What to Do When a Loved One Relapses

Relapses are more common than you probably think. But, with love and support, we can encourage our loved ones to persevere and get stronger. However, if they suffer from addiction, they may be hurting very deeply. Perhaps your loved one is struggling with the guilt and shame associated with a relapse. The grip of addiction can be very hard to escape.

Deciding what to do when a loved one relapses can be very tricky indeed. It is normal to feel disappointed in them, yet this feeling is not as productive as they need support now more than ever.  Let’s discuss how to help a loved one who relapsed; we can start by defining exactly what this term means. For more information about how to prevent relapse, as well as what to do when a loved one relapses, contact our specialists at 385-327-7418. Mistakes do not have to divert your loved one from the road to a better life free of substance abuse.

Relapses are Common in Recovering Addicts 

Most addicts in recovery will slip up at some point and give in to the temptation to use again. This return to substance use is called a relapse. They are quite common and can happen to anyone recovering from addiction. In fact, it is a rare individual who recovers from substance abuse without relapsing at least once. It takes practice and patience to learn how to live without drugs.

For example, someone trying to eat less or exercise more. People can slip up and eat too much, can gain back some of the very weight they are trying to lose. But these are not reasons to give up; also this is when you should simply try again.

It is the same way when one tries to quit substance use. People with addiction might log some recovery time, slip up, and go back to trying many more times before recovery sticks. If a relapse happens, the person should reach out for help and get back into treatment as quickly as possible. If you are asking yourself how to help a loved one who relapsed, then the main answer is they will need both encouragement and inspiration for this new try at sobriety.  

Helping Someone Who is About to Relapse: Thoughts Matter

Signs of a relapse first appear in a person’s thoughts. Being aware of our thoughts is extremely important, especially in early recovery. Where we focus our thoughts is where our minds eventually try to lead us, and for an addict, this often means a mental relapse. Substance use was once their main coping mechanism, and when under stress an addict will crave the relief that substances used to provide. Letting these thoughts take hold is a sure path back to using again. 

When someone enters a recovery program, they may think, “I never want to think about drugs again.” This conviction can waver when they discover that they still have cravings. Often people feel they are doing something wrong and that they have let themselves and their loved ones down. More often than you think, people simply don’t voice their thoughts about using, because they are so embarrassed by these thoughts. Call us today if you need help with someone you think is about to relapse. Our team of specialists is here to help you, and your loved one, start a healthier journey.

Physical Relapses

Physical relapse is the actual act of starting to use again.  It can be broken down into two phases. The “lapse” is the initial drug use or drink; the “relapse” is the return to uncontrolled substance use. Once again, thoughts play an important role. The lapse does not have to turn into a relapse, but it becomes a preoccupation for the addict and from there can quickly escalate into full-blown substance abuse.

Stages of Relapses

Relapse is more of a process than an event. It is broken down into three stages:

  1. Emotional Relapse –The individual starts to experience negative emotional responses. These are usually anger, moodiness, and anxious feelings. Many times, their eating and sleeping habits will grow erratic. The addict’s desire for recovery often weakens due to a lack of using their support systems. Their emotions and behaviors are setting them up for relapse down the road. People are not consciously thinking about using during this stage. Denial is a big part of emotional relapse.
  2. Mental Relapse-This is often an internal struggle for the person in recovery. A part of the addict wants to remain on the road to long-term sobriety, but the other part wants to return to using. (The latter part may never disappear completely, which is why addiction is often described as a chronic condition). During the mental relapse phase, direct thoughts about using arise. This is the point where it is very difficult to stop the process.
  3. Physical Relapse-Occurs when a person consumes substances again, breaking their sobriety. Using just one time can result in intense cravings to continue to use. The risk of returning to consistent drug use is at its highest point. Physical relapses tend to happen whenever the opportunity arises.

Triggers of Relapses 

Since recovery is an ongoing process rather than a cure to addiction, the potential for relapse is always there. You can learn the warning signs that can help to avoid it. Friends and family can be educated on how to help someone who is about to relapse. The top five triggers of relapse are:

  • Stress
  • People or places connected to the addictive behavior
  • Negative or difficult emotions
  • Seeing the object of addiction
  • Times of celebration 

Signs of Relapses

  • Isolation
  • Bottling up emotions
  • Not going to meetings
  • Going to meetings, but not sharing or participating
  • Focusing on other people’s problems, or how others affect them
  • Poor self-care (poor health, eating habits, not sleeping well)
  • Reflecting only on their past
  • Minimizing the consequences of using
  • Bargaining
  • Lying
  • Thinking of ways to control the use

Relapse Prevention 

Relapse prevention is why most people go to treatment in the first place. By the time most people seek help, they have already tried to quit on their own and are looking for a better solution.

It is important to understand that relapse happens gradually. Most often, it begins many weeks before an individual picks up a drink or drug. The main goal of recovery treatment is to help individuals recognize early warning signs of relapse. Recovery programs can help develop coping skills to prevent relapses. The chances of success are the greatest when people learn these skills early in their recovery.

Relapses occur most often when the person thinks they will not get caught. Moreover, part of relapse prevention involves rehearsing these situations in advance to develop healthy exit strategies. Sometimes people do not understand relapse prevention. Quite often, they think it involves “just saying no” to an opportunity for substance use. However, that is the final and most difficult stage to stop. This is usually why people relapse. People need necessary coping skills, otherwise, they are more likely to return to drugs or alcohol. Have you or someone you know relapsed? Then call us today. Our experts will help you find the right path of treatment for you and your needs.

When Someone Relapses: Change Your Thinking

Cognitive therapy is one of the main tools for changing people’s negative thinking and developing healthy coping skills. Changing your way of thinking is effective in relapse prevention.

Here is a list of the types of negative thinking that are obstacles to recovery.

  1. My problem is because of other people.
  2. I do not think I can handle life without using it.
  3. Maybe I can just use it occasionally.
  4. Life will not be fun without using it.
  5. I’m worried I will turn into someone I do not like.
  6. It’s impossible to make all the necessary changes.
  7. I don’t want to give up my friends.
  8. I can’t abandon my family.
  9. Recovery is too much work.
  10. My cravings will be overwhelming.
  11. I will not be able to resist them.
  12. If I stop, I will only start up again.
  13. I have never finished anything.
  14. No one will know if I relapse.
  15. I am worried I am so damaged by my addiction that I will not be able to recover.

Positive Thinking is Important

Negative thinking, usually in all-or-nothing terms, is at the root of the addiction. When someone is negative and self-labeling, these thoughts can lead to anxiety, resentment, stress, and depression, which in turn often leads to relapse. Positive thinking along with mind-body relaxation can help break old habits. This will bring about new healthier ways of thinking. Need additional support? Then call us today. Our professionals are standing by, and they are ready to take your call. Get the help that you need for your situation today.

When Someone Relapses: Support Recovery

It is important when family and friends show their care and support. This can help people stick with recovery even when things get tough, and is always your best bet in terms of what to do when a loved one relapses. For instance, there are many ways of showing your support for someone’s recovery.

  • Find them treatment services and information.
  • Offer rides to treatment and support groups.
  • Remind them to take any medicine their doctor gives them.
  • Help them find a place to live.
  • Help them get a job.
  • Find things to do that will take their mind off drugs.
  • Help them avoid places and people that might tempt them to use drugs again.
  • Talk with them about their feelings and drug cravings.
  • Be understanding if they relapse and help them get back into recovery quickly.

Make Life Fun Again

One of the important things we can do is to help addicts redefine fun. For most addicts under stress, they tend to glamorize their past use and think about it longingly. They begin to think that recovery is hard work and addiction was fun. They begin to disqualify the positives they have gained through recovery. Somehow, they need to realize that recovery is hard work, but addiction is even harder. If addiction were so easy, people would not want to quit.

When addicts continue to refer to their using days as “fun,” they downplay the negative consequences of addiction. Being supportive and finding new, healthy ways to have fun can be one of the best ways to help someone in recovery. For example, here are some topics that cover a wide range of fun things to do in recovery:

  • Entertainment
  • Sports and Fitness
  • Adventure
  • Relationships
  • Learning and Self-Improvement

Setbacks Can Be Positive

How a person deals with setbacks plays a major role in recovery. A setback is anything that moves an individual closer to relapse. For example, some setbacks are not setting healthy boundaries, not asking for help, not avoiding high-risk situations, and not practicing self-care. A setback does not have to end in relapse.

Most often, individuals tend to see setbacks as failures because they are unusually hard on themselves. Setbacks are a normal part of progress. Above all, they are not failures. They are caused by inadequate coping skills or not planning ahead. These issues can be fixed. Good coping skills, adequate planning, and support of family and friends can help someone to acquire new, positive ways of thinking.

Are you stressed about a couple of setbacks? Then do not hesitate. Call us today. Relapses are common, but we will help make sure you get on or stay on the path to sobriety.

A Better Life Can Happen

Addicts do not achieve recovery by just not using. Recovery involves creating a new life in which it is easier not to use it. If people do not change their lives, then all the factors that contributed to their addiction will still be there. In addition, individuals often begin recovery by hoping to get back their old life minus the drugs, but recovery is more complicated than that.

If people do not practice sufficient self-care, eventually they will start to feel uncomfortable in their own skin and look for ways to escape. The goal of treatment is to help individuals see the early warning signs of relapse. They need to develop good coping skills to prevent relapses early when the chances of success are greatest. Most relapses can be explained in terms of a few basic rules. For instance:

  • Change your life
  • Be completely honest
  • Ask for help
  • Practice self-care
  • Do not bend the rules

Do you need help avoiding a relapse? Are you worried about someone you love relapsing? Then call us today. Our judgment-free policy will ensure that you get nothing but support and care. Do not hesitate. Call today, and we can work towards a journey to sobriety together.

Written by: Susan Way

What to Do When a Loved One Relapses


  1.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/
  2. https://easyread.drugabuse.gov/content/what-relapse
  3. https://easyread.drugabuse.gov/content/how-can-friends-and-family-help