Addiction Relapse: How to Prevent a Relapse and What to do if it Happens

Unfortunately, there's no surefire cure for addiction. Once a person becomes addicted to a substance or a certain type of behavior, they will need to actively work to manage their addiction for the rest of their lives.

There are some people who are able to get the treatment they need and beat their addiction once and for all. But there are others who will spend their entire lives struggling with addiction.

No matter how strong an addict might be, the risk of relapse is always present. Studies have shown that relapse rates can be as high as 85 percent for those with an addiction to opiates.

If you know someone who has relapsed, you should not give up on them. Instead, you should make every effort to provide them with the assistance they need.

Here's how you can help.

Learn About the Relapse Rates for Certain Addictions

People who have a friend or family member who is an addict don't like to think about relapse. They want to be optimistic during a person's recovery and stay positive about it.

While this is a great approach to take, you shouldn't be naive about relapse, either. More often than not, an addict will relapse within the first few years of trying to get clean.

For example, studies have shown that 90% of recovering alcoholics will relapse at least once during the first four years of their recovery.

While your loved one is getting treatment for their addiction, you should spend time researching relapse and finding out the statistics associated with their particular addiction. This will give you the proper perspective on the chances of relapse and allow you to mentally prepare for what will happen if relapse does become a reality.

The last thing you want to happen is for someone to relapse and you to be completely unprepared. So try to consider the role relapse might play in a person's recovery in order to prepare yourself for it.

Tell an Addict to Come to You If They're Struggling

When an addict first gets clean and starts living their life again, the thought of relapsing might not be on their radar at all. They won't even be considering turning back to their addiction again.

But once you've done your research on it, you should sit down and tell them that you understand relapse is a possibility. You should also tell them that, if they do relapse, you're not going to turn your back on them.

You should let them know that you'll be there for them if they're ever struggling to overcome their addiction and that you'll help them get help again if they need it.

Addicts can't beat their addictions on their own. They need their friends and family members to be on their side, so you should take steps to let them know that you'll be there for them if they ever need your support.

Keep a Constant Eye Out for Signs of Relapse

In addition to speaking with an addict and letting them know that you'll be there for them if they ever need help, you should also monitor their progress as they battle addiction and look out for any signs of relapse.

There are some obvious signs that you'll be able to spot without putting in much effort. For example, you might find physical evidence of drug or alcohol use in an addict's home.

But there are also some less obvious signs that could potentially be tougher to spot. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • The addict stops showing up for work or school on a regular basis

  • The addict goes through long periods of depression

  • The addict demonstrates poor judgment in certain situations

  • The addict seems uninterested in activities that usually bring them joy

  • The addict stops eating regularly or loses a lot of weight in a short period of time

Basically, if you see anything that looks off in an addict's life, you should be concerned. It could be a sign that addiction has crept back into their life.

Be Prepared to Intervene If You Spot a Problem

If you suspect that an addict may have relapsed, you shouldn't wait to bring it up to them. You may not necessarily want to confront them head-on about it, but you should certainly bring up your concerns and let them know that you've noticed a change in their behavior.

Bringing up the problem might be as simple as saying, "Hey, I noticed you haven't gone to work in a few days--is everything OK?"

It will let the addict know you've noticed some kind of change without making it seem like they're under attack.

If you take this approach and they're unwilling to admit that they're struggling or, worse, if they become combative with you and tell you that you need to mind your own business, you might want to consider bringing in other friends and family members to help.

Staging an intervention is an effective way to let an addict know how their behavior is affecting their loved ones. It might come in handy if you know someone has relapsed and want to try and get them to come to terms with it as well.

Offer to Get the Addict the Help They Need

Often times, addicts who have relapsed will feel guilty about it and will be hesitant to turn to others for help, especially if those people were the ones who got them help in the first place.

You might be frustrated, upset, and even angry when you hear that your loved one has relapsed. But you shouldn't let that stop you from offering to get them the help they need.

You should make an effort to get them help sooner than later. That might mean checking them back into a rehab facility they already attended, or it might mean finding them a different rehab facility that will take a new treatment approach.

Getting an addict help might also be as simple as finding them a local support group that can work with them to get them back on the right track after they've relapsed.

Whatever the case, you shouldn't stop trying to get an addict the help they need. It can sometimes take several treatment attempts before it sticks for good.

Avoid Enabling the Addict

There is a big difference between helping an addict and enabling an addict. Unfortunately, many people are unable to see that they're actually enabling an addict when they try to provide assistance to them.

You might be enabling an addict if you:

  • Make excuses for the addict's behavior to others

  • Provide an addict with money for any reason

  • Deny an addict has a problem

  • Put an addict's needs before your own needs

  • Blame other people for the way an addict is behaving

In many cases, those enabling addicts might feel like they're helping them. But in reality, they're hurting them and making it even harder for them to get the help they so desperately need.

Take a good, long look at your relationship with the addict in your life and make sure you aren't enabling them in any way.

Stand Firm If an Addict Refuses to Get Help

You can't force an addict to get help after they've relapsed.

You can try and drag them to a treatment center and force them to check in. But often times, that will only make them resent you and won't lead to them getting the help they need.

You can, however, set terms for your relationship with an addict and then stick to them until they get the help they need.

For instance, you can let an addict know that, as long as they don't get help, you won't provide them with money, a place to live, or even food.

This might sound harsh to you, and you might not be ready to set these kinds of boundaries just yet. But if someone has relapsed and is using substances or drinking heavily again, it could be an effective way to get them to reconsider the way they're living their lives.

It might take a while before they realize they need to make a change. But by standing firm, you will let the addict know that you want to see them get help at any cost.

Continue to Provide an Addict With Encouragement

Even if you decide to cut an addict off financially, you shouldn't stop loving them and providing the encouragement they need.

Dealing with an addiction can be very lonely and can make people feel completely hopeless. This is especially true once addiction starts severing some of the close relationships they've formed over the years.

While you might not be in a position to help an addict out by providing them with a place to live or other basic necessities anymore, that doesn't mean you have to stop showing them support and encouraging them.

Each and every time you speak with them, you should let them know that you love them and that you want to see them make the positive changes in their lives that you know they're capable of making.

This might not yield results right away. But it will, at the very least, plant a seed in an addict's mind and let them know they're not alone in their fight.

Make Sure You're Taking Care of Yourself

Those who have close friends or family members dealing with addiction have a tendency to put all of their efforts into helping others overcome adversity without concern for their own well-being.

Many of them don't eat or sleep much, and as a result, they start to suffer from physical and mental health problems.

You aren't going to be able to help anyone if your health starts to decline. So rather than putting all of your energy into helping an addict who has relapsed, you should take time to care for yourself as well.

You should make sure you're eating healthy foods and getting the right amount of sleep at night. You should also take part in fun activities that will allow you to put your worries aside for a while for the good of your mental health.

Additionally, you should consider seeing a therapist or joining a support group to share your thoughts on addiction with others. You will be surprised by how much it will help you, which will, in turn, help your loved one as well.

Resist the Urge to Give Up on an Addict

It can be so discouraging to hear that someone you love has relapsed while fighting addiction.

It can be especially discouraging if you've been there every step of the way and have seen them make great strides.

It's why so many people think about giving up on their loved ones when they relapse. It can start to feel like you're fighting a losing battle when an addict just can't seem to get and stay clean.

Despite the discouragement you might feel, you should resist the urge to give up on an addict completely. You should continue to provide them with the support they'll need to beat addiction and understand that relapse doesn't mean a person has failed.

Relapse is one more stumbling block on the road to recovery for addicts. An addict can overcome relapse and get back on the right path in no time. They'll just need a little help to do it.

You can provide them with that help, and you can allow them to overcome the addiction that has plagued them. But you can only do it if you stay involved and refuse to quit on your loved one.

Getting Help for Someone Who Has Relapsed

Do you know someone who has relapsed recently?

You might not know where to turn to get them the help they need. But there are plenty of excellent treatment programs available for those who have relapsed. Find the one that will help them the most and then encourage them to get back to treating their addiction.

Read our blog for more information on dealing with addiction and helping those who are addicted to substances.