What Should I Do If My Loved One Relapses?

Last Updated: April 10, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

When a person enters into a life of recovery from drugs or alcohol, there is always a fear or possibility of relapse. Typically, in treatment programs or support groups, relapse prevention is a huge topic of discussion in the hopes that fully preparing someone for this potential threat will help them to avoid it.

While understanding the signs is helpful, being in the experience of a trigger or relapse episode is something most people can’t fully understand until they are faced with it.

Knowing how to help someone who is demonstrating relapse signals begins with understanding what a relapse is, the signs to look for and how to help them.

Are Relapses A Part of Recovery?

Unfortunately, relapse is a very real and highly probably concern for those in recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that people recovering from addiction often have one or more relapses along the way, with about 40-60% of people in recovery experiencing a relapse.

“Relapse rates for addiction resemble those of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.” –NIDA

The harsh reality is that addiction is something someone lives with whether they are actively using or not. Relapse occurs when an addict goes back to drugs or alcohol after being sober for a period of time.

The unfortunate truth about relapse is usually a person will end up exactly where they left off with drugs or alcohol and in most cases, will be worse off than when they started their recovery.

The reason being is when someone relapses, the shame and guilt they experience make them feel like they have failed and many will question what the point is if they have already “fallen off the wagon.” This can be a very detrimental state of mind, which is why so many people perpetuate a relapse.

What Is The Difference Between A Slip And A Relapse?

Understanding the difference between a slip vs. relapse is very important as you support someone in their recovery.

A slip is usually a very quick encounter with the substance they are recovering from. Usually, this occurs when someone tries to tell themselves they can moderate or control use as they give in to the voice in their head telling them they’ve figured it out.

A slip will cause a person in recovery to quickly understand they made the wrong decision and immediately return to their sobriety. Not to mention, a slip will also most likely strengthen a person’s decision and willpower to stay sober after that.

On the other hand, a slip can easily turn into a full-blown relapse. A relapse means that someone who was in recovery for any amount of time goes back abusing substances and puts their recovery in danger. Relapse simply means they continue using drugs or alcohol for an extended period of time.

What Are The Signs Of A Drug Relapse?

The start of a slip or relapse often begins with several warning signs. Some of the most common concerns for a potential relapse include:

  • Extreme cravings without being able to distract or disengage.
  • Having thoughts that you can moderate or use without being addicted.
  • Romanticizing about drinking or using in a way that glamorizes the substance.
  • Withdrawing or isolating yourself.
  • Putting yourself in environments that may trigger you.
  • Changes in behavior or stressful conditions.
  • Discontinuing support groups or social relationships that foster your recovery.
  • A slip that can cause withdrawal symptoms.
  • Lack of interest or loss of interest in hobbies or staying active.

How Can You Help Someone That Has Relapsed?

It’s hard to understand how to deal with a relapsing alcoholic or addict. For anyone who is watching a loved one destroy their sobriety or life, it can be devastating and cause feelings of extreme helplessness.

Here are some helpful pointers to understand:

  • Anyone who relapses needs to understand they can always return to recovery.
  • The faster someone can stop using once they have relapsed, the better their chances are for minimizing any damage or reversing their hard work.
  • If a loved one relapses, stay vigilant about encouraging them to get back into treatment or seek help as soon as possible.
  • Avoid shaming or making them feel worse about their decisions.
  • Be compassionate to a person who is actively relapsing, as it’s likely that they already feel horrible about themselves.
  • Realize you cannot do the work or make decisions for someone. At the end of the day, a person who has relapsed must come to terms with getting help on his or her own.

Getting Help

If you or someone you love is showing signs that relapse could be a concern or if they have already relapsed, do not wait until it’s too late to take action. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help treat and prevent relapse. Our professionals are highly trained and can help get you or your loved one back on the path of recovery.


Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA, <https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment>, December 2012