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5 Signs Your Loved One Has Relapsed

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC
5 Signs Relapsed

Being able to recognize when a loved one has relapsed can help you prevent them from spiraling down into their addiction too far. There are many indications someone has begun to misuse substances again, but here are five common signs your loved one may have relapsed.

1. They believe they can take substances without falling back into old patterns.

Recovery is considered a life-long process, so it is natural to run into instances when it can be tempting to use substances again. These situations can be hard to rationalize, especially when someone first quits a substance, as cravings can be stronger during this time.

You’ll often hear arguments like “One drink/hit won’t make a difference.”

Responding to urges to use again:

It is vital to remind your loved one of how much progress they have already made. Other treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy suggest using different methods to distract them, such as a recreational activity or art project to help keep their mind off their cravings.

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2. Your loved one quickly becomes defensive and denies any accusations of substance abuse.

Sometimes it is apparent when someone picks up old habits, other times it isn’t. However, when someone becomes jumpy or extremely defensive, it should set off alarms that this person is struggling with something, and it could be substance abuse.

Talking to an overly defensive loved one:

Defensiveness is a strong indication that someone may be fighting to stay on the sober side of recovery. The best way to combat this is to open a line of communication and make sure your loved one knows that, no matter what, you are there for them. Being gentle and calm with someone defensive may be a challenge, but it can help avoid angry confrontation or blaming.

3. They experience sudden swings in attitude or behavior.

Sudden changes in day-to-day actions are a strong indication that someone is having a difficult time. When someone decides that they are no longer invested in their rehabilitation, they can experience sudden feelings of depression and anxiety. Substance abuse may be how they choose to cope because that is what their body has become accustomed to.

What you can do when someone acts out:

Recognizing the emotions your loved one is experiencing can be vital to understanding their perspective. Remind them that substance abuse only offers a temporary escape from those hard-to-handle feelings and that temporary escape is not worth risking their sobriety.

4. Your loved one stops investing in their relationships.

Having an established network of support is generally vital to recovery. A lack of focus on maintaining these personal relationships can mean that something is wrong. People who are more inclined to argue, lie and break promises, who spend less time with their loved ones and resent those who try to help are most likely to experience a relapse.

How to help:

The best way to combat this problem is likely through further addiction treatment. Individuals will need to feel motivated to meet with their sponsor or peer-support group in order to stay sober. Explain to them that they can talk with you or a therapist about the issues they are experiencing. Remember that most people respond better when they feel supported and cared about.

5. Suddenly experience withdrawal symptoms.

The most telling sign of a loved one slipping back into the throes of addiction is seeing them experience withdrawal symptoms. This is the telltale sign that they have gone from thinking about taking drugs and transitioned into acting on those thoughts.

Depending on the substances taken, withdrawal symptoms will vary. However, most people who experience a relapse fall back into the same substances they used to misuse.

Most withdrawal symptoms are the exact opposite of the effects of the drug. So, if someone has an opioid addiction, they will experience withdrawal symptoms like flu-like aches, runny nose, and muscle soreness.

Approaching someone with withdrawal symptoms:

Addressing someone experiencing withdrawal symptoms can be hard, but it is essential to remember that they are not feeling well and they need to realize that this is not what they want on their own. You cannot decide for them.

Why People Experience Relapse

Lapses in sobriety often reflect that addiction treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted. In some cases, alternative treatment types may be required to help the individual stay sober. No one experiences addiction or addiction treatment in the same way, and it is vital that treatment is tailored to the individual.

Take heart, if you or a loved one are experiencing a relapse. It does not mean that you or they have failed, in fact, more than 60 percent of people who become addicted experience a future relapse, according to the National Insitute on Drug Abuse.

Finding Treatment For A Loved One In Relapse

Experiencing a relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed either. Addiction is a chronic disease, and relapse is not only possible but likely to occur. The treatment of chronic diseases involves healing imbedded addictive behaviors.

As no single treatment is right for everyone, it is important that individuals receive treatment that addresses their unique situation. The best option, when faced with a relapse, is to re-enroll in treatment and figure out what piece of the addiction did not get addressed during previously.

Inpatient treatment programs are typically recommended for people experiencing relapse, as these programs take an extra step of removing the participants from their negative, substance-abusing environment and into a peaceful, healing one instead.

National Insitute on Drug Abuse - https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-use-addiction-basics

National Center for Biotechnical Information - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - https://www.ihs.gov/asap/information/warningsignsdrug/

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC
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