Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a struggle that impacts millions of people and families all over the world.  A 2017 National Survey on Health and Drug Use indicated that approximately 21.5 million people living in the United States above the age of 12 suffered from a substance use disorder. This means one in every 12 Americans has struggled with drug or alcohol overuse. This also means that 1 in every 12 families has struggled with watching a loved one fight addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40-60% of those who recover from substance abuse disorders relapse within one year after treatment.

While this may feel discouraging, it’s important to remember that addiction is a treatable disease. You can help support your loved one by understanding that relapsing does not mean your loved one has failed. It simply means help is necessary. There are many options available including support groups, rehab and treatment facilities. Your loved one needs your support more now than ever.

Common Causes for Relapsing


Stress is one of the key triggers for relapse. You may not even realize your loved one is experiencing stress – from both negative and positive situations. From coping with a financial burden to receiving a promotion at work, both positive and negative changes can create stress. This stress makes those in recovery more vulnerable to relapsing.

Although it is impossible to completely eliminate stress, the right tools can effectively help people cope with stress. While in the early stages of recovery, your loved one can speak with a counselor, therapist or sponsor, receive support from family and close friends, and attend meetings. If at all possible, your loved one should not make any major changes during this initial 12 month timeframe.


We all experience self-pity. However, if your loved one is obsessing over these types of feelings, his focus will be on a past that might include bad choices and everything they have done wrong. Sometimes the light of sobriety shines a little too brightly on perceived flaws or a feeling of hopelessness. These thoughts are dangerous because they provide justification for having a drink or using drugs. Negative thoughts regarding the past must be left behind for your loved one to concentrate on the future.


Confidence is incredibly important when your loved one starts recovering. The danger is the nuanced difference between self-confidence and overconfidence. If your loved one believes they have complete control of the situation,  she may also think using a little bit again will not cause any issues. If your loved one’s self-image is distorted, the result can be irrational thoughts and overconfidence.

Unrealistic Expectations

Recovering from substance use requires a lot of hard work as well as a combination of humility and self-esteem. In truth, not every day will be sunshine and roses. For many individuals (and their families) there is a belief that all problems will be solved when the drug use or drinking stops.

The reality is recovery is a lifetime process and there is no cure for addiction; it can be managed but never cured. Rehab provides the tools that are the foundation for a healthy and balanced life, but it takes dedicated effort each day.


Substance use is essentially an invitation to a lot of lies. In order to find and use drugs or abuse alcohol, the chances are good your loved one needed to lie. Lying is a difficult habit to break, especially if the individual has been consistently lying for numerous years.

The only way to ensure recovering is an option is by admitting to past mistakes, and taking full responsibility. Otherwise, your loved one will remain trapped. Admitting the truth is painful, but critical to success.

High Expectations

Ironically, addiction is often a symptom of perfectionism. Many turn to substances to relieve themselves of the burden that they are not good enough. Your loved one must learn to have realistic expectations not only for themselves, but for the other people in their life as well.

Expecting too much from a loved one, spouse, children, friends, parents or acquaintance will eventually lead to disappointment. Everyone makes mistakes on a regular basis. Instead of expecting your loved one to adhere to unrealistic expectations, help them place the focus on rebuilding damaged relationships one step at a time.

The Warning Signs

A lot of people initially ignore the warning signs because they desperately want to believe in a successful recovery. While a positive mindset and encouraging attitude are essential, it’s important to watch for the signs of relapse.

Emotional and Mental Indications

Emotional signs are often the first clue that something is wrong and could happen before your loved one even considers using drugs or alcohol again. He or she may begin experiencing negative reactions to sobriety that include feelings of anxiousness, moodiness and irritability.

While your loved one is recovering, they also may experience an intense internal struggle. A part of the individual wants to stay on the path leading to long-term sobriety. Unfortunately, the part of the individual interested in using drugs again is putting up a fight. There will most likely always be a part of your loved one that wants to use drugs. This battle inside can cause erratic patterns of sleeping and eating or constantly picking fights with others. Your loved one may have intense outbursts or ride a roller coaster of emotions.

Changes to watch for include:

  • Impulsive or compulsive behavior
  • Returning to old behaviors, people and hangouts
  • The individual has emotional outbursts or becomes moody
  • Isolation, denial, hiding and avoidance
  • Missing therapy, outpatient sessions, meetings and counseling

Recognizing these signs as soon as possible is critical and if you intervene at this stage, you can often prevent the issue from becoming worse.


Their are a number of warning signs that are physical as well, and they include:

  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Extreme fatigue or exhaustion
  • Slurred speech
  • Disregard for cleanliness or emitting unusual body odors
  • Dilated pupils or bloodshot eyes
  • Nervous ticks or inability to sit still

What to Do If Your Loved One Relapses

Open Communication

Relapsing generally discourages everyone involved. Try to remember relapsing has the greatest impact on your loved one. He or she has become their own worst enemy while trying to cope with feelings of hopelessness, frustration and rage. Your loved one is in desperate need of a support system to help them get back on their feet after encountering obstacles and keeping communication open is vital.

Relapsing is simply a temporary obstacle prior to returning to the path leading to long-term sobriety. You need to consistently remind your loved one their efforts were not wasted. Everyone fails at something, but that does not mean people give up open or stop trying.


Before you even think about offering your loved one any help, you must check in with yourself first and ensure you are practicing self care.  This is harder than it appears because watching a loved one in pain is distressing. You may experience feelings of anger or disappointment because your loved one is no longer sober after so much hard work.

Seek out the activities or hobbies that allow you to “fill your own cup” before you turn to address someone else’s needs. Otherwise, you will not have the bandwidth necessary and may not keep appropriate boundaries. By putting on your own mask first, you may find it’s easier to remain more understanding, rational, and patient during this tough time.

Participating in Sober Activities

Spend time with your loved one at places without any drugs or alcohol. Always keep the triggers of your loved one in mind. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy in the park or watch a movie together. Sometimes nature can enhance the mood. The activity should be fun, and take your minds off drugs. Enjoying activities with your loved one can help heal any issues in your relationship while soothing tensions.

Support Groups

Support groups are frequently a lifeline for both those struggling with recovery and the family members supporting them. There are numerous programs created for socialization and community to alleviate feelings of isolation. For example, AA and Al-Anon are nationwide and offer a variety of meetings to help those struggling with alcoholism. There are others in these groups who have relapsed, so your loved one can learn from the experiences of others.

Understanding the Signs of Relapse

Relapses do not follow any specific pattern. If your loved one is on the border of relapsing, you can look for specific behavioral traits before drug use has occurred. If you believe your loved one is about to break sobriety, talk to them. Ask what you can do to offer support through these difficult times. You may be able to decrease the risk your loved one will start using drugs again.

If your loved one relapsing took you by surprise, do not blame yourself. Remember you are also experiencing a lot of stress, and need to take good care of yourself. Use your positive energy to tell your loved one they have a bright future ahead of them. Keep reminding them how proud you are they initially agreed to treatment, and the path to sobriety is difficult.

Your loved one will experience ups and downs along the way. You need to reassure them they are not alone. Consider using the following tips.

  • Do not panic
  • Stage an intervention
  • Consider potential underlying, and co-occurring health and mental issues
  • Your boundaries should be compassionate with no shaming or yelling
  • Practice self-care
  • Offer support, ask how you can help, and encourage treatment

What to Avoid If a Loved One Relapses

Do not lose hope or become angry. Always remember you are not responsible for your loved one using drugs. Do not force treatment for recovery, but discuss the options calmly.

Interventions-Recovery Coaching-Live in Counselors

The desire to recover is frequently diminished when the available support systems are not utilized and it may be time to seek consultation from a professional. The important thing to remember is your loved one does have experience in recovery and does know the tools and strategies to help him or her.

An intervention may be necessary to re-invite someone into recovery. Consideration may be given to creating more robust scaffolding to help him by using a recovery coach, a live in counselor along with random drug testing.


  • Louise Stanger Ed.D, LCSW, CDWF, CIP

    Writer, Speaker, Clinician, Interventionist

    Dr. Louise Stanger founded All About Interventions because she is passionate about helping families whose loved ones experience substance abuse, mental health, process addictions and chronic pain. She is committed to showing up for her clients and facilitating lasting change so families are free from sleepless, worrisome nights. Additionally, she speaks about these topics all around the country, trains staff at many treatment centers, and develops original family programs. In 2018, Louise became the recipient of the Peggy Albrecht Friendly House Excellence in Service Award. She most recently received the Interventionist of the Year Award from DB Resources in London and McLean Hospital - an affiliate of Harvard University, in 2019. To learn more, watch this video: and visit her website at