woman supporting a loved one in addiction recovery, woman intervening the early signs of relapse in loved one

Supporting a loved one in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction can be challenging, especially when you’re unsure of when to intervene. Identifying the early warning signs of relapse in addiction recovery and knowing when to intervene can help prevent a loved one from returning to drug or alcohol abuse.

Understanding the Stages of Relapse in Addiction Recovery

Relapse in addiction recovery is not just an abrupt decision but rather a gradual process leading up to the event. There are three stages of addiction relapse: emotional, mental, and physical relapse. Emotional relapse is when an individual is not thinking about using again, but their emotions and behaviors may be setting them up for it in the future. If you notice someone is starting to bottle up their feelings, neglecting self-care and hobbies, isolating themselves, and skipping out on recovery meetings, you should check in on them.

The second stage is the mental stage of relapse, when someone in recovery is having thoughts about using or is romanticizing past substance use. In this stage, a loved one might be experiencing addiction cravings, lying about their whereabouts, and finding excuses for substance use. This is the stage right before physical relapse when individuals might start looking for opportunities to use again without anyone finding out.

struggling with drug addiction and showing signs of relapse

Physical relapse, the third and final stage, is when the individual starts using again. This might begin with a minor slip-up and gradually turn into regular use. Identifying which stage of relapse a loved one is in can be difficult, especially if they’re being secretive. Many people in recovery can mask their emotions and the signs when they start using again. Even if someone has healthy relationships, a promising career, and seems happy, they can still be at risk of relapse without the proper treatment and prevention strategies.

Top 5 Early Warning Signs of Relapse in a Loved One

Identifying the early warning signs of relapse not only helps prevent a loved one from relapsing but also the possibility of an overdose. Relapse in addiction recovery is not a sign of failure but rather the need for refined treatment and prevention strategies. Drug and alcohol relapse rates are similar to those of other chronic illnesses like asthma or high blood pressure (hypertension). If someone with asthma or hypertension stops receiving treatment or utilizing prevention strategies, they are likelier to relapse.

When someone enters the stages of relapse, it might be because they might have slacked off with recovery meetings, their daily routine, or might be struggling with interpersonal relationships or their mental health. These can all act as triggers for relapse. Helping a loved one in addiction recovery avoid relapse requires being an attentive and healthy individual in their life. Here are five early warning signs to look out for when you think your loved one might be relapsing:

1. Changes in Behavior

Individuals in addiction recovery who have sudden changes in their behaviors or emotions could be a warning sign of relapse. If a loved one is being more secretive, experiencing mood swings, or returning to old habits or friendships they had when they were using, this could suggest relapse.

2. Neglecting Recovery Efforts

When a loved one in recovery starts to skip their recovery meetings, therapy sessions, or other recovery-related activities, this is a major red flag for relapse. Neglecting prevention strategies might also mean overlooking their self-care, recovery tools, and activities that help maintain their sobriety.

struggling with addiction cravings and signs of relapse

3. Romanticizing Past Drug Use

When someone in recovery starts thinking about their past addiction and substance abuse in a positive light, this is a significant warning sign. They might begin to make excuses or find loopholes for using drugs or alcohol again, thinking they can control it and downplay the consequences.

Some may have the illusion of control over their substance use, thinking they can start using again without falling into old habits and addictive behaviors. The idea that you can control or limit your substance use in addiction recovery is a very slippery slope that often leads to relapse.

4. Stress and Poor Emotional Management

High-stress levels and negative emotions are the most common triggers for a drug or alcohol relapse. Many individuals turn to drugs or alcohol as a maladaptive way of coping, heightening the risk for relapse. Using substances may have been their escape or relief from emotional pain and distress, further triggering their cravings when dealing with challenging emotions in recovery.

Pay attention if a loved one in recovery seems to be exhibiting signs of anxiety, depression, isolation, or overreacting. Emotional instability is a significant relapse trigger for someone in addiction recovery.

5. Physical Changes

If you begin noticing your loved one neglecting their hygiene and physical appearance, this may indicate them falling back into old habits. Other physical signs of relapse include significant weight changes or exhibiting symptoms of intoxication like coordination impairments or slurred speech.

man in addiction treatment for early warning signs of relapse in recovery

Helping a Loved One in Addiction Recovery: Relapse Prevention and Intervention

Being able to recognize the stages and early warning signs of relapse in a loved one can help protect them from falling back into addictive habits. As a loved one of someone in addiction recovery, be supportive, honest, and cautious when expressing concerns about their behavioral changes. Supporting a loved one in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction requires proactive relapse prevention strategies and support. Just a few ways you can help a loved one prevent relapse in addiction recovery:

  • Educate yourself about the nature of addiction and the recovery process
  • Foster a supportive environment for your loved one
  • Build a healthy relationship with open communication
  • Promote their recovery efforts
  • Support them through therapy and recovery meetings
  • Learn and practice stress management techniques with them
  • Be aware of their triggers and how to handle a triggering situation
  • Know when to intervene
  • Acknowledge and celebrate their recovery milestones
  • Be patient and supportive
  • Don’t forget to take care of yourself

Helping someone maintain sobriety can be mentally and emotionally draining. Support your loved ones, but don’t forget to prioritize your mental and emotional well-being. Joining support groups for individuals with an addicted loved one can offer support and encouragement when you need it the most.

If you or a loved one are battling a drug or alcohol addiction or are exhibiting signs of relapse, reach out to Coastal today. Our South Florida drug and alcohol detox in Stuart, FL, offers addiction treatment programs for individuals struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD).