How to Cope When a Loved One Relapses

If a loved one relapses, it doesn’t mean they can’t still fully recover from addiction.

Watching a loved one relapse is extremely painful. Unfortunately, relapse happens sometimes. It’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions, such as anger, confusion, sadness, and hopelessness. Despite it being a challenging situation, there is still hope for your loved one. A relapse doesn’t mean they can’t fully recover from addiction.

If you find yourself in this situation, here are several things you can do to cope with your loved one’s relapse and help them get back on track.

Practice understanding and compassion.

If you’re upset that your loved one relapsed, it can be all too easy to blame or shame them, but that’s one of the worst things you can do. After a relapse, people often already feel an intense amount of shame. Adding to it might push the person into giving up on their sobriety entirely, which is not what anyone wants. Saying things like, “How could you do this to our family?” or “Why can’t you just stop?” are what you want to avoid.

Remember, addiction is a chronic disease of the brain.1 If you’ve never struggled with addiction to drugs or alcohol, it’s challenging to understand what your loved one is going through. As a result, it’s important to take the time to learn all that you can to understand addiction and how it affects a person’s mind and body.But by practicing patience, understanding, and being compassionate towards your loved one and what they are experiencing, you can communicate well with them about their relapse and help them find support.

Related post: Top 6 Signs of Relapse

Get support for yourself.

It’s important to know that whatever you’re feeling regarding your loved one’s relapse is valid. However, it’s wise to give yourself some space to process those feelings before you try to talk to your loved one about what happened. Individual therapy is a safe and productive way to do this.

In working with a therapist, you’ll learn how to address your emotions in a healthy, non-judgmental way and discover practical ways to take care of yourself and cope. Your therapist can also help you establish healthy boundaries. That way, you can support your loved one without enabling their self-destructive behavior.

For example, you may choose not to support your loved one financially while they are actively addicted. Or, you may decide that you won’t bail your loved one out of jail if they end up there again.

In establishing clear boundaries like this, your loved one will know that you’re always there to help when they’re ready to go to treatment and get back on track, but you won’t support any of the behaviors that contribute to their addiction.

Attending a support group for family members is another great way to care for yourself. Groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon can provide consistent support, love, and understanding from other individuals in similar situations. 

Continue learning about relapse and how to help prevent it.

Understanding what triggers relapse can help you recognize the signs and encourage your loved one to address them before they become a bigger problem. For example, common signs of potential relapse include:2

  • Mood swings
  • Stress
  • Negative thoughts and emotions
  • Certain people and places
  • Unrealistic expectations about recovery

Triggers vary from person to person, so it’s helpful to identify and familiarize yourself with your loved one’s triggers and remove them whenever possible. You may also encourage your loved one to cope with inevitable triggers by developing new, sober relationships that don’t revolve around substance abuse. Or, you may choose to attend more social events with your loved one to be a supportive sober attendee.

Again, focusing on the fact that addiction is a chronic disease may help you develop more compassion for your loved one. The more you learn about the condition, the more equipped you’ll be to support your loved one while caring for yourself.

Encourage your loved one to get help.

Relapse doesn’t mean addiction treatment has failed. Instead, one or more relapses are a sure sign that more addiction treatment is necessary. Therefore, it’s a good idea to encourage your loved one to find a treatment plan that can help them get back on track.

Suppose your loved one previously attended a 30-day rehab program. In that case, you might consider a longer, more in-depth rehab program to help them address the causes of their relapse and get individualized support to move forward and achieve lasting sobriety. 

Additionally, your loved one may also need to increase the frequency of their therapy sessions, attend community support groups, or look into an intensive outpatient program (IOP) that meets several times a week. Taking these steps can give your loved one the ongoing support they need to sustain their recovery and learn valuable lessons from their relapse.

Going back to treatment can also help your loved one create a more robust relapse prevention plan. They may also work with a professional to review the months and weeks before the relapse to reassess their triggers and coping skills in treatment. Ultimately, relapse can be an opportunity to strengthen their recovery.

Related post: How Sober Living Homes Help Prevent Relapse

Get individualized recovery support at Eudaimonia Recovery Homes

Coping with a loved one’s relapse is never easy. Although you may remain supportive and encouraging, ultimately, your loved one’s behavior is for them to decide. If and when they are ready to seek help, the caring professionals at Eudaimonia Recovery Center are available to help. 

We offer IOP, a certified peer recovery support program, sober living homes with individualized programs, and more. These programs are designed to provide comprehensive, professional support for people in all stages of recovery. If your loved one would benefit more from attending a residential treatment program, we can also provide recommendations for a program that best suits their needs.

For more information, call (512) 580-3130 to speak with a representative at Eudaimonia Recovery Homes today.


  1. https://archives.drugabuse.gov/publications/drug-abuse-addiction-one-americas-most-challenging-public-health-problems/addiction-chronic-disease
  2. https://archives.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2002/10/new-insights-relapse 

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