Symptoms Leading to Relapse

While the individual must maintain the disciplines that insure sobriety, there are ways that others can help.

Nearly every person close to the alcoholic is able to recognize behavior changes that indicate a return to old thinking. Often these individuals and fellow A.A. members have tried to warn the subject, who by now, may not be willing to listen.

He/she may consider it nagging or a violation of his/her privacy.

There are many warning signs. Most alcoholics, if approached properly, would be willing to go over an inventory of symptoms periodically with a spouse or other confidante. If the symptoms are caught early enough and recognized, the alcoholic will usually try to change his/her thinking, to get “back on the beam” again.

A weekly inventory might prevent some relapses. This added discipline is one that many alcoholics seem willing to try. Following is a list of common symptoms leading to “dry-drunk.” to possible relapse or to what A.A. commonly calls “stinking thinking.”

Common Symptoms

  • Exhaustion – Allowing ourselves to become overly tired or in poor health. Some alcoholics are also prone to work addictions; perhaps they are in a hurry to make up for lost time. Good health and enough rest are important. If you feel good, you are more apt to think well. Feel poorly and your thinking is apt to deteriorate. Feel badly enough and you might begin thinking drinking couldn’t make it any worse.
  • Dishonesty – This behavior begins with a pattern of unnecessary little lies and deceits with fellow workers, friends and family. They become important lies to yourself. This turn is called rationalizing – making excuses for not doing what you do not want to do or for doing what you know you should not do.
  • Impatience – Things are not happening fast enough or others are not doing what they should or what you want them to.
  • Argumentativeness – Arguing small and ridiculous points of view indicates a need to always be right. “Why don’t you be reasonable and agree with me?” Looking for an excuse to drink?
  • Depression – Unreasonable and unacceptable despair may occur in cycles and should be dealt with – talked about.
  • Frustration – At people and also because things may not be going your way. Remember – everything is not going to be just the way you want it.
  • Self-Pity – “Why do these things happen to me?” “Why must I be alcoholic?” Nobody appreciates all I am doing (for them).”
  • Cockiness – Got it made – no longer fear alcoholism – going into drinking situations to prove to others you have no problem. Do this often enough and it will wear down your defenses.
  • Complacency – “drinking was the farthest thing from my mind.” Not drinking was no longer a conscious thought either. It is dangerous to let up on disciplines because everything is going well. It’s a good thing to always have a little fear. More relapses occur when things are going well than otherwise.
  • Expecting too much from others – “I’ve changed; why hasn’t everyone else?” It’s a plus if they do, but still your problem if they do not. They may not trust you yet, may be still looking for further proof. You cannot expect others to change their lifestyles just because you have.
  • Letting up on disciplines – Prayer, meditation, daily inventory, A.A. attendance. This can stem either from complacency or boredom. You cannot afford to be bored with your program. The cost of relapse is always too great.
  • Use of mood-altering chemicals – You may feel the need to ease things with a pill, and your doctor may go along with you. You may never have had a problem with chemicals other than alcohol, but you can easily lose sobriety starting this way, about the most subtle way to have relapse.
  • Remember, you will be cheating! The reverse of this is true for drug-dependent people who start to drink.
  • Wanting too much – Do not set goals to high. Step at a time and keep long distance goal flexible.
Symptoms Leading to Relapse

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in northern Michigan who has a passion for reading, writing, music and helping others. He specializes in counseling complex family situations, substance abuse, and parenting. Steve’s counseling philosophy is holistic, approaching each issue on its own merit and evaluating influences to help overcome life’s dilemmas.


APA Reference
Greenman, S. (2015). Symptoms Leading to Relapse. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 10, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 31 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Oct 2015
Published on All rights reserved.