How to Help Someone Who Relapsed

Table of Contents


This guide offers valuable insights into how to help someone who has relapsed. Supporting someone who is dealing with substance abuse, addiction, or recovery can be challenging and overwhelming. While every situation is unique, these approaches can provide guidance on how to offer the best addiction support in uncertain and confusing times.

What to Do If a Friend Relapsed

Consider these immediate steps if a friend relapses during addiction recovery:

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  1. Approach your friend with empathy and understanding, telling them that you care about their well-being and that you are there to support them without judgment.
  2. Allow your friend to share their feelings and experiences. Sometimes, just having someone to talk to can be immensely helpful.
  3. If you cannot work out how to help someone who is relapsing, suggest that they seek professional assistance. This could involve reaching out to a therapist, counselor, or addiction specialist who can provide guidance and support.
  4. Assist your friend in finding treatment options, attending appointments, or locating support groups. Offer to help with transportation or other logistical concerns.
  5. Although it is beneficial to offer support, also respect your friend’s boundaries. They may not be ready to accept help immediately, and that’s okay.
  6. Be cautious not to enable destructive behavior. This means not providing financial support for substances or other actions that could contribute to the problem.
  7. Maintain regular contact with your friend, even if they are resistant to help initially.
  8. Supporting a friend through a relapse can be emotionally taxing. Do not neglect your own mental and emotional well-being.
  9. Learn about addiction and relapse so that you can better understand what your friend is going through.
  10. Recovery is an ongoing process that may not always be linear. Be patient and understanding as your friend works toward sobriety.

Addiction is a chronic and relapsing disorder, and your friend may face setbacks along the way. Your continued encouragement and support can play a crucial role in their recovery journey.

What Causes People to Relapse?

Relapse is a common part of the recovery process for many individuals struggling with addiction. Several factors can contribute to relapse, and understanding them to prevent and address relapse effectively. Here are some common causes of relapse: 

  • Triggers: Triggers are situations, people, places, or emotions that remind individuals of their substance use. Being exposed to triggers can create intense cravings, making it difficult to resist the urge to use addictive substances again.
  • Stress: High levels of stress, whether from work, relationships, or other life events, can be a powerful trigger for relapse. People may turn to substances as a way to cope with stress.
  • Peer pressure: Social situations and peer pressure can play a significant role in relapse. Being around friends or acquaintances who use drugs or alcohol can make it challenging to stay sober.
  • Overconfidence: Some individuals in recovery may become overconfident in their ability to stay clean and believe they can use substances in moderation. This overconfidence can lead to relapse.
  • Negative emotions: Negative emotions like sadness, anger, or loneliness can be difficult to handle without the numbing effect of substances. People may relapse to escape these feelings.
  • Complacency: After a period of successful sobriety, some individuals may become complacent and stop engaging in their recovery program. They may believe that they no longer need support or treatment.
  • Physical discomfort: Withdrawal symptoms and physical discomfort can drive individuals back to substance use as a way to alleviate the discomfort.
  • Environmental factors: Living in an environment where drugs or alcohol are readily available can increase the risk of relapse.
  • Lack of coping skills: People in recovery may not have developed healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with life’s challenges. Without these skills, they may resort to substance use.
  • Underlying mental health issues: Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, can increase the risk of relapse if they are not adequately addressed and treated.
  • Boredom: A lack of purpose or fulfilling activities in sobriety can lead to boredom, which may contribute to relapse.
  • Glamorization of use: Romanticizing or idealizing past substance use can be a dangerous mindset that can lead to relapse.

Understanding these potential causes of relapse can help individuals in recovery, as well as their support network, be better prepared to prevent and manage relapse.

Intervention Strategies for a Relapse

Determining how to help someone who relapsed is not straightforward, but there are effective intervention strategies to help them get back on track in their recovery journey. Here are some strategies for intervening when someone that you care about has relapsed:

Open and honest communication

Maintain open and non-judgmental communication with your loved one. Encourage them to talk about their relapse, including the triggers and emotions that led to it. Listen attentively without shaming or blaming them. 

Express concern and care

Let your loved one know that you care about their well-being and are genuinely concerned for their health and safety. Express empathy and understanding for the challenges they are facing.

Avoid enabling

Offer support and compassion while making sure that you avoid enabling behaviors that could inadvertently encourage substance use. Be clear about your boundaries and the consequences of continued use.

Encourage professional help

Suggest seeking professional help, such as addiction counseling, therapy, or treatment programs. A trained therapist or counselor can provide guidance and tools to address the underlying causes of addiction and develop healthier coping strategies. 

Relapse prevention plan

How to help someone who relapsed alcohol or drugs most effectively often involves working together to create or revisit a relapse prevention plan. Identify triggers and warning signs, and develop strategies for managing cravings and difficult emotions. Having a plan in place can help your loved one respond more effectively to future challenges.

Support group involvement

Encourage participation in support groups or 12-step meetings. These groups provide a sense of community, accountability, and shared experiences with others in recovery.

Positive reinforcement

Acknowledge and praise small achievements and efforts toward recovery. Positive reinforcement can boost motivation and self-esteem.

Remove access to substances

If possible, help your loved one remove access to drugs or alcohol from their environment. This may include disposing of any substances, locking them away, or avoiding places or people associated with substance use. 

Emphasize self-care

Encourage your loved one to prioritize self-care, including proper nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management. These healthy habits can support their overall well-being and recovery.

Stay informed

Educate yourself about addiction, relapse, and available treatment options. Understanding the nature of addiction can help you provide more informed support.

Seek professional guidance

Consider involving a professional interventionist or counselor experienced in addiction treatment. They can facilitate a structured intervention and guide the process.

Maintain boundaries

Set and maintain healthy boundaries. Be clear about the consequences of continued substance use and stick to them.

 Remember that relapse is often part of the recovery process, and it does not signify failure. Encourage your loved one to seek help and remind them that recovery is possible. Be patient, persistent, and supportive as they navigate the challenges of addiction and relapse.

Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at California Detox

If a loved one in your life has relapsed during their recovery from alcohol use disorder, we can help them refocus on sober living rather than allowing relapse to derail their recovery.

Your family member can begin the process of alcohol detox and addiction treatment by withdrawing from alcohol under close medical supervision at California Detox in Laguna Beach, CA. Following detox, your loved one can move into an ongoing inpatient treatment program. 

Residential rehab at California Detox offers individualized treatment plans that may include these therapies:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Psychotherapy
  • Holistic treatments
  • Aftercare planning

When your loved one is ready to recommit to sobriety, call 949.694.8305 for immediate assistance.


If someone you know has relapsed, try to express empathy for their situation, listen to their feelings, and acknowledge their experience. Before offering suggestions for what they should do, try asking them how they think you can best help them.
If you or a loved one are experiencing a relapse, the best thing to do is to reach out for help from a professional rehab facility.


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