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What To Do If Your Loved One Relapses

By Corinna Underwood
Medically Reviewed by Arpan Parikh, MD, MBA on January 27, 2021
Seeing your loved one going through a relapse after rehab can be difficult. But there are things you can do to help them through it.

Unfortunately, even after rehabilitation, your loved one may at some point have a relapse.

According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse 40-69% of people recovering from substance use disorders relapse. If your loved one has relapsed they may be experiencing feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. They may also feel that they are not strong enough to battle their addiction. Although these feelings are often a normal part of recovery from substance use disorder, they can create challenges.

What Causes a Relapse?

Understanding the triggers for relapse can help you prepare for them and help your loved one get back on the road to recovery. Triggers may include:

  • Stress: Stress is a common cause of relapse. Your loved one may use their addiction as an unhealthy way to deal with stressful situations.
  • Negative thoughts or emotions: Negative feelings can trigger a relapse because your loved one may revert to substance misuse as a means of escaping them. Emotions such as guilt, self-doubt, anger, disappointment, and boredom can arise daily and can be a challenge to recovery.
  • People and places: People and places, and even things can relapse to substance use. For example, if your loved one's addiction is alcohol, certain drinking buddies, bars or activities can trigger a relapse.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Unrealistic expectations are another common trigger for relapse. Some days are going to be harder than others for your loved one and unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment. Recovery is an ongoing process that they are learning to manage. It can be difficult for them to remain patient and take their recovery one step at a time.

How to Help Your Loved One After a Relapse

If your loved one has gone through a relapse, don't panic. It's important that you understand what is going on so that you can be supportive.

"You have to be supportive. Relapse as bad as it is, it is part of the process and happens to most people," says Dr.Giuseppe Aragona, General Practitioner and Medical Advisor at Prescription Doctor M.D. "You have to make sure that what they are fighting for, is worth more than the addiction. Surround them, let them know what they have to support them. When people disown family members for addiction is when they are more likely to relapse. Be understanding and a part of their recovery. They will thank you for it." 

If your loved one is struggling with an addiction, the most important thing you can do is communicate with them. Although the recovery journey has its ups and downs, let them know you are a safe space to communicate their genuine feelings.

Treatment & Resources: General Information