This guide can help you learn the most effective strategies to employ when your loved one relapses including open communication, support and professional treatment.

Caring about someone experiencing substance abuse, addiction or recovery is a trying and overwhelming situation. Of course, you want to offer the best addiction support, but knowing what to do and how to do it is uncertain and confusing. Although nothing with addiction is the same for everyone, these are some of the best ways to help someone who has relapsed.

How You Can Help a Loved One

As a friend offering peer support in addiction recovery is always the right decision. You just have to use your resources efficiently to create the desired outcomes. 

To help a loved one:

  • Be Supportive. Knowing how to support someone in recovery starts with your basic approach to the person. If you address their situation with judgment and anger, you will not create addiction support. Instead, create recovery support by offering love, care and acceptance.
  • Avoid Codependency and Enabling. Sometimes your efforts to provide support in recovery could actually be enabling the addiction. Enabling occurs when you make excuses, cover for your loved one, or take the blame for their behaviors rather than them experiencing the negative repercussions of the use. With enough enabling, there is a chance for you to become dependent on your loved one. Here, your happiness is linked to theirs.
  • Identify Triggers. One of the best ways to address a relapse is to take steps to avoid future relapse, and identifying relapse triggers is a great way to accomplish this. Addiction relapse triggers are the people, places and things that encourage use, so make a list and find ways to avoid or eliminate the items.
  • Practice Empathy. Offering empathy helps your loved one, but it also helps you through the relapse process. Building accurate empathy increases your understanding of your loved one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Having empathy will limit the chances for anger and sadness following a relapse.

Helping a loved one can be draining, so be sure to help yourself while you help them.  

What to Say After a Relapse

Learning about a recent relapse can leave you speechless because you do not want to say anything that creates shame or guilt. If you feel stuck while supporting an addict in recovery, consider saying:

  • Would you like to talk about it? Forcing someone to discuss their recent relapse can trigger many intense feelings. Make sure your loved one is ready for a conversation about it by asking this question. If the answer is no, let them know you are available and will be asking about it again.
  • You made it so far, and I know you can get there again. After a relapse, people usually feel disappointed, hopeless and frustrated. They need motivation to keep going. Offering encouraging words for someone in recovery may restore their faith and belief in their abilities.
  • What can I do to help you? When a relapse occurs, many people start offering their advice to the person, but no one asks what they need. Asking for help in recovery is difficult, so let your loved one know you are here to assist in any way you can.
  • Nobody is perfect, and we learn from our mistakes. Feelings of failure may take over after a relapse, and the person sees their recovery as a waste of time. Words of encouragement for someone in recovery can shift the focus on the accomplishment of sobriety and all the lessons learned from relapse.

These statements and questions will not be perfect for all people in all situations, but they represent the types of language needed to limit the relapse and restart recovery.

Seek Further Treatment & Support

A relapse is not a sign that all previous treatments were ineffective, but a relapse is a sign that the person needs a renewed focus and dedication to drug addiction treatment. They can seek treatment by returning to their previous service or by starting something new like:

  • Addiction Treatment Programs. Remember, you are not a professional addiction support worker, and although your actions are helpful, you cannot provide the same level of care as a trained professional. Your loved one may need evidence-based strategies presented by a professional to build a relapse prevention plan and achieve their goals.
  • Addiction Support Groups. In-person drug addiction support groups can provide a sense of fellowship and direction your loved one needs. Groups like AA and NA are available for alcohol and opiate addiction support.
  • Online Addiction Support. For people seeking extra convenience or specialized support should consider an online addiction support group. Available in chat rooms, forums and social media outlets, these addiction recovery support groups are readily available around-the-clock to maintain recovery and limit the risk of relapse.

The best feature of these treatment options is that your loved one does not have to settle for just one choice. Many addiction treatments can occur simultaneously, so your loved one can attend professional addiction treatment and in-person support groups while utilizing online support options as well. 

Although there is no way to avoid all relapses, you can make a positive difference. By exploring these organized treatments paired with your love and support, your loved one can drastically reduce the risks of problems in the future. 

If someone you love recently relapsed, encourage them to rethink their supports and treatments. It may be the right time for them to consider The Recovery Village. The Recovery Village offers helpful treatments for people at all stages of recovery and relapse.

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Editor – Daron Christopher
Daron Christopher is an experienced speechwriter, copywriter and communications consultant based in Washington, DC. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” January 2018. Accessed August 2, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What to Do If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs.” January 2016. Accessed August 22, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.