Your Loved One Just Relapsed – What Do You Do?

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Relapses can often lie on the road to recovery. Relapses are not inevitable, but they do happen. When they occur, immediate steps must be taken to get the individual into rehab. While it is essential not to take the erroneous stance that “relapse is just a part of recovery,” it is also crucial to not condemn or vilify a recovering addict for a relapse.

  • A relapse means a recovering addict needs to address some area of their addiction that may have been missed before.
  • A relapse means a recovering addict needs to get into treatment as soon as possible.
  • What can the family members of recovering addicts do to help their loved one if a relapse occurs? And why would they want to step in?

Why Relapses Are Dangerous

One fear behind relapses is that a relapse will cause a drug overdose. And this fear is legitimate. When a recovering addict goes for some time without using drugs or alcohol, his or her body’s tolerance of those substances recedes. However, during a relapse, the individual is likely to take the same quantity of drugs as they used to take previously. Unfortunately, their body is in no position to tolerate that amount of drugs anymore. That results in overdose and potentially death.

Not only is preserving sobriety and avoiding relapse critical just from the standpoint of maintaining one’s recovery, but it’s also a matter of protecting the individual’s life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 67,367 people died from drug overdoses in 2018. That’s about 185 people succumbing to lethal overdoses every day. Many of these individuals are dying as a result of relapses.

What to Do During a Relapse

A relapse can be a scary, even life-threatening ordeal for a recovering addict to go through. For the family members and loved ones of the individual, the situation will likely seem terrifying and possibly even a bit hopeless. There is almost always some degree of grief and anguish in a relapse. People often feel that a relapse means a recovering addict suddenly forfeited all of their hard work towards a life of sobriety and drug-free living.

It’s important not to allow oneself to fall into a pessimistic or miserable state. While relapses are undoubtedly dangerous, they also mean that the individual has some areas of their addiction that were not adequately addressed before becoming sober. The individual must enter a drug treatment center to tackle these issues.

While everyone’s situation will be unique and different, here are some tips that may help in your situation:

  • Medical needs must be met first. As mentioned earlier, relapses are dangerous because a relapse puts the body through exposure to drugs and alcohol after a period of no exposure to such substances (sobriety). That dramatically increases the risk of overdose. If your loved one has overdosed due to a relapse, make sure any medical emergency is adequately addressed first.
  • Make arrangements with a treatment center. As soon as you find out a loved one has relapsed, immediately begin making arrangements with a treatment center to take them in. Even if you do not yet have your loved one’s agreement that they will go to treatment, immediately arrange intake at a treatment center. This way, there will be no delays once your loved one is ready.
  • Talk to your loved one about going to treatment. While a single relapse does not necessarily ruin months or years of hard-won sobriety, it is a clear indicator that areas of the individual’s addiction still control him. A drug and alcohol rehab center can help the individual find and tackle those areas, effectively removing them so that he can live a drug-free life.
  • Get him willing to seek help. Sometimes, a recently relapsed individual will be reluctant to seek help. Involve an interventionist if needed, but usually simply talking to your loved one and pointing out that the very occurrence of a relapse is evidence that the individual needs treatment is enough to get them willing to go.
  • Help him or her get into a treatment center. As soon as it is medically safe for them to do so, help your loved one enter treatment, whether that involves helping them pack, driving or flying them to the center, helping them with the intake process, etc. Preventing another relapse from occurring in the future comes simply from the act of helping your loved one get into rehab. A rehab center will assist your loved one in addressing the underlying issues that caused your loved one to relapse. A rehab center will make sure those issues do not crop up and cause problems again in the future.
  • There’s a fair amount of research on the effectiveness of addiction treatment and the fact that addicts can and do get clean. And even if a relapse does occur after seeking treatment, programs like Narconon can effectively help individuals who have already made several attempts at getting sober at other treatment centers.

Rehab Is the Answer, Not Criticism

It seems common in society today to take one of two routes when a drug or alcohol relapse occurs within the family:

  • Some loved ones of addicts take a pessimistic route and assume: “Relapses are common and normal. One was bound to happen sooner or later. I won’t do anything about it.”
  • Some loved ones of addicts take a punitive, harsh route: “My loved one is wrong for having relapsed, and they just wasted all their hard work and effort! I’ll never forgive them for this.”

Neither of these attitudes is correct to take when a loved one relapses. The right thing to do is remain calm, don’t give up hope, do not criticize or accuse, make sure your loved one gets medical care (if needed), and get them into treatment as soon as possible.

Please don’t wait until they relapse again. If your loved one just relapsed, now is the time to act. Call Narconon and get your loved one help today.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.