"The genius of the hole: no matter how much time you spend climbing out, you can still fall back down in an instant."
In any show featuring a recovering alcoholic
(or other such drug addict), they will inevitably return to drinking at least once during the series. This happens quite a bit to recovering alcoholics in real life as well, but it's not as inevitable as television would have us believe. In a drama, this is almost always a Very Special Episode
. In a comedy, it can be done either as a Very Special Episode
or just for laughs. The relapse can be caused by trying to drown sorrows.
Anime and Manga
- Subverted in Monster, where a recovering alcoholic is thought to have fallen off a roof after having a drink.
- Haunting In Connecticut. Where the father starts out in recovery and later falls off.
- Airplane!: "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking..."
- A similar line in Independence Day is probably a Shout-Out.
- Played straight in Hamlet 2, where Dana Marschz, the main character, during goes on a drinking binge as part of his Heroic BSOD/Darkest Hour sequence.
- William Munny in Unforgiven. First drinking. Then violence.
- Silent Movie: Mel Funn is precariously on the wagon for the first part of the movie - everyone knows he has a problem, but he manages to keep away from the drink. Then he finds out his lady love Vilma Kaplan is a mole sent to pretend to love him and sabotage his film, and he falls off, HARD. Of course, she actually is in love with him and wants to help him, so they sober him up with The Power of Love and lots of coffee.
- Thea in Applause does well for a time with the drinking, but does give in to drink and becomes confrontational toward her ex-husband.
- In the 2011 film Warrior: Paddy Conlon after Tommy berates him one time too many.
- Averted in Rachel Getting Married. Despite coming straight of rehab to her dysfunctional family on the weekend of her sister's wedding, and being shown in situations that imply she's sneaking off to to drink or use, Kym stays clean and sober throughout the film.
- Vimes falls off the wagon in Men at Arms. In Feet of Clay, the next book he appears in, he pretends to fall off again, as part of a scheme to make the person who's trying to frame him for murder look foolish.
- The title character's (tragically inevitable) fall Off The Wagon he climbed onto in the first chapter is one of the key plot points of The Mayor of Casterbridge.
- Happens in Rachel's Vacation.
- This happens all the time with professional wrestlers, particularly older veterans working the independent circuit. Scott Hall and Jake "The Snake" Roberts are amongst the more notorious examples of this, but far from the only ones.
- At TNA's Victory Road pay per view in 2011, Jeff Hardy showed up loaded for his match against Sting. The subsequent match ended up going less than a minute.
- The most famous example is Jake Roberts' appearance at a 1999 pay per view titled Heroes of Wrestling. Prior to his match with Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, Jake cut a slurred, rambling, incoherent promo. When he came to the ring, he was so drunk he couldn't even stand up straight, engaged in lewd behavior with some fans at ringside, then got in the ring, held his snake up to his crotch and started stroking it. Needless to say the match didn't last long.
- Sadly many wrestlers never recover from substance abuse problems, leading to a shockingly long list of those who have died of unnatural causes before the age of 50 including Mr. Perfect (Acute Cocaine intoxication), Eddie Guerrero (Heart attack caused by years of steroid and perscription drug abuse), The British Bulldog (Same thing), Crash Holly (Choked on alcohol induced vomit), Miss Elizabeth (Drug overdose), Bam Bam Bigelow (Drug overdose), the list goes on and on.
- Funky Winkerbean's title character went through a bout of alcoholism in the '90s after the first Time Skip, but got it under control and remained sober through the second Time Skip as well. A 2010 strip appeared to show him finally depressed enough about his life to order a screwdriver...but subverted this trope when Funky instead vented his problems to the bar tender and left without drinking anything.
- When withdrawal symptoms are shown, it tends to focus on short term, acute symptoms (see the horrific sequence in Trainspotting). However, lower impact withdrawal symptoms can last for months, even years. Insomnia, delirium, depression... that's one reason why they're called "recovering" rather than "recovered".
- The dramatic "No More for Me" gesture is discouraged by many doctors for this very reason. It might feel good at the time, but lowering your intake slowly over the course of a few weeks is much less traumatic and much easier to stick to.
- The Boys in the Band. Michael has stopped drinking for five weeks, to prevent anxiety attacks, but falls off the wagon - hard - during Harold's birthday party.
- Doc Delaney, in William Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba.
- Averted in Unreal II: The Awakening. One of the characters is a man who was once deep into the bottle, and manages to hold throughout the series - despite, as the main character points out, having numerous opportunities to smuggle in some booze.
- Played for laughs in Fable II. After completing a quest for a man, said man's wife tells him to get back on the wagon. He instantly responds, "Wagon? Where? Kids, look out for the wagon!!"
- Dr. Rockso gets clean in one episode. In his return episode, he falls off the wagon, gloriously.
- In a later episode, Pickles goes dry after a drunken international incident involving a flying drum kit. Later on, he has to get drunk to save the band with the exact same stunt.
- Earlier, Pickles' old band Snakes and Barrels went clean after breaking up, but shortly before their reunion concert they were convinced to take a hit of experimental drug Totally Awesome Sweet Alabama Liquid Snake. This comes back to bite them later (in the same episode when Dr. Rockso falls off the wagon) while they're trying to put on a show as a new straight-edge band.
- The Simpsons:
- Subverted, of all things. They were doing a civil war re-enactment of...questionable historical accuracy. Somebody offers Barney, who had previously been a raging alcoholic, a drink. He worries that he'll fall off the wagon, decides to drink it anyway...and marvels when he still feels fine.
- In "Deep Space Homer", Barney goes on the wagon for astronaut training and aces all his tests. However, he degenerates back into his town drunkard persona after celebrating with a toast of non-alcoholic champagne.
- More than that, Barney keeps getting on and off the wagon to the point where his current status as an alcoholic changes from episode to episode.
- Played for Drama in The Venture Bros., during an episode in which Sergeant Hatred runs out of medication that suppresses his pedophiliac urges. He locks himself in the Venture compound panic room for an extended period, and even considers buying a child prostitute to keep himself from being a danger. The incident is resolved when he is lured out of the panic room by Hank, disguised as Princess Tinyfeet, and is subsequently subdued and tranquilized by Henchman 24.
- Fantastic Mr. Fox: Mr. Fox says this word for word when apologizing to his wife about stealing birds again, after he promised he wouldn't ever return to that profession. Hilarious in Hindsight as George Clooney's character in Ocean's Eleven got in trouble for the same thing.
- A running gag in Superjail! is that the resident Butt Monkey, Jared, falls off the wagon. WHAT wagon he falls off of varies; you name it, he's been addicted to it.note .