7 Signs My Loved One Has Relapsed

As a family member or friend of someone struggling with addiction or substance use, you may have had an instinctual feeling that they've relapsed. Alternatively, realizing they've relapsed may have blindsided you. This can be a frustrating and stressful experience, particularly if you've been closely involved in their treatment and recovery process. 

Watching your loved one go backward to a difficult point in their life can create resentment, anger and confusion. Though relapse is a common part of recovery, with relapse rates as high as 70%, intervention is key to helping them reclaim sobriety and prioritize wellness. If you don't know how to tell if someone you love is having a relapse, we've compiled this guide for learning early signs and what you can do to support them.

What Are the Biggest Warning Signs for Addiction Relapse? 

Every person experiences addiction differently. Signs of relapse may be more distinguishable in some people than others, which can make it difficult to identify if they've returned to substance use. Here are the most common signs of relapse to keep in mind:

1. Denial or Defensiveness

An early sign of relapse in your loved one is shutting down inquiries about their addiction. They may become defensive when you bring up concerns about wavering in their sobriety. In some cases, they may get angry with you or outright deny your claims. Individuals who relapse often exhibit secretive behavior because they fear judgment from those around them for turning back to substance use.

Asking about their activities can trigger this fear of being discovered, causing them to shift the blame elsewhere and try to convince you they have not relapsed. 

2. Associating With Former Acquaintances 

A critical part of addiction recovery is to remove oneself from friends or acquaintances who participate heavily in substance use. Regularly being around people who use substances can make it nearly impossible to resist temptation. If your loved one seems to be reconnecting with former contacts whom they've been known to engage in substance use with in the past, it could be a red flag that a relapse is about to or has already taken place.

3. Neglecting Responsibilities 

When someone struggling with addiction relapses, their substance use often becomes center stage in their life again. Because it's their number one priority, they may show signs of neglecting their responsibilities, including failure to keep up with household tasks, hygiene, bills and work-related or family commitments. 

4. Social Avoidance or Isolation

On the addiction recovery journey, it's normal for your loved one to prioritize themselves as they focus their energy on implementing healthy coping strategies. This will generally pass as they become more comfortable in their sobriety. 

If they become socially distant once again or start isolating themselves too much, this can also be a sign that they're trying to avoid being around people who support their sobriety. Your loved one may also stop going to recovery meetings or make constant excuses as to why they can't spend time with you.

5. Financial Problems

Addiction relapse can lead to the same issues your loved one experienced before they started their recovery journey, which includes prioritizing their substance use by any means necessary. Once they relapse, they may neglect their financial responsibilities or end up in financial or legal trouble. 

In this case, it's not uncommon for your loved one to ask those around them for money, often making excuses and promises to repay it. Some individuals struggling with addiction relapse may even get so desperate to fuel their addiction that they steal from loved ones or strangers. They might take items such as jewelry and electronics to sell to keep up with their addiction.

6. Risky or Impulsive Behavior 

A telltale sign your loved one has relapsed is if they start reverting to their old lifestyle of compulsive or risky behavior. This behavior could include poor decision-making or exhibiting rash actions that seem out of character since their recovery. 

Risky behaviors could also include attempting to have “just one drink” or making the excuse that they only drink or use recreational drugs in social settings. Your loved one may be relapsing if they engage in other activities that feed their addictive personality, such as gambling, smoking, binge eating or having unprotected sex.

7. Sudden Changes in Mood or Attitude

When your loved one completes their addiction treatment or leaves rehab, they may seem excited and motivated to maintain sobriety. Once you've become accustomed to their actions and behaviors on the journey to recovery, it may be easier to notice signs of a relapse. 

For example, a sudden change in their attitude or demeanor, such as irritability, negativity or moodiness, can be an indication of relapse. They may seem generally less enthusiastic about their recovery or exhibit changes in their new healthy routines.

What to Do If a Family Member Relapses

No one in addiction recovery is exempt from the possibility of a relapse. Suspecting or confirming your loved one has relapsed can produce very strong emotions or leave you feeling helpless. Here are some ways to support your loved one during relapse:

  • Express your concerns: Your loved one may avoid a confrontation or intervention at all costs, but it's important to share your feelings about their relapse. Keep your language direct and respectful, avoiding harmful terms like “clean” and “dirty” or referring to their addiction as a “habit.” 
  • Show empathy: Blaming or shaming your loved one will not be helpful. They likely feel guilty and ashamed already. Though anger and frustration are often instinctual in this case, it's important to remember that addiction is a disease — it doesn't go away overnight. Research shows that interpersonal relationships may be an antidote to addictive disorders, so it's important to acknowledge their feelings and show compassion during this difficult time.
  • Maintain healthy boundaries: There's a fine line between supporting and enabling. Seeing your loved one in distress can make it easier to succumb to enabling behaviors, such as bailing them out of financial or legal trouble or making excuses for their behavior. It's essential to set boundaries with your loved one and stick to them.
  • Prioritize yourself: During all stages of a loved one's addiction and addiction recovery, it's paramount for you to take care of yourself. Focusing all your energy and worries on your loved one's addiction can become detrimental to your mental and physical health. Remember that you are not responsible for their behavior. Though you should encourage them to seek help, it's up to them to see it through.
  • Encourage them to seek help: Remember that relapse can be an opportunity to strengthen their addiction recovery. Ask your loved one what they think would best support them in recovery and brainstorm treatment options that will allow them to focus on themselves. Residential and outpatient programs, support groups and therapy are a few options you can explore together.

Explore Outpatient Resources for Your Loved One at Diamond House Detox

Watching your loved one relapse can be distressing, but it's important to remember that progress isn't linear for someone on the recovery journey. If you're concerned about your loved one's relapse, Diamond House Detox is here to help. We specialize in helping adults with addiction with a variety of detox and rehabilitation programs. 

With the support and guidance of our qualified staff, your loved one can receive the treatment they need to manage addiction symptoms, prevent health complications and develop strategies for future abstinence. Diamond House Detox is committed to providing individualized outpatient care to assist your loved one on the road to recovery and wellness. Contact us today or explore our outpatient resources to learn more about how we can help your loved one struggling with addiction. 

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet
Latest posts by Vicky Magobet (see all)