How to Help Someone Through a Relapse

You have someone in your life that is in recovery. All you want for your loved one who struggles with addiction is a happy, joyous, and free life. But how do you help someone during a relapse?

While you may have seen this coming for some time, or perhaps you were blindsided by the relapse, please do not lose hope.

A relapse doesn’t mean it’s over!

Table of Contents

The Reality of Relapse in Recovery

You may have noticed your loved one has stopped making progress in their recovery and has not been to a meeting, been in the book, attended therapy, or went along with the relapse prevention plan they set out with to keep themselves on track.

When a loved one relapses, you may see the signs from a mile away. However, this isn’t always the case.

They may have been acting strange, more secretive, and you miss the transparency.

Sometimes, when someone is headed for a relapse, they can withdrawal completely into isolation. Addiction, unfortunately, thrives in isolation.

You’ve researched before “how to help someone avoid a relapse,” but you’re not sure that they are still on track with their recovery in the first place.

You might have thought the words “relapse” would never come to mind. You don’t understand, they were doing so well, or at least you thought they were.

Relapse is a difficult part of recovery, but it can happen to anyone during the process.

The most important thing is that your loved one quickly gets back on track.

In this guide, we will show you how to help your loved one. 

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Why Does Relapse Happen?

Your loved one may have suffered a relapse because they have faced a challenge they feel reluctant or incapable of dealing with.

The challenge may be losing a job or relationship, a bout of depression or anxiety, and many other things that can happen in life.

The lack of progress made in their recovery will make their lives feel uncomfortable, and they might become irritable.

You’ll start to notice old behaviors begin to surface again when they turn to dysfunctional coping mechanisms to deal with their feelings.

Your loved one can bury their internal pain, but it will continue to manifest inside them, creating emotional instability.

People dealing with intense internal pain will start presenting angry or agitate sides of themselves, and they will become unpredictable and seek isolation.

If you would like more information on relapse and how your loved one can prevent it, read the warning signs of relapse.

It is heartbreaking knowing your loved one has relapsed after accomplishing a significant amount of time in sobriety.

Please don’t be hard on them. People who relapse already beat themselves up about it.

Try and help them by talking with them, getting them to a meeting, or reading recovery material with them.

However, please don’t assume they have relapsed, have an open and honest conversation about it first. If a relapse is obvious, that’s another story.

The Most Common Causes of Relapse

  1. Mental Health Issues – Sometimes, people in recovery have undiagnosed and undetected mental health issues that need to be addressed. If these disorders aren’t addressed, it will often lead your loved one to use again. Symptoms will continue to come back even in sobriety, and not having drugs or alcohol to self-medicate can make life unbearable.
  2. People – Most people in recovery understand the importance of protecting themselves from people who would lead them back down the road of using drugs. Can friends who are still using cause a relapse? A relapse can occur after hanging out with friends. If your loved one let their guard down and began to associate with old friends, this could be a major contributor to relapse.
  3. Places – While in active addiction, there are certain places that people associate with using drugs or where drugs are available. Often, part of a relapse prevention plan is to stay away from places that remind your loved one of using. However, if they begin to frequent places associated with their addiction, the chances of relapse can skyrocket. Even so, your loved one may have truly believed they would be able to handle the temptation.
  4. Things – Small things can be big triggers in an individual struggling with an addiction. An example would be finding old drug paraphernalia around the house. Another way that some individuals relapse is because they find things that they associate with using and begin to feel intense cravings. Usually, this is mainly associated with actual paraphernalia.
  5. Relationships – At times, people begin relationships in recovery when they are not ready. Sometimes, people go back to old relationships where they still feel a connection and longing for that person. Whether a new or old relationship, it can lead to a relapse if things go wrong. It’s also possible that your loved one may be seeing someone who uses drugs or alcohol. This very real danger is the reason why many recovery experts warn that romantic relationships should not begin until after the first year of recovery.
  6. Isolation – In active addiction, most people live isolated from others. In recovery, it is encouraged to do the exact opposite. It’s important to connect with others who understand your struggles, who want the best for you, and who genuinely care. The recovery community is full of so many people like this. However, if a person chooses to continue doing what’s comfortable to them and isolate, this could lead to a relapse.
  7. Lack of Self-Care – Recovery isn’t just about stopping the use of drugs and alcohol. It’s actually about learning how to live life healthily and promoting self-care. In recovery, we must put our self-care first before anything else. Recovery is all about self-care. If we take care of ourselves, we can trudge forward in recovery. However, if we don’t, likely recovery burnout will be experienced, and relapse could be just around the corner.
  8. Overconfidence – There’s a point of recovery referred to as “The Pink Cloud,” which can be a very dangerous spot to be in if your loved one is unchecked. Your loved one may have felt overconfidence in their recovery like nothing could stop them, and they have everything figured out. Well, there is nothing that can humble you faster than a relapse in recovery.
  9. Feelings and Emotions – In recovery, we must learn and build emotional intelligence. We are left at the mercy of waxing and waning emotions and moods if we do not. We must gain control over our moods and emotions, not allowing them to rule over us. Inactive addiction, we are slaves to our feelings and emotions. Mostly everything done in active addiction caters to how we “feel” at the moment. If little to no internal work has been done to build up emotional intelligence, it’s not hard to see how that could lead to a relapse.

Should I Confront My Loved One About Their Relapse?

When you feel your loved one has relapsed, you need to assess the situation and determine how to address it. Your loved one might feel extremely guilty, remorseful, and embarrassed about relapsing.

Because of the stigma surrounding addiction, many individuals in recovery feel as if they cannot even speak up about their relapse. Imagine the difference you can make if you come from a place of true compassion and understanding.

Your loved one who relapsed will feel that they disappointed you greatly. The negative feelings associated with relapse can often lead people to hide their drinking or use at all costs.

If they continue to be overwhelmed with embarrassment, it will begin to sap their motivation.

So what can you do?

Firstly, they will need all the love and support they can get from you to gain the strength to get clean and sober once again.

Ask them if they would like to come and talk, make them feel comfortable, remind them you have no room for judgment and are only there to help.

Tell them not to be ashamed, they have only faced a small hindrance, and the only real failure in life is giving up.

Let them know that they don’t have to feel embarrassed—instead, help them increase their efforts and find their triggers, that way, they stand a better chance of leading a happy, healthy life.

They will more than likely feel as if they have taken a step back and found themselves at the starting point all over again—which is true. The only day anybody has in sobriety is today.

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How to Come Alongside and Be of Help to Someone Who Has Relapsed

It will be hard to find the right thing to say when talking to your loved one about their relapse.

If you bring up your reservations, you may fear they will feel disrespected or overlook your concerns.

You will be confused and unsure how to be loving and supportive. If you don’t know how to start, ask for honesty.

When listening to them, remember that having a shoulder to lean on is much more important than giving them advice- you are not there to try and “fix” them; ask if they would like to go to a meeting to surround themselves with people who understand.

The simplicity of your loved one having an encouraging and supportive group of people at a meeting will be an enormous help to their recovery. Before the meeting, please encourage them to talk about their feelings.

People in the meeting are also willing to listen and help without judgment.
If a meeting appears too much to them, offer to call their sponsor or read the book with them.

Several people who have suffered a relapse tend to want to isolate themselves — they don’t want to be in big groups of people. Keep offering help and express your willingness to listen.

If your loved one attends 12-step meetings, encourage them to get in touch with their sponsor and be brutally honest about the relapse. The right sponsor can give so much encouragement and hope.

Since they both have fought the same battle, a sponsor knows how to use language that your loved one would be more equipped to listen to and appreciate.

How Can I Trust My Loved One Who Relapsed?

It’s no secret that trust must be re-earned after a relapse in these situations. However, as we’ve mentioned many times before in this guide, unconditional love and support are what they need most.

All of that being said, they do not need to be trusted or “loved” to the point of being enabled. It is perfectly fine to establish strict boundaries surrounding your relationship.

Some boundaries you can enforce:

  1. Not allowing the use of your vehicle.
  2. There are no rides to anywhere except for work, treatment, recovery programs, or other positive places.
  3. No giving cash or other items of value.
  4. No living in the home until changes take place.

The most important thing you can do for a loved one who has suffered a relapse is unconditional support and love.

Always show compassion and be patient–this isn’t going to be easy because you will have to constantly battle their moodiness and bad attitude as they attempt to get back on the path to recovery.

Please don’t take it too far and unintentionally enable them when you assist. Help them make the right decisions, find good meetings, and check up on them without being pushy — respect their boundaries.

It’s going to be frustrating to watch your loved one struggle – especially if it seems as if their progress has stalled.

Remember to have patience! Recovering from a relapse and returning to their normal self doesn’t happen overnight.

Make it clear that you don’t judge them and only want the best for them.

Seeking Help for Yourself After a Loved One’s Relapse

You can only help others if you help yourself. As much as we’d like to believe that a loved one’s relapse is not going to affect us, it certainly does. Their addiction, in general, can allow unhealthy coping mechanisms and patterns to manifest in our own lives.

Right now, it’s important also to make sure that you are taken care of. You can do so by looking for a local Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meeting.

What do you have to lose? The relationship and trust between you and your loved one may start to change for the positive.

In supportive meetings such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, you learn to effectively support your loved ones as they struggle through a relapse.

Relapse Can Happen to Anyone

Another important note before we close this guide. It’s important to know that relapse can happen to anyone.

Although it might seem surprising that it happened to your loved one, it’s just a simple fact that addiction doesn’t discriminate.

Understandably, you had extremely high hopes for your loved one. However, letting go of the expectation can do wonders in quenching resentments that build up in our hearts.

It can be hard to watch someone you care about go through a difficult time, but you have to understand that they face the very real threat of relapse as a person in recovery.

All the roads they walk have forks, relapse, or recovery. It’s up to them which road they choose, but you should be prepared to travel either.

When you pack for the adventure, be sure to leave your judgment behind – the extra baggage will tire both of you out.

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Our writers are experienced in everything related to addiction, mental health, rehab and recovery.

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