Signs of Relapse to Look Out For

Signs of Relapse to Look Out For

If someone close to you is recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction, then you should acknowledge their determination. Deciding to move forward with recovery is a challenging choice, and unfortunately, one that often includes relapse. 

Knowing the signs and symptoms of a relapse is important because this can help you understand whether or not your loved ones are remaining true to their recovery. Having a solid understanding of the signs of relapse can also help prevent you from making any false accusations about their recovery. 

In this article we discuss some of the most common signs and symptoms of recovery. We’ll also help share some tips and tricks on preparing for a relapse, as well as some information on what you can do to help someone who has had a relapse. 

Top Signs of Relapse

These are some of the most common signs of relapse. If you notice that your loved ones are experiencing or displaying any of these signs, it could mean that you have a reason to intervene. If you’re lucky, you may be able to offer some support or provide help to prevent them relapsing.

If you do choose to go this route, remember that it’s incredibly important to manage your communication skills effectively. Coming off as confrontational or accusatory can lead to further problems. We provide some information below about how you can help someone who has had a relapse.

Emotional Changes

If you notice that your loved one is suddenly experiencing drastic emotional changes, this could be a sign that they have relapsed.

  • They may be extremely happy or manic. If your loved one is displaying boundless energy and euphoria – more so than they usually do – this could be a sign that they have relapsed.

  • If your loved one is displaying depression or mood swings, this could also be a sign of a relapse. What comes up must come down. If they experience alternating periods of mania and depression, whereas they are normally quite balanced, this could indicate that they’re using mood-altering substances.

  • If your loved one frequently struggles with something like anxiety or low motivation, but they suddenly seem to have completely eliminated these problems, this may also be a sign that they have relapsed. Many people use drugs and alcohol to cope with these conditions. However, these issues do not typically resolve immediately. It usually takes a number of months or years to work through long-term mental or emotional issues.

Missing Recovery Meetings

If you notice that your loved one has stopped attending their recovery meetings, or that they have stopped going as frequently, this may indicate that they are losing their determination. If this is the case, you may want to ask them why they’re choosing not to go to these meetings. 

In some cases, their reasoning may be entirely valid: they may not get along with some of the members, or they may feel that the structure of these meetings doesn’t work with them. If this is the case, you could encourage them to attend a different style of meeting. For example, someone who doesn’t do well in regular A.A. meetings may fare better with SMART recovery.

Another sign that someone may be approaching relapse is choosing not to share with the other members at their meetings. If this is the case, this could indicate that they’re hiding something or that they’ve already had a relapse.

Changes in Eating Habits

One thing that drugs are known for is changing a person’s eating habits. This is particularly so for stimulant drugs, which are known to almost entirely suppress a person’s appetite. If you notice that your loved ones are experiencing a drastic change in their eating habits, this could be a sign that they have had a relapse.

Eating habits are also known to change once a person moves into recovery. Someone who has been addicted to stimulants for a long time, for example, may suddenly start eating large amounts again. They may put on weight quite quickly. 

Changes in Sleeping Habits

Drugs are also known to change an individual’s sleeping habits. If you notice a drastic change in your loved one’s sleeping habits this could be an indication of relapse.

Stimulants are known to cause insomnia. People who use these drugs often remain awake and active all throughout the night. Sedatives, such as opiates, are known to produce the opposite effect and can cause people to sleep extreme amounts. 

‘Nodding out’ is a term used to describe a semi-somnolent state during which a person fluctuates between being nearly asleep and somewhat conscious. Nodding out is a sure sign of relapse.


Cravings are an obvious sign of impending relapse. If your loved one is open and honest about their cravings, then count yourself lucky. This means that they’re emotionally aware of their addiction and how it can affect them.

If your loved one is telling you that they’re experiencing drug cravings then you may have an opportunity to prevent them from having a relapse. If this is the case, make a point of opening up an honest and communicative dialogue with them and try to help them understand why they’re having cravings.

Lies or Deceptive Behavior

It can be difficult to determine whether or not someone is actually lying or being deceitful, and making a point of trying to discern whether or not someone is lying can make them uncomfortable. However, if you have reason to believe that someone is actually lying or being deceitful about their addiction, this could indicate that they’ve had a relapse.

Changes in Social Behavior

Another warning sign that could indicate that someone has had a relapse is sudden changes in their social behavior.

If someone is normally a social butterfly and suddenly begins to isolate, this is certainly cause for concern. On the other hand, if someone who is normally quiet and reclusive suddenly seems to become a social butterfly, this could also indicate a relapse.

In either case, it’s a good idea to open up a line of communication with your loved one to see what has sparked these sudden changes.

Another indication of relapse is a change in social group. If your loved one begins hanging out with people who are using drugs or alcohol, this may mean that they’re more likely to have a relapse.

Other Symptoms of Relapse

Here are a few other signs and symptoms that could indicate that your loved one has had a relapse.

  • Changes in their productivity level: working too much or too little
  • Changes in exercise habits
  • Suddenly blaming friends and family members for problems
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Making unrealistic plans or rapidly setting goals or trying to make achievements
  • Suddenly picking up several hobbies or loss of interest in other hobbies
  • Changes in daily schedule, especially if a normally organized schedule suddenly becomes chaotic

What Can Cause a Relapse?

If you suspect that your loved one has had a relapse, it can be worth your while to understand some of the common causes of relapse. If you think that your loved one is experiencing any of these things, then it can provide some insight into why they relapsed or why they might be more likely to relapse.


Stress is one of the most common causes of relapse. Stress can emerge for many different reasons, ranging from an increase in workload to sudden changes in social or family life. No matter what the cause of stress, it is always uncomfortable. People with a history of using drugs may be likely to turn back to these substances to help them manage their stress.

If your loved one has experienced any life changes that could lead to an increase in stress, it’s important to provide them with care. Do whatever you can to help them manage their stress, but try to avoid mentioning drugs or alcohol unless you’re certain that they’ve already had a relapse. You don’t want to plant the idea into their head. Most likely, some part of them is already well aware that substances could help them ease their stress. Instead, help them remain focused on other coping mechanisms.

Exposure to Certain People & Places

When someone has an addiction, the people and places involved in that addiction will remain emotionally charged. If they are suddenly exposed to people or places that were involved in their addiction, they may suddenly experience cravings.

If your loved one has recently been exposed to friends or locations that remind them of their addiction, it’s important to be aware of the possibility of relapse. 

Exposure to Substances

Another trigger for relapse is being exposed to the substances of addiction themselves. The most obvious case for this would be the physical exposure to the drug of addiction – for example, a recovering alcoholic seeing people drinking alcohol. 

However, someone can also get triggered by being exposed to media that showcases substance abuse. Movies, television shows, and even songs that glamorize or even depict substance abuse can be a huge trigger for people who are in recovery.

Emotional Changes and Challenges

Another thing that can make someone likely to relapse is sudden emotional change. Emotional changes, especially abrupt ones, are often difficult to cope with. Someone who has used drugs as a crutch may want to reach for these drugs again to help them move through challenging emotional situations. 

Emotional changes can emerge for all sorts of reasons, and all of them can be a trigger for relapse. These are some common examples of situations that can cause emotional changes.

  • Changes in personal relationships
  • The death of a loved one
  • Moving to a new home or a new city
  • Failure in school
  • Losing a job

These are just a few examples. If your loved one has experienced a sudden emotional change then it’s a good idea to provide as much support as you can.

Loss of Structure

Recovery is a constant process, and to succeed, you need structure. If your loved one experiences a sudden change in the structure of their recovery foundation, this puts them at risk of relapse.

There are a lot of things that might change. Their addiction counselor may move to a different city, or they may find that their meetings are no longer available. Members of their support group may no longer be available.

In any case, it’s important to make sure that you help them replace any lost supports.


Celebrations and times of merriment are moments to enjoy. However, for people in recovery, they can also present certain challenges. Being at a celebration where people are drinking or using drugs can be an obvious trigger.

People may also feel the celebratory desire to let loose. They may think it would be easy to have a single drink or a single puff. In this case, it can be easy to rationalize having a small relapse. However, this is a slippery slope that can easily lead to a more serious relapse.

How Can I Help Someone Who Has Relapsed?

There are a few things that you can do to help someone who has had a relapse. These are a few of the best ways to approach the situation.

Avoid Enabling

Your first instinct will likely be to help out your loved one. However, it’s a fine line between enabling them and helping them. Enabling is any behavior that allows them to continue using without facing the repercussions. 

Oftentimes this means standing strong and avoiding getting too involved. Remember, relapsing was their choice. You can help provide them with support, but you don’t want to offer too much. If their relapse is going to cause them issues, then it’s their responsibility to acknowledge these issues so that they can take responsibility for them.

You may also want to ignore or dismiss the problem. While it’s important not to make too big of a deal out of it, you also shouldn’t ignore it. Acting like it’s not a problem is a form of enablement, so you need to address the situation and make sure that your loved one knows that you’re there to care for them but that you don’t condone their behavior.

Take Care of Yourself

Another thing to remember is to take care of yourself. It’s often so easy to get involved in the lives of someone who has relapsed that you forget to take care of yourself. Remember that you have your own emotions and life to manage.

For example, you may feel saddened or stressed out by their relapse. These are your emotions. Rather than trying to eliminate these emotions by ‘fixing’ your loved one’s recovery, you should take the time to use your standard coping mechanisms so that these emotions don’t overwhelm you.

When you become overwhelmed by your own emotions, especially when they are related to someone else’s behavior, it becomes easy to become codependent. Rather than managing your own emotions and setting boundaries, you become overly involved in their problems. When this happens, you attempt to resolve your own feelings by intervening in their life.

Consider Joining a Support Group

There are support groups for recovering addicts, but there are also support groups for the people who are affected by their addictions. Groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon provide support for people who are involved with people struggling with their recovery.

At these support groups you can connect with people who have experience in similar situations. They can help you by providing support and advice, which you can use to help your loved ones in turn.

Practice Positive Communication

When communicating with someone who has had a relapse, it’s important to make sure that you’re communicating effectively. There are a lot of things that you can do to improve your communication skills.

  • Avoid coming off as confrontational or judgmental. Communicating in an aggressive manner will make people defensive and less likely to open up. Aggressive doesn’t necessarily mean angry or loud – passive aggression can create problems, as can approaching the situation as if you consider your loved one to be at fault.

  • Try to focus more on your feelings about the situation rather than their behavior. When you talk about how you feel, you take the blame off your loved one. Practice using “I”-statements, for example, tell them “I feel upset because I’m worried about you,” rather than “Your behavior is worrying.”

Things to Say to Someone Who Has Relapsed

These are a few things that you can say to someone who has relapsed. These positive remarks may open up a positive line of dialogue that can help you move forward in the recovery.

  • “You haven’t failed, but you may need more support.” This reminds your loved one that they’re still on the path to recovery, a path of which relapse is often a common part. When you approach them with love and compassion they may be more responsive to your suggestion that they need more support.

  • “I don’t blame you or hold you personally responsible.” Saying this ensures that your loved one knows that you recognize addiction to be a difficult problem, and often one that is out of their control. Oftentimes many recovering addicts experience shame or guilt related to their addiction, and this can help to mediate some of these feelings.

  • “I’m here for you no matter what happens.” This reminds them that they’ll have your support no matter what. However, it’s also a good idea to be clear that you won’t enable them and that you don’t think the behavior is beneficial.

  • “What did you learn?” A relapse is also a learning opportunity, a chance for your loved one to understand more about which triggers they are susceptible to. Encouraging them to reflect on what they’ve learned during their relapse can help both of you reach a new level of understanding.

  • “What kind of support do you need?” Oftentimes it’s difficult to know what someone needs in their recovery. Furthermore, sometimes what they need is some time to think and reflect. In either case, asking what you can do provides you with the chance to offer some more specific supports.


If someone that you know and care about has had a relapse, it’s important to know what to look for. Understanding the signs and symptoms of relapse is important if you want to know when they need support the most.

Learning how to support someone through a relapse is important. The tips and tricks included in this article should help you provide some helpful support for someone who has had a slip.

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