Help! My Loved One Relapsed

A relapse is a common part of addiction recovery. Addiction treatment has many layers and addiction treatment looks different for everyone. A relapse is not a failure, its a learning tool.

How to Help Someone You Love Navigate Relapse


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While you may have high hopes that once your loved one completes an addiction treatment program, it will cure them from addiction forever, unfortunately, that is not always the case. Research shows that about 85% of individuals return to drug and alcohol use after completing an addiction treatment program. Watching someone working so hard at recovery relapse can be disheartening. However, relapse does not equal failure; relapse is a part of early recovery and allows the individual to grow and continuously work on their recovery. The best thing you can do as someone with a substance use disorder is to navigate the upset of relapse to support them.

What does a Relapse look like?

Not sure if your loved one is using drugs or alcohol again? Look for warning signs that may be pushing them in that direction. Such as social pressure, drug-related stimuli creating cravings, stress, and a combination of all of those things at once. Triggers can be as minute as a scent that reminds you of your past substance use, going to a restaurant that serves alcohol, an alarm not going off, and causing the individual to be late to work. In early recovery, it can be challenging for individuals to overcome these triggers and hone in on the healthy coping mechanisms they learned during addiction treatment. In the past, their familiar crutch was alcohol and drugs, which felt comfortable. Similar to recovery, relapse also looks different for everyone. For some, it’s one drink, and for others, it’s a three-month bender, but regardless of how the individual breaks their sobriety, relapse is considered any break in sobriety.

How to Help Someone Who Relapses

Since relapse rates for individuals in recovery are high, it helps if you are prepared to deal with it in the event your loved one is amongst the 2/3 of individuals that have received treatment for their substance use disorder and relapse. The number may seem high. However, a relapse can happen to anyone regardless of how long they have been in recovery. It’s important not to apply shame toward the individual because it makes choosing to step away from the addiction much harder.

Self-Care for Success

Before assisting your loved one in dealing with their relapse, ensure you are in the right mind frame. If you’re feeling overly emotional, regretful, disappointed, or angry, you won’t be able to provide your loved one with the help they need to get back on the road to recovery. These feelings are all normal; however, feeling any of those feelings and trying to comfort or direct someone else will be a real challenge. Good self-care can consist of exercise, yoga, journaling, taking a hot bath, walking along the beach or outside, or even taking some time to meditate as long as you take the initiative to release some of the pent-up feelings and stress surrounding your loved one’s relapse, you’ll be better equipped to support them with getting back on track.

Keep Communication Open

If you think your loved one is headed down the path back to addiction, ask them if they are struggling with any triggers and offer to support them as they overcome this challenging time. Tread lightly; try not to come off accusatory because if someone is on the verge of a relapse, this conversation can send them into addiction. Try to use more open-ended questions to allow them to elaborate and listen intently to their responses. In the previous paragraph, we discussed the feelings you might be having, anger, resentment, regret, and disappointment. It’s important to remember you’re not the only one with those feelings, the individual that relapsed also has those feelings. They are most likely engaging in a lot of internal negative self-talk. They feel like they’ve failed recovery, failed you, and failed themselves. This is why it is important to practice self-care and stay positive in the situation. They will need to hear your words of encouragement to get through this and get back on the path to long-term recovery.

Relapse Treatment Options

A relapse does not mean your loved one will never recover from the grips of addiction. Treat it as an indicator that the individual needs more assistance alongside recovery. Everyone is different; some individuals may benefit from an inpatient residential treatment, while others may opt for an outpatient program. Addiction treatment and recovery are not like buying a watch; it’s not one size fits all. Every individual is different, and that’s why treatment programs should be customized to suit the needs of the individual. Some people may get back on track in no time, and others may regress and take longer to buy in again and get back on board. Some individuals may need to attend 12-step recovery meetings in addition to their outpatient program or participate in sober activities like yoga, earthing, or art therapy. You never know if or when you will require relapse treatment options; however, having an aftercare plan for relapse prevention is extremely helpful.

Sober Activities Time

Being in recovery can be challenging, and avoiding old habits, behaviors, and hangouts is an excellent start to prevent triggering your loved one. Taking a trip to a new place will provide a new experience that you can design to be sober and something to look forward to as planned and discuss after it’s over. Check out your local theaters and see if any local performances are happening or maybe an outdoor movie night in the park. If you have a beach nearby, make some sandwiches and head down for the day; being near the ocean has therapeutic benefits. Doing anything that eliminates the feeling of idleness where your loved one may be tempted to fall back into addiction is good. Addiction is a very isolating disease, so learning how to spend time with people again is also a valuable experience.

Encourage Them to Attend Support Groups

There are a lot of twelve-step programs out there now that can aid your loved one in socializing with sober individuals. Support groups like NA and AA are available everywhere all around the world. Other support groups like Y12SR and SMART Recovery can help your loved one meet individuals in recovery. Meeting people in recovery and engaging in conversations is an essential part of recovery. These meetings are a safe space for the individual in recovery to share, listen and learn. They are also a judgment-free zone; everyone there has the same goal to recover from addiction and no longer be powerless. There are also support group meetings for family members, such as Nar-anon and Al-anon, which are a great resource to find a sense of community amongst other families experiencing addiction challenges. These groups are an essential part of the healing process.

Live and Learn

Remember, recovery is about progress, not perfection; however, pay close attention to the triggers that caused the initial relapse and work towards preventing them this time. Discuss your aftercare plan and discuss coping mechanisms that are better than using drugs or alcohol. Identify the individual’s support system, whether it’s their sponsor, friend from recovery meetings, or best friend. Knowing who your loved one is prepared to lean on if the urge to use arises is essential. Remember, there is no set of directions that come with life, so sometimes we need to take a few steps backward to propel ourselves forward. Try and look at relapse as another chance to improve and provide all the support your loved one needs to return to long-term recovery. Should you require assistance with aftercare planning, relapse prevention, or available treatment options, do not hesitate to call us at (973)-774-7222.

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