What To Do When Relapse Happens January 16th, 2017 The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake
Blog & News What To Do When Relapse Happens

What To Do When Relapse Happens

how to help a loved one relapse

After a person has decided to get sober from drugs or alcohol, the possibility of relapse is always a looming fear. Usually, treatment programs or support groups address relapse as a prevention model in hopes of preparing someone for what to expect when it comes to relapsing.

Most people won’t be able to fully understand the experience of a relapse or a triggering situation until they are faced with it.

Knowing how to help someone who is showing signs of a relapse starts with understanding what a relapse is, the difference between a slip-up and a relapse, and the signs to look for as you learn how to help them.

Is Relapse Part of Recovery?

Unfortunately, the probability of relapse in recovery is high. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that people recovering from addiction often have one or more relapses along the way, noting that about 40-60% of people will relapse. Relapse rates for addiction are similar to those of other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.

The unsettling reality is that addiction is a lifelong condition a person lives with whether they are actively using or not. Relapse happens when a recovered addict returns to alcohol or drugs after a period of sobriety.

The harsh truth about relapse is that when a person goes back to their substance of choice, they usually revert to exactly how they were when they started their recovery and in most cases, people may end up even worse.

When a person relapses, they experience extreme shame and guilt for what feels like a complete failure to their recovery. This can cause someone to give up and think they have already messed everything up so why stop now. This can be a deadly mindset, which is why people find it harder to return to sobriety after a relapse.

What Is The Difference Between A Slip And A Relapse?

There is quite a difference between a slip vs. relapse and it’s important to know how they differ from one another.

A slip is characterized by a very fast and brief return to a substance a person has been recovering from. Someone who has slipped has usually done so because they couldn’t manage their internal dialogue about using and it tricked them into thinking they could moderate.

A slip in recovery will actually cause a person to remember why they started and quickly realize they made the wrong decision. Often a slip can lead to a strengthened determination to stay sober afterward because they have been reminded of a life they no longer wish to live.

However, a slip can also turn into a full-blown relapse episode. This happens when a person in recovery starts to abuse substances again, forgoing their recovery completely. Quite simply, relapsing means they continue to use alcohol or drugs for an extended length of time regardless of the consequences.

What Are The Signs Of A Drug Relapse?

The onset of a slip or relapse usually begins with various warning signs. Some of the most common concerns for a potential relapse include:

  • Risky cravings.
  • Thoughts about moderating or thinking they can use without becoming addicted.
  • Romanticizing about drinking or using in a way that glamorizes the substance.
  • Withdrawing or isolating.
  • Putting yourself in triggering environments.
  • Stressful conditions or changes in behavior.
  • When someone stops going to support groups or engaging in social relationships that foster recovery.
  • Displaying withdrawal symptoms.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or remaining active.

How Can You Help Someone That Has Relapsed?

If you are witnessing a loved one begin to show signs of relapse, it can be overwhelming hard to know what to do for a relapsing alcoholic or addict.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Your loved one can always return to recovery and seek help.
  • The sooner someone can stop using once they have relapsed, the better their chances are for getting back on track and minimizing the relapse.
  • Always stay offer encouragement to someone who has relapsed. Urge them to go back into treatment or seek help as soon as possible.
  • Stay away from shaming or making them feel guilty or bad about their decisions. It is very likely they already feel horrible about themselves.
  • Offer compassion to a person who is actively relapsing and realize they most likely don’t feel good about their choices.
  • Understand that at the end of the day they must be the one who gets help after a relapse. You can’t do the work or make the decision for them.

Getting Help

If you or a loved one has relapsed or is displaying some of the warning signs, do not hesitate to take steps to get them help. Contact us today to understand your options for treating or preventing relapse. Our trained professionals are here to help get you or your loved one back on track.


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

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.