Why do Alcoholics Relapse? Exploring the Balance Between Acceptance and Growth

Why do Alcoholics Relapse? Exploring the Balance Between Acceptance and Growth


It came to me today that there are probably two reasons that alcoholics relapse.

Now of course, in real life, there might be thousands of different reasons and situations (and excuses) that someone might relapse, but in essence I think they can all be boiled down to one of 2 categories:

1) Lack of personal growth

2) Lack of acceptance

Now if you think carefully about these two ideas, you will see that they are actually conflicting a bit, and normally if you pursue one, you do so at the expense of the other.

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In other words, some would say that in order to recover, we must push ourselves to grow as a person and make strides at becoming a better person in recovery. In order to do this, we might look at our character defects and take specific action to overcome them, or we might consider our common relationship pitfalls and take steps to address that, and so on. We make an effort to grow after examining the things in our lives that we want to change.

On the other hand, some would say that in order to recover, we need to find peace within ourselves and to do this we need self acceptance. In addition, we also need to find peace and acceptance with our life situation and with all of the people and relationships in our lives as well. Instead of trying to change every little thing and driving ourselves nuts, we should practice acceptance in our recovery and thus find peace.

So you can see that these two things do conflict a bit with each other – we can either push ourselves to grow in a certain area of our life, or we can simply accept things as they are. Both seem to be a valid path. Both options seem to be spoken as being the correct path by different people in recovery. And yet, both paths cannot be right….at least not for all situations. We have to choose between acceptance and growth in many cases. How do we do this?

This is where the serenity prayer comes in. The spiritual element is in seeking the wisdom to know when to push for change and when to simply accept things as they are. That is what the serenity prayer is instructing us about (if you actually listen to it!). It is the age old struggle between acceptance and personal growth. How can we know when to push for growth and when to back off and practice acceptance? If you are truly at your wits end then use prayer and meditation and intuition to guide you in this.

I would also recommend the following guideline for this: if you practice acceptance with something in your life but the issue keeps resurfacing, then it might be time to take a different approach. This usually means taking action. In other words, if acceptance isn’t working for you, then sometimes “more acceptance” just isn’t the right answer. Sometimes a change is necessary and I would take a close look at how much your acceptance is costing you in mental and emotional energy. If it is a monumental struggle to keep accepting something (that you find unacceptable) then you might have to go ahead and make a change.

Two good examples of this right off the bat are jobs and relationships. Sometimes we can get stuck in either of those situations and we might be staying out of comfort (from the fear of change) and using the whole idea of acceptance as a rationalization for not making a change. If fear is what is holding you back then you would be wise to let go of the acceptance mantra and instead push yourself to make a change in your life instead.

What do you think? Have you ever let acceptance become your excuse for “coasting” through life?


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