when they haven’t surrendered to the fact that they need to keeping working at their recovery long after they’ve left rehab.

What to do after alcohol relapse

It’s important to realise that there is nothing to be ashamed about if you relapse. The worst thing you can do after relapsing is not to reach out for help. For some, it could be a case of resetting your routine or picking up the phone and calling your sponsor, therapist, doctor or someone who can help get you back on track. Getting honest about where you’re at is the first step to coming back after a relapse. 


If you can’t stop drinking on your own, you may need Social Detox. If you can stop, but can’t stay stopped for any length of time, then a residential alcohol rehab programme might be good option to help you build the tools and resilience for navigating life sober. 


If you’re a family member of someone who keeps relapsing, we know how distressing this can be. We encourage you to make use of the free resources for families and friends on our website or book in for a confidential 1 Hour Discovery Session for up to six people to learn about how a Love First Intervention could help get your loved one the support they need.

Five tips for alcohol relapse prevention

Because we offer a 12 Step facilitated programme, we know that once guests leave rehab, they are going to need ongoing support to avoid relapse drinking. A big component of our 30-day alcohol rehab programme is helping set our guests up for ongoing success and many want to know how to prevent alcohol relapse. Some of the things we’ve found helpful include…


  1. Sober living – For guests who have completed our 30-day programme, they can apply to our Sober Living Programme which offers accommodation in one of our local sober houses. These provide a supportive, sober community with structure, peer support and a substance-free living space. 
  2. Connect with a sober community – There is a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous that one alcoholic can help another when no one else can. We know that keeping close contact with those who understand is crucial to staying sober, and those who are further down the road of recovery are more likely to recognise the signs of alcohol relapse. Having phone numbers you can call when you need support is crucial. 
  3. Working a recovery programme – There are many benefits of the A.A. 12 Step Programme and we encourage guests to attend regular meetings, join a home group, continue to work through the 12 Steps with a sponsor, and help others through sharing their experience, strength and hope. 
  4. Avail yourself of extra support – For most people, when they stop drinking, they lift the veil on things that alcohol helped them avoid. At The Retreat NZ we introduce guests to tools to support their recovery, from one-on-one and group therapy to meditation, breath work and exercise programmes. Continuing these after rehab can be very beneficial. 
  5. Don’t get stuck in the HALTS – Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired. Serious. Living sober means dealing with life on life’s terms. Taking care of the basics and making sure you don’t slip into the HALTS helps keep you balanced and able to make better decisions when life happens. It may sound simple, but learning to eat regular, healthy meals, getting a good night’s sleep, staying connected and using the programme to help you navigate life will make a big difference to your emotional wellbeing, and means you are less likely to pick up a drink when times get tough.