How to Spot a Relapse

How to Spot a Relapse


A relapse is always possible.

It is not easy to have a substance abuse problem.   Maintaining your sobriety is a continuous challenge – one that regular people would struggle to understand.


In fact, according to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), a relapse is not that uncommon.   Addiction stays with you your whole life, and relapse remains a possibility, even if you abstained for a long time.


The purpose of this blog is to help family members to identify when a relapse is about to occur.  It is not always possible to predict one, but you can be on the lookout for some warning signs.


Recognizing the stages of relapse


A relapse is a process and can be broken down into emotional, mental, and physical phases. The successive stages each draw the addict in deeper.


  • Emotional relapse: The addict is not actively thinking about using again, but there are some negative emotions at play.   It could be anger or anxiousness.   It could be depression. The person's desire for recovery wanes – primarily because they don’t use the support systems they have.   Intervening at this stage could be very beneficial – before the mental relapse phase kicks in.


  • Mental relapse: The person has an internal struggle.   Yes, sobriety has its benefits, but there is a part of them longing to get back to using.   Eventually, the recovering addict starts thinking of actively using again.  Once the decision is made, it is often just a matter of time.


  • Physical relapse: The person returns to using and breaks sobriety.   Even if it was just one time, the potential is enormous to return to consistent substance abuse.


Will I see warning signs? 


The following could be signs of an impending relapse:


  • The addict is longing for the good times during past drug use.
  • The recovering addict believes he can use casually, and he won’t fall into active addiction again.
  • The addict starts reconnecting with old drug-using friends.
  • He is becoming defensive.
  • There are sudden behavioral and attitude changes.
  • The addict does not connect on a personal level with friends and family anymore.
  • There is an avoidance of the sober support system, like group meetings.
  • The person is not asking for help.
  • He is not sleeping and not eating.
  • He isolates himself.


What can we do?  


Give support


The best way to prevent a relapse is to support your loved one.  Be educated and weary of the signs of a relapse.  The recovering addict could also return to counseling or attend a peer support group.   Help your loved one to deal with stress and build positive sober relationships.


There should be space to speak to someone.   If there is an urge to use again, rational thinking and openly talking about it could make a difference.


Back to rehab


In some cases, it might be necessary for the person to go back to rehab to prevent a relapse.  Being back in the environment where his recovery began might help set him back on the path to recovery.


In conclusion, prompt action is the best thing.   A relapse is not a failure, but it is still dire.   It can lead back to continuous abuse, serious health problems, and even death.




We urge you not to get discouraged!   Recovering from an alcohol or drug addiction is a process – and for some, it might mean many attempts.  


Relapses are common – it is estimated that over 60% of recovering addicts experience a relapse somewhere along the way.   The important thing is to get up, dust yourself off and get back on the road to recovery.   It is, after all, a lifelong process!







SAMHSA (The US Substance and Mental Health Services Administration) offers 24-hour free and confidential information to get help and information you need.

SAMHSA National Helpline:
1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Available in English and Spanish

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-HELP (8255)

Additional resources: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) OR
TEXT TELEPHONE: 1-800-799-4889
1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Text line #988 (Crisis text line)   -OR NEED HELP NOW? CALL 911


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