Watching a loved one struggle with addiction recovery is never easy. Even if you finally convince them to seek addiction counselling, you still live with the fear they could relapse at any time. Regardless of whether your loved one is recovering from drugs, alcohol, or a form of behavioural addiction, they can experience relapses that interfere with their ability to completely recover. While backsliding is, unfortunately, part of the recovery process, it does not mean your loved one will never kick their addictions. It is a long process made easier with your support and understanding.

What is a Relapse?

Relapses might seem to happen suddenly, but for your loved one, the daily struggle to avoid falling back into addiction is always there during rehab. Relapses occur when someone struggling with addiction starts to slowly feel the pull of their addiction draw them back in. Although it might seem they are suddenly revisiting old habits and behaviour, it is likely they have fought their urges for weeks or months.

Over time, those who are either in recovery or have lived for years without falling back into old habits face ongoing thoughts about their addiction. They experience the desire in hand with internal arguments that slowly convince them it is okay to indulge just this once. As soon as these early stages of denial start playing out in their heads, they are entering into the early stages of relapse. Eventually, they will justify having “one” won’t hurt when they enter into full relapse.

The Five Signs of Relapse

Unfortunately, wanting to fall back into addiction is normal. Your loved one finds their addiction familiar and will feel the draw to that familiar lifestyle and the people and places they knew. That’s why it’s so important to learn to spot the signs of possible relapse, so you can provide the support they need to avoid falling back into old habits. Here we look at the five common signs your loved one is at risk for a relapse.

1. Increasing Stress

High stress levels can increase the risk for relapses while also affecting mental health. If your loved one is experiencing noticeable stress, has undergone significant changes in their life such as a breakup with a partner, or is even seeing small things build up over time, it’s important you keep an eye on them. Not surprisingly stress is a major contributor to relapse. Life is very stressful and the more stress they face, the higher the risk they seek a way to cope. For some, they don’t show any obvious signs stress is affecting them, while others become very emotional. They might overreact when something small happens like losing their connection when watching TV, or misplacing their phone. These little emotional triggers add stress levels and show your loved one is not coping.

2. Decreased Commitment to Sobriety

If your loved one seems to be less committed to their sobriety such as no longer attending support groups, not scheduling time with their life coach, or not following the regime they adopted in rehab, this is a sign they are no longer committed to their sobriety. This red flag shows they are disinterested in continuing their healthier lifestyle and starting to think more of their old routines. When their new habits start to fall by the wayside, they start becoming defensive about their disinterest or try to avoid discussing it, then they are likely to relapse.

3. Isolation  

Although it is very common for people leaving a treatment facility to feel less social in their early days, anti-social behaviour is not normal. So, while you should support them when they want to stay home or avoid social situations in the early days, they should not continue to remain isolated day after day. When it seems your loved one is intent on avoiding others, this is a sign they are not coping well. This behaviour can also cause them to disengage with the people key to supporting their sobriety. Isolation in hand with the following signs means something is wrong:

  • Worsening hygiene habits
  • Looking tired
  • Changes in body weight

4. Increasingly Risky Behaviour

Following recovery, your loved one will make lifestyle changes that reduce risk. However, if they seem to make more risky decisions or even seek dangerous situations, this is a sign of relapse. Becoming irrational or being unable to make the right, healthier decision means they are more likely to decide a social drink or using recreational drugs is acceptable. Self-control issues in hand with poor judgement are sure signs of relapse. Risky behaviour also includes hanging out with the same crowd that contributed to their addiction.  

5. Times of Celebration

We want our loved ones to enjoy social situations and the happy moments in life. Unfortunately, times of celebration, although positive, can often be triggers. In these positive situations, confidence levels can rise, and make loved ones feel it’s okay to have that one drink or share recreational drugs with people around them. This is a common step in relapse because their addiction makes it difficult to make the right call and they are unable to stop themselves. A celebration does not just trigger the desire to drink or do drugs but also can trigger behavioural addictions such as shopping, gambling, or sexual addictions. They justify they deserve a “reward” for good behaviour or to mark a special occasion.

How to Help Prevent Relapse

Although relapse can present itself in many ways based on the type of addiction and the individual, these five signs are very common. As soon as you notice any of the signs, it is important to take a cautious approach. You want to help support your loved one but walk the fine line between support and pushing them towards their old behaviour. Some ways you can help prevent relapse include:

  • Help reduce stressful events in their life, offering support to take the burden off their shoulders
  • Join them in healthy activities that help reduce stress such as bike riding together, or taking mindfulness classes
  • Help your loved one avoid triggers such as socializing with certain people, drinking in front of them, or using similar behaviour that contributed to their addiction
  • Make it clear you are there for them without judgement
  • Avoid being suspicious and instead focus on positive ways to keep them occupied and social
  • Help them deal with their negative emotions with patience
  • Offer to find a therapy option you can attend together if they are avoiding support groups
  • Speak openly about how you have overcome struggles, so they don’t feel alone, weak or lack control to cope with their own demons
  • Keep an eye on them at celebrations and consider staying sober yourself so they don’t feel so left out
  • Avoid accusations and instead show your support to help them get back onto the path to recovery
  • Look for inspirational events you can attend such as motivational speakers

Understanding that relapses are part of the process, instead of a sign of failure can help your loved ones succeed. With your awareness of signs of relapse, you can help get them back on the right path, without judgement. Your patience applies not just to your loved one, but also to yourself. It’s important to understand that their addiction and relapse are not your fault, and are not the end, but instead part of their recovery that can make all the difference to how you both manage the recovery process.

Learn more about the Calgary Addiction Recovery Packages, provided by House of Courage.