Failure rates to comply with treatment for alcoholism do not differ significantly from other chronic diseases. People with disease such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension frequently fail to comply with treatment. (Lewis 2002)
Relapse can range from a return to chronic heavy drinking to binge drinking, to a single drink or even just a sip. Often people will continue attending Alcoholics Anonymous while drinking. Some may have the one drink and phone their sponsor, or hurry along to a meeting.
Here is where the value of the only requirement for AA membership – the desire to stop drinking – can be appreciated. This tradition leaves the door open to return, without judgment. Here, also, is reflected the knowledge that drinking is only a symptom of the malady of alcoholism.
In keeping with the pain and adversity which our founders encountered and overcame in establishing A.A., Bill W. sent us a clear message: a relapse can provide a positive experience toward abstinence and a lifetime of recovery. A relapse brings truth to what we hear repeatedly in meetings — Don’t take that first drink! It reinforces the belief in the progressive nature of the disease, and it drives home the need for, and beauty of, humility in our spiritual program (AA Daily Reflections, 1990).
Thus relapse is not failure but is best viewed as part of the learning process and a stage of change – a process that can eventually lead to sustained recovery.
Alcoholics can return to AA after a drink without fear or favor. However, most will have shame or guilt and may feel disloyal to other members or their sponsor. The psychic energy of these emotions can often be released into taking action and learning.
Action can be summed up by the informal AA slogan;
LIVE IN THE ANSWER, NOT THE PROBLEM
AA members live the answer by practicing the program and using the recovery tools.
NB; Relapse to drinking in AA is often called; a bust, slip, drink, a drunk, spree,
AA saying: I was drinking in my mind days before I picked up a drink.
From the BriefTSF manual