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How to Help an Addict Who Relapsed

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

How to Help an Addict Who Relapsed

When a loved one relapses, it can feel disappointing and scary. But relapse isn’t a failure. It’s a step on the road to recovery. In this guide, we’ll share advice on how to support a loved one who has relapsed.

Understanding the Nature of Addiction Relapse

Addiction is a chronic disease. Like diabetes or heart disease, sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that relapse happens for about 40% to 60% of people in recovery. So, a relapse doesn’t mean your loved one has failed. It means they’re facing a tough part of their recovery process.

The Importance of Offering Support and Guidance

It’s critical to offer support and guidance when a loved one relapses. This can make the difference between returning to recovery or continuing in active addiction. And remember, even if you feel angry or let down, those feelings are completely natural. What matters is how you use them to provide support.

Recognizing the Signs of Relapse

Recognizing the Signs of Relapse Design for Recovery

Understanding how to recognize the signs of addiction relapse is critical. If you can spot the warning signs early, it could be the key to helping your loved one get back on track.

Understanding the Warning Signs

A relapse is not an event but a process that includes emotional, mental, and physical stages. Here are some warning signs that a relapse might be happening:

  • Identifying Behavioral Changes: Behavioral changes can often be the first sign of a possible relapse. If you notice that your loved one is starting to spend time with friends who use drugs or alcohol, it could be a red flag. Another sign is if they start to neglect responsibilities like work or school. These changes might indicate that your family member is slipping back into old patterns associated with drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Recognizing Emotional and Psychological Cues: Emotional changes can also signal a relapse. For example, your loved one may show signs of increased stress or anxiety. You might notice they seem more irritable or have a hard time focusing. They might also feel hopeless or start talking about using substances again. If your family member starts to show these signs, it could mean they are struggling with the temptation to return to substance use.

Physical Symptoms of Relapse

Physical signs of relapse can be a little harder to spot, but they are just as important to understand. Here are a few to watch out for:

  • Understanding the Impact on Health: A relapse can lead to certain health issues. If your loved one is losing weight quickly, has trouble sleeping, or frequently has unexplained injuries, they may be in the midst of a relapse. Alcohol and drug abuse can harm a person’s health in many ways, and these changes might be signs that your loved one needs help.
  • Signs of Substance Abuse Resurfacing: More direct signs of a relapse can include finding drug paraphernalia or smelling strange smells in their living space. You might also notice physical signs like slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or unsteady movements.

In every situation, remember to approach your loved one with care and concern. The goal is to help them get the treatment they need to return to a path of long-term sobriety. It’s not about placing blame or making them feel guilty but about offering support, encouragement, and resources to seek treatment and join support groups. Addiction is a disease, and relapses are a common part of the recovery process, not a sign of failure. It’s crucial that your loved one knows this, too.

Approaching an Addict Who Has Relapsed


If you have noticed the signs of relapse and believe your loved one has started using substances again, it’s important to approach them in a caring, non-judgmental way.

Showing Empathy and Understanding

Here’s how you can create a supportive environment:

  • Creating a Non-Judgmental Environment: A key thing to remember is that relapse isn’t a moral failing. Substance abuse is a chronic disease, and relapse is a part of the recovery process that can occur. When you approach your loved one, it’s important to do so without judgment. Focus on their well-being rather than blaming them for their relapse.
  • Communicating with Compassion and Patience: When talking to your loved one, let them know that you are worried and that you care about their health. Try to use open-ended questions that will encourage them to express their feelings. For example, you could ask, “How have you been feeling lately?” or “What can I do to support you right now?” When they respond, listen carefully to their answers and respond with patience and understanding.

Encouraging Open and Honest Communication

Trust is key when talking about relapse. It’s crucial to establish a strong rapport and trust with your loved one. Here are some tips to foster this environment:

  • Establishing Trust and Rapport: When talking about their relapse, be honest about your feelings. You might say, “I feel worried about you, and I want to help you get back to your recovery journey.” Avoid blaming or criticizing them, as it can damage your relationship and make your loved one feel defensive. Instead, express your concern for their well-being and reinforce your desire to support them.
  • Active Listening Techniques: Show that you understand and empathize with their feelings. Active listening involves responding in a way that shows you understand what they’re going through. This could be as simple as nodding your head, summarizing what they’ve said, or expressing sympathy. This can help your loved one feel heard and validated, which is crucial during this challenging time.

Approaching a loved one who has relapsed can be tough, but with empathy, understanding, and effective communication, you can provide the support they need during this critical part of their recovery journey. Remember, the goal is not to make them feel guilty or to blame them but to let them know that they’re not alone and that help is available.

Creating a Supportive Environment

Creating a Supportive Environment Design for Recovery

Developing a nurturing environment can be the cornerstone in helping your loved one regain control over their life and get back on track toward addiction recovery. Understanding and working on triggers and temptations can significantly reduce the risk of another relapse occurring.

Removing Triggers and Temptations

Creating an environment conducive to recovery involves several key steps:

  • Identifying high-risk situations: Familiarize yourself and help your loved one recognize situations that may lead to a recurrence of substance use disorder. Being aware can help them avoid such scenarios, thus reducing the risk of relapse.
  • Forming a safe, substance-free space: Ensure your home promotes healthy boundaries and is a place where the person in recovery can relax without any substance use temptation, be it drugs or alcohol.

Establishing a Support Network

A strong support network is an invaluable asset to a person battling addiction. It helps the individual feel less alone and more understood.

  • Encouraging the involvement of family members, friends, and support groups: Motivate your loved one to participate in support group meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon. Support groups and networks can provide guidance, helpful advice, and a safe space to talk about their experiences.
  • Promoting participation in addiction treatment programs: These programs offer structure, provide a supportive circle, and can prevent relapse by helping individuals cope with intense feelings and emotions.

Providing Practical Assistance

Practical assistance can be a lifeline for those who are trying to overcome addiction. Here’s how you can offer support:

  • Assisting with addiction treatment options: Spend time researching and recommending rehab facilities that best align with your loved one’s needs and preferences.
  • Aiding in the logistics of entering treatment: This may include arranging transportation, handling insurance paperwork, or even packing a bag for their stay in the facility.
  • Offering transportation and companionship: Be there for your loved one. Drive them to meetings, therapy sessions, or medical appointments. Your presence alone can serve as a powerful encouragement.

Emotional Support and Counseling

Therapy and counseling are important tools in recovery.

Encouraging Therapy and Counseling Sessions

Here’s how you can encourage your loved one to seek professional treatment:

  1. Exploring individual and group therapy options. Therapy can help your loved one understand their addiction and learn new coping skills.
  2. Highlighting the benefits of professional help. A professional can provide new perspectives and tools for handling stress and other triggers.

Nurturing Emotional Well-Being

Taking care of mental health is just as important as addressing physical health.

  1. Promoting self-care activities. Encourage your loved one to spend time doing things they enjoy, get enough sleep, and eat healthy foods.
  2. Encouraging healthy coping mechanisms. This might mean deep breathing, exercise, or writing in a journal.

Relapse Prevention Strategies

Finally, help your loved one learn from the relapse and build a plan to prevent future relapses.

Developing a Relapse Prevention Plan

Here’s how to build a plan:

  1. Identifying triggers and high-risk situations. Knowing what might cause a relapse can help your loved one avoid these situations in the future.
  2. Creating coping strategies and alternative behaviors. This gives them tools to handle triggers without turning to drugs or alcohol.

Educating About Ongoing Recovery Efforts

Recovery is a lifelong journey.

  1. Promoting awareness of relapse as part of the process. Make sure your loved one knows that a relapse isn’t the end of the road. It’s a learning experience.
  2. Encouraging long-term commitment to sobriety. Support your loved one in their ongoing recovery efforts.


Supporting a loved one who has relapsed can be tough. But by understanding the signs of relapse, offering support, and helping with treatment, you can help them get back on the path to recovery. And remember, relapse is just a step on the road. It’s not the end of the journey.

Get Help from Design for Recovery


Are you concerned about a loved one who may be struggling with a relapse? Design for Recovery is here to provide the support and guidance you and your loved one need during this challenging time.

We understand that addiction is a lifelong journey, and relapses can occur. That’s why we offer comprehensive programs tailored to address your loved one’s unique situation and needs. Our dedicated team of professionals can help guide you on how to approach your loved one who has relapsed and provide the necessary resources and treatment options.

Don’t hesitate to reach out. By taking the first step and contacting us, you’re showing your loved one how much you care and helping them get back on track toward long-term recovery. At Design for Recovery, we believe in second chances and are committed to supporting individuals and families on their path to healing and sobriety.

Connect with us today, and let’s navigate this journey together. There’s no better time than now to start a conversation and initiate change. Remember, recovery is possible, and we are here to help.

Frequently Asked Questions

When a relapse occurs, it’s crucial to remain calm and supportive. Remember that relapse is a common part of the recovery process. Encourage your loved one to reach out to their therapist or support circle for help. Reinforce the importance of continuing with their addiction treatment.

Support networks provide a sense of community and understanding, making the person feel less alone during their recovery journey. They offer advice, share experiences, and provide emotional support, which can be immensely helpful during a relapse.

It’s natural to feel disappointed when a loved one relapses. However, remember that recovery is not a straight path, and relapses are often part of the journey. Focus on being supportive and understanding, and consider seeking advice from a therapist or support group to manage your own feelings.

No, the family is not responsible for a loved one’s relapse. Addiction is a complex disease that involves a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. While family and friends can provide support, the individual is ultimately the one in control of their recovery.

Yes, a therapist can be extremely helpful during a relapse. They can provide strategies for managing triggers and cravings, address any underlying psychological issues, and guide the individual in developing a revised recovery plan.

If your loved one has questions about their relapse, encourage them to speak with their therapist or a professional addiction counselor. You can also help them find information and resources about addiction recovery.

If you’re wondering whether your loved one is hiding a relapse, look for signs such as changes in behavior, mood, or physical appearance. It’s crucial to approach them with care and concern, encouraging open conversation without casting blame or inducing guilt.

Feelings of anger and guilt are common after a loved one’s relapse. It’s important to remember that these feelings are normal but must be managed effectively. Consider seeking support from therapy or support groups. They can provide strategies for coping with these emotions and remind you that relapse is a common part of the recovery process.

NIDA. “Treatment and Recovery.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 9 Mar. 2023, Accessed 12 Jul. 2023.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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