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Off the Wagon

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"The genius of the hole: no matter how much time you spend climbing out, you can still fall back down in an instant."
Max, Max Payne

Rehab is for quitters!

In any show featuring a recovering addict, they will inevitably return to their substance of choice at least once during the series. 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 due to a stressful life event. In a drama, the story may depict the harm that the character does to themselves and to those around them from their relapse by showing them mistreating people or engaging in dangerous activities (driving under the influence). If the story really wants to send a moral message, they may face serious consequences from the relapse (arrest, loss of job, etc) which triggers them to re-enter rehab.

Closely related to Descent into Addiction.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In EDENS ZERO, Daichi of the 4 Elements is such a shameless sadist he joined a therapy group to quit torturing people, and proudly shows Rebecca the commemorative coin he got for 60 days of abstinence... then he decides he had enough, crush the coin and proceed to horrifically torture Rebecca.
    • Later on in the same arc, Sister confronts him, shows off her commemorative coin for ten years of abstinence... before also crushing it and proceeding to torture him.
  • Subverted in Monster, where a recovering alcoholic is thought to have fallen off a roof after having a drink.
  • In Soul Eater Franken Stein tries to quit smoking as a way to keep Madness at bay. A couple of arcs later he's resumed smoking, claiming that abstinence from smoke actually made things worse.
  • In Your Name, when Tsukasa sees Miki smoking, the latter remarks that she had tried quitting recently.

    Comic Books 
  • Iron Man has fallen off the wagon more than once. In fact, he has tried to help fellow superhero Carol Danvers in her own battle with alcoholism. In Fear Itself he sacrifices his sobriety to Odin in order to get the god's attention. In AXIS, Inverted Tony is shown holding a glass of wine in promo artwork, indicating that he's reverted to the hedonist he was before becoming Iron Man.
  • Secret Six: Bane references this trope by name when he takes a dose of the super-steroid Venom to save Scandal. And by save Scandal we mean brutally murder several super-villains then completely lose his fucking mind and see Batman everywhere. And worse, it doesn't even work.
    Bane: Off the wagon I fall.
  • Katchoo from Strangers in Paradise tends to do this when she's had a big fight with a friend, especially Francine.
  • In Incorruptible this happens to Louis Armadale, once he finds out that Max had killed a child.
  • Teen Titans: Roy Harper went back to using heroin as a result of losing his right arm and his daughter Lian thanks to the villain Prometheus in Justice League: Cry for Justice. Unlike his original addiction, which lasted for two issues, his drug dependency went on until a month before the DC Universe was rebooted by Flashpoint. To make matters worse, Roy's addiction had been worsened by Deathstroke who, in a bid to control him, secretly spiked Roy's heroin supply with samples of Bliss, a highly addictive drug made from children.
  • The Astro City story "The Deep Dark Woods" centers around Edward "Ned" Calloway, who is addicted to being a themed costumed Mook. His repeated efforts to pull himself out of the criminal lifestyle are stymied by the lure of being a dapper gangster.
  • Robin: Dylan Prescott has a number of issues he's just learning to manage without alcohol so he can try to live a more fulfilling life. Unfortunately, his problems are suddenly exacerbated by contact with Noctura whose drug-like meta-human ability mixes very poorly with his psych meds. He grabs a bottle of alcohol instead of his pills after spending two days hallucinating.
  • Priam Agrivar from Forgotten Realms is a recovering alcoholic. He spends most of the series sober and in control of himself, but then he angers the god Labelas Enoreth, who punishes Priam by magically amplifying and worsening his addiction. Priam spends the next half-dozen issues as a barely functional wreck who can't go two pages without asking for a drink, and it isn't until the very last issue that he finally starts to get his act back together.

    Fan Works 
  • Carol Danvers from A Prize for Three Empires falls off the wagon once, unable to resist the temptation of drinking beer while waiting for a friend in a bar. Fortunately she manages to stay clean afterwards.
    She sighed. There was nothing much to do except wait. And play another solo game. And eat, if she thought she could stomach what this place called food, probably just nachos and hot dogs.
    There were three guys at the bar, and each had a stein of beer in his hand. She looked at them a long, long moment.
    It was awfully hard for even a place like this to screw up beer.
    A voice inside her told her to get out, don't even go there, don't even think about it, don't justify what the Avengers thought of her, don't let Mom and Daddy down.
    Another voice said that it was just beer, that she could keep it within her limit, that she knew how to drink like a lady, she wasn't a kid anymore, for cripes' sake, and beer would be the only thing that could make this place bearable while she was waiting for Logan the Late.
    She tipped the scales. Still holding the cue, Carol stepped hesitantly in the direction of the bar. The steps got a little bit easier as she kept taking them.
  • In A Taste of the Good Life, Ebby comes close to this, after 484 days without a drink, when she believes that she has no chance of regaining her daughter's trust. Main Course stops her by telling her that the only way she'll get any alcohol from him is if she promises to sign away any rights to Scootaloo and allow him to adopt her.
  • Happens to Matt several times during the course of the It Matters series, as a result of his ongoing struggle with opioid addiction. Each time usually ends with him Going Cold Turkey, and Mello trying to support him through the withdrawal.
  • In the fanfic, Laying Waste To Halloween, while recovering, Annabeth relapses a few times, but never gets into it as much as she did before and always regrets it afterwards.
  • Repeatedly defied by Laurel in To Heal A Hero, who despite suffering from terminal cancer steadfastly refuses to take any pain medication for her symptoms, tests, and procedures, even on her literal death bed
    Laurel: I'm dying, I can't change that, but what I can choose is how I die; and I'm going to do that clean and sober. I don't care how much pain I'm in.
  • The Bolt Chronicles: In "The Wind," Bolt's girlfriend Mary slides back into her former addictive behavior, becoming increasingly indiscriminate about the things she'll ingest to get high. She even runs away from her new farmhouse home to the city because her owners discover Mary's pilfering and lock up any possible offending substances.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The 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 Running Gag, where a person in the control tower starts relapsing on a series of increasingly more serious drugs throughout the course of the film.
  • 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 World's End, Andy hasn't had a drink for sixteen years but returns to drinking at pub no.4 by downing five pub measures of spirits. It helps that he had been fighting aliens minutes earlier.
  • 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 drink or use, Kym stays clean and sober throughout the film.
  • In The Country Girl, Frank's already shaky sobriety turns into a full-on bender after Georgie leaves town.
  • Prairie Fever: After sobering up during the trip from Clearwater to Carson City, Preston briefly relapses after seeing Octavia put in the same situation that killed his wife and being unable to act.
  • In The Occupant, Tomas is a recovering alcoholic. Part of Javier's plan is to make it look like he fell off the wagon. By the end of the film, he has.
  • A Score to Settle: When Joey meets Frankie outside the prison, he tells his father that he is no longer doing drugs. Later, he storms out after a blazing argument with his father. Frankie tracks him down to a drug den where he has just shot up.
  • In The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again, the Baltimore Kid falls off the wagon when he learns that Katie has just been using him in an attempt to get away with the loot from the Wells-Fargo robbery.
  • Kiss of the Damned:
    • Djuna, a Vegetarian Vampire, gives in and feeds on Paolo. She also later kills Paolo's agent this way.
    • Her leader Xenia also does this (after forty years) since Maia dangles temptation before her.

  • 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.
  • Maya's Notebook: While hiding out in Chiloé Island, Maya falls in love with a handsome backpacker named Daniel Goodrich. They stay in contact for a while after he returns to his home in the U.S. Eventually he writes to tell her that they are better off as friends. Despite the time spent in rehab before coming to the island, Maya gets drunk and trashes her surroundings.
  • Happens in Rachel's Vacation.
  • In The Bat Harry Hole is a recovering alcoholic and after spending most of the book sober and pointedly avoiding alcohol falls off hard after a quick succession of murders including his partner and the woman he was seeing and spends the rest of the book in or recovering from a drunken stupor.
  • Jack rants about the so-called wagon at one point while knocking back imaginary martinis in the Overlook's bar in The Shining. To hear him tell it, the wagon appears to be such a wonderful thing when you're not on it, "the biggest and the best float in the whole parade". But once you're actually on said wagon, your perspective changes. The seats are uncomfortable, the women are dressed like schoolmarms (as opposed to the sexy majorettes leading the wagon), and you're forced to sing hymns all day long. This turns out to be a prelude to when the spirit of the hotel gets him off that wagon for real, in order to take control of him and kill Wendy and Danny.
  • Peter Benchley's novel Rummies, in the last chapter, Duke Bailey and Scott Preston are released after four weeks in rehab for their alcoholism. Duke immediately heads for the nearest bar and reminds Scott that he'd never intended to really quit, just to learn what he could handle and what he couldn't. Averted with Scott, who actually learned his lesson from his time in rehab and refuses to join him in the bar.
  • The Hunger Games: Haymitch is kept from alcohol for several months in District 13, which is strictly dry and forces him into rehab. Once the war is won and he returns to District 12, he goes back to drinking.
  • In Heroin Story, David falls off the wagon a number of times. Luckily, his drug use isn't chaotic or problematic. Returning to use doesn't disrupt or hurt the life he has built over the years. Heroin actually helps him deal with his depression.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of Law & Order, Lennie Briscoe, who's been sober for years, hits the bottle hard after witnessing an execution, and it leads (somewhat indirectly) to the death of a major character. After that incident, he goes back on the wagon for the rest of his life.
    • His Law & Order: UK Expy Ronnie Brooks struggles with this several times also, though it's ultimately averted in that he never takes a drink. In particular, after his partner/friend/surrogate son Matt Devlin is killed (especially bad when he mentions to his AA group that Matt always the one to help him whenever the temptation to drink got too strong), and after another friend Wes Leyton is also gunned down, to the point where he actually buys a bottle of vodka before coming to his senses and walking out of the store without it.
    • On the original show, Detective Green was a gambling addict who fell off the wagon due to his despondency at Lennie's retirement and then his death.
    • In one episode of the original, Mike Logan mentions that his mother, a serious (and violent) alcoholic, tried to quit drinking and went to AA after being diagnosed with cirrhosis. Two weeks later, he got a call that his mother and her sponsor were both passed out drunk in a bar. It's one of the reasons Logan has a little bit of difficulty with the idea that anyone, including his partner Lennie, can actually stay on the wagon, though he eventually seems to accept that Lennie is for real (the previously-mentioned incident notwithstanding).
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • Averted (so far) with Capt. Don Cragen, who has been known to keep a bottle of vodka in his office and serve others from it.
      • Played straight in the backstory that Dann Florek and the producers worked out for the character, in which he briefly fell back into the bottle following his wife's death (after Exiled but before his first appearance on SVU). This was never mentioned onscreen, but Florek used it to inform his portrayal of the character.
    • Played straight with SVU's Sonya Paxton, though, who apparently fell off the wagon and came to court drunk, causing a mistrial and her going to rehab. Then again, she was never really on the wagon, but was playing the Functional Addict.
    • Rollins is revealed in Season 14 to have a gambling addiction; she gets help and manages to keep it together for a while, but falls off the wagon after a difficult case, which ultimately leads to a rough situation where the criminals running an illegal club she's betting at use it to blackmail her into doing "favours" for them. Fortunately, one of the criminals is actually an undercover cop and manages to work Rollins into the operation so her career is not destroyed.
  • Babylon 5, Michael Garibaldi relapsed on two occasions: first, when he was framed for an assassination plot and on the run, and second, when he learned that he was physically incapable of killing the Smug Snake Psi Cop Al Bester, who mind-raped him and forced him to betray his friends.
  • Subverted in the My So-Called Life ep appropriately titled "On the Wagon". Patty suspects Rayanne has fallen off, but it turns out she hasn't.
  • Battlestar Galactica Saul Tigh does this at least once an episode, to the resignedness of his commanding officer. His wife, Ellen, simply never gets ON the wagon in the first place and is probably mainly responsible for Saul's drinking: because I'd drink too, if I had to kill my wife for being a suspected Cylon collaborator and then find out that oops, I'm a Cylon myself.
  • Kitchen Confidential had Jack Bordain take a sip of champagne, but spit it back into the glass.
  • Life had an episode, "Powerless", where Dani Reese is forced at gunpoint to start downing vodka shots. Of course, Reese had spent the beginning of the episode at a bar before going to her AA meeting. She was technically going to the meetings to get over her drug addiction, not her alcoholism— which doesn't really make it any better but does explain why the guy holding her at gunpoint didn't have the advantage he thought he had.
  • In flashbacks in the Lost episode "A Tale of Two Cities," Jack gives his sober father, Christian, a good shove off the wagon, which ultimately leads Christian to lose his job, go on a bender, and die.
  • Titus:
    • Subverted in an episode. The title character's father, habitual drinker Ken Titus, goes on the wagon, and his relatives find his sober behavior so insufferable that within two weeks they have an intervention to urge him to start drinking again.
    • Played straight when Titus' business closes he starts drinking again. Five minutes into the next episode he sobers up for a total of 10 minutes of him being a drunk.
  • ER:
    • Played with in an episode, when recovering prescription drug addict Dr. John Carter finds an unaccounted-for bottle of Vicodin in a patient's room, pockets it, and takes two of the pills. Averted in that he almost immediately forces himself to vomit up the pills, before they can take effect. This is still treated as a (minor) relapse by his evaluator, Dr. Kerry Weaver; and his monitoring period is extended as a result.
    • Played straight with Abby at least twice.
  • True Blood, Detective Andy Bellefleur.
  • Breaking Bad has Jane Margolis, who ultimately dies of a heroin overdose. Jesse, himself, got on the wagon afterwards, but he falls off of it a couple times.
  • Rescue Me plays with this quite a bit in Tommy Gavin's case. After spending most of Season 1 in various stages of drunkenness, he goes on the wagon in Season 2. The audience is occasionally shown a scene of Tommy descending into drunkenness after something particularly tragic happens to him, only for it to be revealed that it was just in his head and he's still sober, albeit miserable.
  • In the sixth season of Grey's Anatomy Chief Webber falls off the wagon. He was subtly shown drinking and dropping hints for several episodes before the show called attention to it.
  • In Leverage "The Bottle Job" Nathan falls off the wagon. And stays off.
  • Sarah "Mac" Mackenzie from JAG, after her ex-boyfriend dies in her arms. She's also being stalked by a Dirty Cop.
  • On NYPD Blue, rehabbed alcoholic Andy Sipowicz started drowning his sorrows hard after his patrolman son was killed on duty.
  • In House, Dr. Gregory House kicks his Vicodin habit by going into rehab at the end of season 5. He manages to stay clean throughout season 6, but has a slip midway through season 7 which results in the end of his relationship with Lisa Cuddy, and that in turn pushes him completely off the wagon, apparently for good.
  • Done hilariously in Father Ted. While the parochial house is entertaining a former television personality, Mrs. Doyle persuades (i.e. forces) him to have a bit of sherry. He quickly degenerates into a drunken wreck who destroys their living room, rants about his dismissal from the BBC (which was because of his alcoholism) scares off Father Jack, and then jumps out the window. At the end of the episode, he decides to have another drink of sherry (having been convinced that he could hold his drink) and a single sup is enough to have him ranting and jumping through the window again.
  • Averted in After You're Gone where Jimmy is a recovering alcoholic. In one episode, he has a very important appointment but has spilled a drink on himself. His friends, trying to protect him, lock him in an empty room. He finally gets them to release him. He tells them he left something in the room and would they get it for him. They do, and he locks them in.
  • Mad Men's Duck Phillips is a recovering alcoholic who falls off the wagon in Season 2's "Maidenform." While at first at least somewhat sympathetic (he fell off in the middle of a messy divorce), he becomes increasingly dickish as he slides further and further back into alcoholism. By Season 4, even Peggy—who still trusted him to some degree—comes to see how much of a tremendous asshole he's become.
  • In Eastenders, Phil Mitchell seems to fall off the wagon on average every six months. And now he's a recovering crack addict as well, what's the bet there won't be a relapse at some point?
  • In the Gag Dub Soupy Norman, the titular Soupy is regularly mentioned as having been a former drink and drug addict, but has now been sober for over a year ( that's nearly 12 months! ). However, every time he appears in the show he is so drunk that he can barely stand up or speak coherently, and regularly tries to start fights with the character Jack, who answers the door. What makes this funnier is that Jack makes the comments about Soupy being sober for so long just AFTER he's kicked Soupy out for being drunk. Of course, Jack's whole character is based around the fact he never remembers anything, even if it happened a few seconds before.
  • Warehouse13:
    • There's an interesting case when the six-year sober Pete goes through an unintentional "Freaky Friday" Flip with his female partner Myka... who was at her High School Reunion and had just downed three vodka martinis. Oops.
      Well, won't this be fun to explain at the next AA meeting...
    • He's also fallen victim to several Intoxication Ensues artifacts, at one point sarcastically referring to "artifacts that mean I have to call my sponsor".
  • What Would You Do? had a scenario in which an actor went to a busy bar on Long Island, claiming to be celebrating his first year of sobriety and wanting to have just one drink. Almost everybody there pointedly refused to buy.
  • Borgen's resident Team Mom, journalist Hanne Holm, shows up drunk to a press conference after her estranged daughter fails to show up for a birthday lunch.
  • Happens to a boyfriend of Elaine's in Seinfeld, leading to a discussion between Jerry and George whether the relapse is termed being "off the wagon" or "on" it.
  • On Shameless (US), Jody is a recovering sex addict. None of the other characters take this seriously and convince him that some "adventurous" sex with Sheila (who has a pegging fetish) will not hurt him. Jody quickly goes off the wagon and starts engaging in more and more extreme sexual acts. Sheila stages an intervention and in the end Jody is chained to a bed and forced to go cold turkey.
    • By contrast, Frank is able to stay sober for periods of time but he is never "on the wagon". He always plans to start drinking again and his sobriety is just part of some scheme he is hatching.
  • Defective Detective Jimmy McNulty from The Wire spends the first 3 seasons as a self-destructive Functional Addict whose alcoholism and destructive behaviors are both gradually spiraling out of control. At the very end of the 3rd season, he wises up by reaching out to Beadie, a potential long-term Love Interest, accepts a demotion from Homicide to a less stressful position as a beat cop, and gives up drinking. He then spends all of season 4 sober even when others are drinking around him, enjoys a loving and harmonious relationship with Beadie, and even shows how a low-level cop can be a Reasonable Authority Figure in the neighborhood. In season 5, however, attempting to investigate the biggest and most ruthless drug dealer in Baltimore sends McNulty off the wagon, and he seems intent on making up for lost time because he starts drinking and womanizing harder than ever and soon pushes the self-destructive behavior further than he ever had before...
  • In one episode of 30 Rock, Liz accidentally gets her ex-boyfriend Floyd, who is a recovering alcoholic, drunk when the fish she ordered was served with a sauce made from Jack Daniels. The alcohol was supposed to cook out, but since Floyd ordered the sauce on the side, it wasn't cooked.
  • In American Horror Story: Asylum, Sister Jude during Nor'easter as a result of The Devil's manipulations.
  • Frontier Circus: In "The Depths of Fear", Casey hires a washed-up drunk lion tamer as a wagon driver on the understanding that he sobers up. After he is humiliated by the circus's current lion tamer, he finds a bottle in Casey's wagon and gets drunk.
  • Bones: Booth's gambling addiction is triggered by very bad experiences. Ironically what causes him to apparently fall off the wagon wasn't the recent horrible experiences of getting shot, having his close friend Sweets die in his arms, and spending months in prison but the happy news that learning he's going to be a father again (very happy experiences can be triggers too). Sadly everyone thinks he's fine (they all saw him turn down a big bet to arrest a suspect on camera).
  • Sisters. Second-oldest sister Teddy was a recovering alcoholic who struggled with her sobriety at key points during the show—her ex marrying her sister, her miscarriage, her daughter's rape. But the straw that broke the camel's back was when her new husband was killed only months after their wedding. Not until she almost kills her nephew while driving drunk does she get her act together and she never drinks again in the series run.
  • Midsomer Murders:
    • In "The Creeper", the first Victim of the Week is an alcoholic writer (played by Rik Mayall) who falls off the wagon when his asshole publisher (and former friend) rejects his book idea, and then hands him a bottle of 65-year-old brandy. He gets drunk, and several humiliations follow, ending in his murder.
    • In "Night of the Stag", the fanatical leader of the local Dry Crusaders is a recovering alcoholic. He falls off the wagon hard when the local Hillbilly Moonshiner leaves him a jar of the local hooch: an exceptionally powerful brew known as 'the Beast'.
  • After 55 years without drinking blood, this happens to Hal in Series 4 of Being Human (UK), causing him to have to be nailed to it.
  • Arrow:
    • Quentin Lance spent Season 2 and most of Season 3 sober. However after learning that his daughter Sara was dead, and his other daughter Laurel hid this from him for a time (both out of worry over his heart issues and this trope) he starts drinking again. Laurel calls him on this in the Season 3 finale, and when he protests that its "just two drinks a day", she fires back that they are both alcoholics and there is no such thing as "just two drinks". He starts drinking again in Season 5, believing that after being fired from his job, Laurel being murdered (specifically to punish him no less), and his girlfriend breaking up with him, he has no reason not to.
    Quentin: Alcoholics need a reason not to drink. And I'm fresh out.
    • Notably averted with Laurel who remains committed to her sobriety until her death, even when her father (bitter over what she didn't tell him) quite literally shoves a bottle of liquor into her hands. At one point after being in a car crash, she even comments that she can't take any pain medication.
  • Chicago Hope's Jack McNeil was a gambling addict who frequently relapsed when stressed out.
  • In This Country, this turns out to be the reason why the vicar's son Jacob has had to leave the big city behind for a while and spend some time back in their remote little village. This attempt to kick the booze and drugs fails spectacularly:
    Kurtan: I had no idea! I just thought he liked to party!
  • Averted on Without a Trace. Despite one agent being a recovering alcoholic and another developing a painkiller addiction after being shot, neither is ever seen struggling with the temptation to break their sobriety, even though the alcoholic admits "Not a day goes by that I'm not dying for a drink."
    • Played straight with some of the victims, who are indeed found to have returned to drinking/drug use/gambling.
  • In the Lifetime movie A House Of Secrets And Lies, a woman catches her sex-addict husband with another woman again, just days after he'd finally agreed to seek counseling. Though in all likelihood, he was never serious about getting help in the first place.
  • All My Children's Hayley Vaughn becomes an alcoholic and slips up several times before finally remaining sober. Her sister Skye has a similar pattern.
  • General Hospital's AJ Quartermaine had this happen so often that he eventually gave up and resigned himself to being a Functional Addict.
  • Midnight Caller: Jack almost relapses into smoking in "Based on a True Story." He puts a cigarette in his mouth and raises the lighter, pauses for a moment, then mutters "Nah," and spits the cigarette out.
  • One Day at a Time (2017), Schneider in season three.
  • Jim Lahey from Trailer Park Boys is known to be an alcoholic and is mocked for it by most of the cast. He claims to have quit in Season 5, but Ray sees through the facade of him drinking water when in reality, it was vodka. He claims that the alcohol made him think clearly, and it does... for a while. He finally gets sober in the sixth season but falls off once more upon being reinstated as a police officer, which extends into the next season.
  • 7 Yüz: Mete downs a glass of rakı at the end of "Büyük Günahlar", ending his meticulously-maintained sobriety in the face of the episode's events.
  • Desperate Housewives: Bree Van de Kamp's drinking problem escalated and was resolved in season two, but she did have two notable instances of this trope:
    • Season Five: It was revealed in flashbacks that she had fallen off the wagon during the time jump some time after her husband went to prison and her surrogate son was taken away. She began "having a glass of wine now and then" in private until it escalated enough for her work to suffer, leading Katherine to take notice and intervene.
    • Season Eight: After covering up the murder of Gabrielle's abusive stepfather, the core group turns on Bree, leaving her isolated and depressed. She falls off the wagon pretty hard, eventually attempting suicide. She is just barely stopped by Renee, but keeps drinking and falls into a spiral of one-night stands, mostly played for laughs. Her friends attempt an intervention to no avail, and she finally kicks the habit after her ex rescues her from a close call with an aggressive bar patron.
  • Dallas: Most everyone in the Ewings' orbit was a heavy drinker, but Sue Ellen Ewing clocked the most time hopping on and off the wagon. She quit in season three after the "Who Shot JR" shenanigans but fell off in season six after finding JR cheating on her. This relapse culminated in getting Lucy's boyfriend killed and Sue Ellen herself nearly dying in a fire, which got her sober again for about a year and a half until she fell off once again near the end of season eight. This round was particularly unforgiving, in part because it left Sue Ellen drinking on the street and getting robbed, but mostly because by the time she finally did make it to rehab it was season nine, AKA The Dream Season. That meant things were reset in the premiere and she had to kick the habit all over again for season ten.
    • The reboot featured a somewhat deconstructed version, again with Sue Ellen, after JR died.
  • Veronica Mars: A subplot of season one involved Veronica tracking down her runaway alcoholic mom Lianne and getting her into rehab. In the finale, it's revealed she had lied and dropped out of rehab, forfeiting Veronica's college fund as payment, and started drinking again. Veronica kicks Lianne out, but can't stop her from lifting Keith's $50,000 settlement check on the way out the door. "The people you love let you down" indeed.
  • Charite: Doctor Behring willingly jumps off the wagon and takes Laudanum again — to get rid of his withdrawal symptoms (shaky hands, sweat, malaise) and function as a surgeon so he can save the life of a woman in a problematic childbirth.
  • Elementary: One of the series primary focuses is Sherlock Holmes' problems with addiction. He stays sober for the first three seasons but prolonged interaction with a "friend" from his using days leads to him relapsing at the end of the third season. He gets clean during the hiatus and is determined to keep his sobriety intact. In the series finale, he reveals that he relapsed again during a Time Skip where he was in hiding after faking his own death.
  • The West Wing: Leo McGarry is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. While he's firmly on the wagon during the present day of the series, a flashback to the early days of the Bartlet campaign reveals he briefly relapsed after being offered scotch while meeting with some potential campaign donors. As he explains the incident to his lawyer he notes that people are often less sympathetic if someone relapses, especially if it happens more than once.
    Leo: I went to rehab. My friends embraced me when I got out. You relapse, it's not like that. "Get away from me" - that's what it's like.
  • Feel Good: After visiting George in the hospital and seeing the oxycodone she's received for pain, Mae (who's a cocaine addict) takes some. In Season 2 she's seen going into treatment for it again.
  • Hightown: Jackie, who's gotten sober at that point, goes on a drug and alcohol binge along with her dad over Thanksgiving in Season 2. Afterward she's intent on going clean once again.
  • Single Drunk Female:
    • Early on, after Sam is court-ordered to go through AA and has gotten briefly sober she quite soon gets drunk with her friend and runs into a nearby vehicle in her car when driving out, getting her into even more trouble.
    • James also later drinks again after over two years of being sober, to Sam's dismay.

  • Macklemore once wrote a song about his humiliating relapse.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • 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 prescription drug abuse), The British Bulldog (Same thing), Randy Savage (Same thing), Crash Holly (Choked on alcohol-induced vomit), Miss Elizabeth (Drug overdose), Bam Bam Bigelow (Drug overdose), the list goes on and on.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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 bartender and left without drinking anything.
  • Mafalda: The title character asks a friend if he knows the typical story of someone who falls into an old vice he's struggling to get over. Turns out this is because someone she knows is living that drama: Her little brother, Guille, who went back to sucking on his pacifier.

  • 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.
  • In Company, Harry claims to be on the wagon but is seen sneaking a couple sips of bourbon. His wife meanwhile is on a diet but can be seen sneaking a bite of a brownie.

    Video Games 
  • 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!!"

    Visual Novels 
  • In Double Homework, once Henry becomes aware that his cirrhosis of the liver isn’t as imminent as he was previously told, he goes back to his hard-drinking ways.
  • In Melody, Dash’s relapse into drug use is what breaks up their band, freeing Jade and Liam to play in Melody’s band.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Metalocalypse:
    • 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 combination of the drugs and lights cause them to hallucinate and glowing blue snake-like tendrils to shoot out of their orifices (yes, all of them), which so horrifies the straight edge audience that they start taking drugs to cope.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Barney keeps getting on and off the wagon to the point where his current status as an alcoholic changes from episode to episode.
      • There are times when the trope has been subverted. Once 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.
    • Homer once swore off beer to spend more time with Marge. As we all know, this didn't last.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 .
  • Bojack Horseman:
    • The titular Horseman not only has a bad habit of falling off the wagon but getting others to do so as well, such as in the case of accidentally getting Corduroy to fall off the Erotic Asphyxiation wagon. Even in the finale, where he's been sober for a year thanks to being in jail, Bojack's not confident he can stay on the wagon once he gets out.
    • Sarah Lynn got sober with the full intention of falling off the wagon, as she was beginning to build a tolerance for the drugs and alcohol she was addicted to, and hoped being sober long enough would give her the highs she desired once she used again. Bojack convinces her to go on a bender with him, but sadly she ends up overdosing and dying in Bojack's arms as they watched a planetarium presentation.
    Sarah Lynn: [as she goes to cross off the '9 Months Sober' benchmark] Sober so good! [phone rings] Bojack?
    Bojack: Hey Sarah Lynn! You wanna party?
    Sarah Lynn: Oh thank God. Yes. [rips off calendar to reveal liquor, grabs a bottle]

    Real Life 
  • 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.