How to Help a Loved One After an Addiction Relapse

Dealing with relapse in addiction is a reality for most individuals who are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

We’re always hoping our loved ones can simply overcome addiction without serious long-term struggles. However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, states that about 40-60% of individuals in recovery from addiction are affected by relapse.

Even though it’s disappointing and frustrating for us to witness a loved one experience relapse, it is more difficult for them to deal with it alone.

You can help. Here a few ways to help a loved one after an addiction relapse.

What is Relapse?

Understanding what your loved one is dealing with helps you know how to help.

Relapse is a recurrence of symptoms after improvement. In terms of addiction, relapse refers to using drugs or alcohol after a period of successfully avoiding those substances.

Is Relapse Normal?

While we hate seeing it happen, relapse is a normal part of recovery.

Addiction is a chronic disease. Chronic diseases reoccur and often change over time.

However, if one treatment stops working to relieve the symptoms of a disease, it is not a failure. It’s a sign the treatment needs adjusting for continued success.

The same is true of addiction. A “slip” or a relapse is not a sign your loved one is beyond hope and their treatment failed.

They need to refocus, adjust, and continue with recovery.

Your support helps them move past the act of relapse and get back on track.

Recognize What’s Happening

Relapse happens in several stages. Being vigilant with your loved ones helps you know when or how to step in–if necessary–to help their recovery continue.

Relapsing Emotionally

Notice if your loved one seems more anxious than usual, defensive, or experiences drastic mood swings. Symptoms of potential relapse also include abnormal sleep patterns or withdrawing from family and friends.

While not actively using drugs or alcohol, when thoughts of using creep in, changes in behavior are an emotional sign your loved one is in danger of relapse.

Relapsing Mentally

In this stage, your loved one talks fondly of and reminisces about old habits or relationships. They might reconnect with old friends from their former life during substance abuse.

Your loved one feels better about life now that they are clean. They rationalize spending time with old friends or in old hangouts because they are stronger now.

If you notice these behaviors, the next stage of relapse is a serious concern.

Relapsing Physically

This is what we think of most often when we hear the word “relapse”.

Your loved one is feeling uncomfortable and anxious (emotional). They long for old ways of dulling pain or feeling good (mental).

Now those thoughts win and your loved one relapses on alcohol or drugs.

If your loved one physically relapses, your help is needed right away.

But understand this: while they need your support, they might not go quietly.

Know How to Help

Knowing how to help is difficult. But there is no need to do it alone.

Third-Party Help

When you first approach your loved one, they might not admit they have gone back to their addiction. They might also resist your attempts to talk or offer help.

In this case, sometimes third-party help is the most effective way to help your loved one move past a relapse.

Work with an interventionist to create a safe environment for both you and your loved one to approach the issue and encourage treatment.

Don’t Enable

This is one of the hardest things to see as “help” for your loved one.

Sometimes we have to change our behavior to help them change their behavior.

Remove your loved one’s dependency on you until they see no other option but to seek treatment. This includes refusing money, a place to stay, and transportation.

Not enabling also includes withholding time, relationships, and calling the police if that is what it takes to get through to your loved one.

Your message is clear: I will not provide for you until you get help for your addiction.

It’s Not Your Fault

We blame ourselves when relapse happens.

  • Did I do enough for them?
  • Did I provide enough support?
  • Did I say something to make them drink again?

Nothing you said or did triggered their relapse.

Your loved one might put the blame on you, too.

  • You made me drink.
  • You didn’t give me what I asked for.
  • You don’t love me enough.

These kinds of statements are their way of placing blame elsewhere.

But it’s not your fault if your loved one is relapsing on drugs or alcohol.

Addicts have the disease. You did not cause it. You cannot fight it for them. You cannot keep them sober.

Don’t accept blame from yourself or your loved one.

Don’t Lose Hope

Whether it’s the first relapse or one of many, don’t lose hope for your loved one’s recovery.

Even if it’s the very last thing you desire to give, they need your belief in them. They need love. They need encouragement.

Relapse is not a sign of permanent failure. But your loved one might feel like it is. You might feel that way, too.

Find support for yourself, whether this is through family and friends, your own therapist, or a support group with friends and family of other addicts.

Recovery Continues Through Addiction Relapse

In the immediate moments of your loved one’s addiction relapse, it is hard to see it as a normal part of recovery. But your support and knowing what to do after a relapse is what they need most.

Helping your loved one through this process is a difficult and draining process. Reach out to experts who know how to help.

Our treatment center is well-equipped to handle almost any drug or alcohol addiction treatment.

Addiction is sometimes triggered by an underlying mental health disorder. We treat addiction and mental health issues simultaneously for the best chance at successful recovery.

Contact us for a free consultation. Let us help you know what to do when you relapse or when a loved one needs help.


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