When a Friend Suffers a Relapse

When a friend suffers a relapse, be their rock! Discover how to support them through the stages of recovery.

Leora BH Staff
April 9, 2024

Recognizing a Relapse

When a friend is on the path to recovery, it's important to be aware of the possibility of relapse. Understanding what relapse entails and recognizing its stages can help provide the necessary support and assistance.

Understanding Relapse in Recovery

Relapse is often considered an integral part of the recovery process. It refers to a return to substance use or engaging in addictive behaviors after a period of abstinence or sobriety [1]. It's crucial to recognize that relapse does not signify failure, but rather highlights the need for additional support and intervention.

Stages of Relapse

Relapse is not an isolated event, but rather a process that occurs in stages: emotional, mental, and physical relapse. Understanding these stages can help identify signs and intervene before a full relapse occurs.

  1. Emotional Relapse: In this stage, individuals may not be actively considering substance use, but their emotions and behaviors may become erratic. They may neglect self-care, isolate themselves, or experience mood swings. It's important to recognize these signs and address them promptly.
  2. Mental Relapse: During this stage, the individual starts to experience internal struggle and thoughts about using substances. They may reminisce about past use, glamorize it, or entertain the idea of moderating their substance intake. This internal conflict can be intense, and it's crucial to provide support and encourage the use of coping strategies.
  3. Physical Relapse: Physical relapse occurs when the individual actually consumes the substance, breaking their sobriety. At this point, immediate intervention and reentry into treatment are essential to prevent further harm to their health and recovery.

It's important to note that relapse rates vary, but it's estimated that 40% to 60% of individuals with substance use disorders may experience relapse, similar to rates seen in other health conditions like hypertension and asthma [3]. Factors such as high-risk situations, low self-efficacy, negative mood states, poor coping skills, cravings, interpersonal factors, and expectations of positive results from substance use can contribute to the likelihood of relapse.

By understanding the nature of relapse and its stages, friends can play a vital role in supporting and helping someone navigate through the challenges of recovery. Recognizing the signs and providing timely assistance can make a significant difference in their long-term health and recovery journey.

Signs of Impending Relapse

When supporting a friend who is on the journey of recovery, it's important to be aware of the signs that may indicate an impending relapse. Relapse is more of a process than a singular event, and it can be broken down into three stages: emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse. Understanding these stages can help you recognize the warning signs and provide timely support to your friend.

Emotional Relapse

During the emotional relapse stage, individuals may not be actively considering using substances again, but they may experience negative emotional responses and exhibit erratic behaviors. Some signs of emotional relapse include:

  • Isolation and withdrawal from friends and support systems
  • Bottling up emotions and not expressing them
  • Poor self-care, neglecting basic needs like sleep and nutrition
  • Increased irritability, anxiety, or anger
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed

It's important to remember that even though your friend may not be actively contemplating substance use, these emotional signs can lay the groundwork for a potential relapse. Offering your understanding, empathy, and companionship can provide much-needed support during this stage.

Mental Relapse

As the emotional relapse progresses, individuals may enter the stage of mental relapse. During this stage, they may experience internal struggle and thoughts about using substances again. Signs of mental relapse may include:

  • Romanticizing past substance use experiences
  • Cravings and urges to use
  • Associating with old friends or environments connected to substance use
  • Planning or fantasizing about obtaining and using substances
  • Experiencing a sense of guilt or shame about their thoughts and struggles

During the mental relapse stage, individuals may feel torn between their desire to stay sober and their cravings for substances. It's crucial to offer non-judgmental support, encourage open communication, and remind your friend of the progress they have made in their recovery journey.

Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is the final stage of the relapse process, where an individual actually consumes the substance, breaking their sobriety. At this stage, the signs of impending relapse become evident through their behavior and substance use. It's important to remember that prevention and support efforts are most effective during the earlier stages of relapse. If physical relapse occurs, it's essential to encourage your friend to seek professional help and re-engage in their treatment plan.

Understanding and recognizing the signs of impending relapse can help you provide the right support to your friend. However, it's important to keep in mind that relapse is a common occurrence during recovery. Being non-judgmental, empathetic, and maintaining open lines of communication can go a long way in helping your friend navigate the challenges of relapse and continue on their path to recovery.

Supporting a Friend After a Relapse

When a friend experiences a relapse, it's important to provide them with the support they need during this challenging time. Knowing how to approach the situation and offer assistance can make a significant difference in their recovery journey. Here are some key strategies for supporting a friend after a relapse.

Choosing the Right Time and Place

Selecting an appropriate time and place to discuss the relapse is crucial. It's essential to have this conversation when your friend is sober and in a quiet, non-threatening environment, free from distractions and interruptions. Avoid crowded places or situations that might make your friend feel cornered or overwhelmed. By choosing the right time and place, you can create an atmosphere conducive to open and honest communication.

Expressing Concern with Care

When expressing your concern to your friend, it's vital to approach the conversation without judgment or blame. Use "I" statements to communicate your feelings, making it clear that your concern stems from love and not from judgment or anger. Be honest, gentle, understanding, and patient when expressing your feelings. Ensure that your friend knows that their well-being is of utmost importance to you. By expressing your concern with care, you create a safe space for open dialogue and understanding.

Providing Support without Enabling

Supporting a friend after a relapse requires a delicate balance. It's crucial to be patient and understanding without ignoring harmful behavior or making excuses for your friend. Instead, provide a supportive presence, demonstrating kindness and reassurance that they are not alone during this challenging time. Remind them that a relapse is a setback, not a failure, and it does not define their journey to recovery. However, it's important to avoid enabling behaviors that unintentionally support their substance use. Refrain from hostility, blaming, shaming, and using drugs or alcohol in their presence, as these actions can be counterproductive in aiding recovery.

By choosing the right time and place, expressing concern with care, and providing support without enabling, you can be a vital source of strength and encouragement for your friend as they navigate their recovery journey. Remember that each individual's needs may vary, so it's important to be flexible and adapt your approach based on their unique circumstances.

Preventing Relapse

Preventing relapse is an important aspect of supporting a friend who has experienced a setback in their recovery journey. By being aware of warning signs, addressing triggers, and implementing effective strategies for relapse prevention, you can play a crucial role in helping your friend maintain their sobriety.

Identifying Warning Signs

Recognizing the warning signs of relapse is key to preventing a full-blown relapse. Some common warning signs include:

  • Romanticizing drug use, reminiscing about the positive aspects of substance use [2].
  • Believing that it is possible to use drugs or alcohol casually without experiencing negative consequences.
  • Reconnecting with old relationships associated with drug use.
  • Behavioral changes such as isolation, withdrawal from social activities, and neglecting self-care.
  • Doubts about the effectiveness of the recovery process.

By being vigilant and observant of these signs, you can intervene early and offer support to your friend.

Addressing Triggers

Triggers can significantly increase the risk of relapse. Common triggers include depression, stress, exhaustion, and isolation. It is important to help your friend recognize their triggers and develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage them.

Encourage your friend to engage in activities that reduce stress and promote well-being, such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies they enjoy. Encourage them to seek professional help if needed, such as therapy or counseling, to address underlying emotional or mental health issues.

Strategies for Relapse Prevention

Implementing effective strategies for relapse prevention is crucial for your friend's ongoing recovery. Here are some strategies that can be helpful:

  • Support and Education: Provide ongoing support and education to your friend about addiction, recovery, and relapse prevention. Help them understand the nature of addiction and the importance of maintaining a strong support system.
  • Reentering Treatment: If your friend experiences a relapse, encourage them to seek professional help and reenter a treatment facility. This can provide them with additional resources, guidance, and support to get back on track.
  • Developing Coping Skills: Help your friend develop healthy coping skills to manage stress, cravings, and negative emotions. Encourage them to explore various techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, journaling, or engaging in creative outlets.
  • Building a Support Network: Encourage your friend to connect with others who are also in recovery. This can provide them with a sense of community and understanding. Additionally, attending support group meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), can be beneficial.
  • Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan: Work with your friend to create a relapse prevention plan. This plan should outline specific strategies for avoiding triggers, managing cravings, and seeking support when needed.

It is important to remember that relapse is a common occurrence during the recovery process, with rates similar to other health conditions like hypertension and asthma. Supporting your friend with empathy, understanding, and a non-judgmental approach can make a significant difference in their recovery journey.

Resources for Support

When a friend faces a relapse, it's important to provide them with the support and resources they need to navigate through this challenging time. In Canada, there are various helplines and support services available to assist individuals seeking addiction treatment and immediate crisis support.

Helplines in Canada

For individuals seeking addiction treatment resources in Canada, there are helplines available across different provinces. These helplines provide a valuable source of information, guidance, and support. Here are a few examples of helplines in Canada:

Province Helpline

  • Alberta: Alberta Addiction Helpline - 1-866-332-2322
  • British Columbia: Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service - 1-800-663-1441
  • Ontario: ConnexOntario - 1-866-531-2600

Immediate Crisis Support

In urgent situations where immediate mental health assistance is needed, individuals can reach out to the 9-8-8 Suicide Crisis Helpline. This helpline provides round-the-clock support for those in immediate danger or in need of urgent mental health assistance.

(Source: CCSA)

Quality Addiction Care Guide

The "Finding Quality Addiction Care in Canada" guide is a valuable resource developed to help individuals make informed decisions when seeking substance use treatment for themselves or their loved ones. This guide was created through a partnership between the Canadian Executive Council on Addictions, the Government of Alberta, and the CCSA.

The guide offers comprehensive information on the different types of treatment options available, factors to consider when choosing a treatment provider, and questions to ask when seeking treatment. It also provides resources for healthcare professionals to promote the guide in their communities, including waiting room images and posters.

By utilizing these helplines and resources, individuals can access the support they need during the challenging times of relapse. It's important to remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, and there are professionals and organizations available to provide guidance and assistance throughout the recovery journey.

Role of Relationships in Recovery

When a friend or loved one faces a relapse, the role of relationships becomes crucial in providing support and aiding their journey towards recovery. Relationships can have a profound impact on reducing the risk of relapse and promoting overall well-being. In this section, we will explore the various aspects of relationships in the context of recovery.

Supporting Recovery

Experts suggest that relationships play a critical role in helping individuals recover from addiction. By offering support, understanding, and empathy, you can create a safe space for your friend to share their challenges and seek guidance. Being caring and direct, avoiding aggression, hostility, and enabling, and asking how you can help are effective approaches to support someone who has relapsed. Letting them know that you still support their recovery journey can provide the encouragement they need to get back on track.

Avoiding Enabling Behaviors

While supporting a friend who has relapsed, it is important to avoid enabling behaviors. Enabling can unintentionally support their substance use and hinder their recovery progress. It is crucial to refrain from hostility, blaming, shaming, and using drugs or alcohol in their presence. Instead, focus on providing emotional support, encouraging healthy habits, and guiding them towards appropriate resources for professional help. By avoiding enabling behaviors, you can help create an environment that promotes recovery and discourages substance use.

Using the Stages of Change Model

The stages of change model can be a useful tool in understanding an individual's readiness for sobriety. This model consists of several stages, including precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, and action. Each stage represents a different level of readiness and willingness to make changes. By gauging your friend's stage of change, you can provide more appropriate and effective support after a relapse. Understanding their current mindset can help tailor your approach and interventions to meet their specific needs.

Remember, relapse is a common occurrence on the recovery journey, and it's important to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. By offering unwavering support, avoiding enabling behaviors, and considering their stage of change, you can play a vital role in helping your friend navigate through the challenges of relapse and continue their path towards long-term recovery.


Contact Us

Leora Behavioral Health offers a comprehensive addiction treatment program to help you get your life back on track. Our trained professionals will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your unique needs. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, reach out to Leora Behavioral Health today.

"*" indicates required fields
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.