How to Handle a Relapse

The process of recovery from alcohol or drug addiction may seem fairly straightforward. After acknowledging the addiction, the individual typically seeks treatment to help manage the effects of withdrawal and achieve sobriety. What’s less well-known is the risk of a relapse. Relapses do not signal a cessation of the recovery process, but they can be dangerous. Knowing what to do if an alcoholic relapses or a drug addict goes back to using, whether it occurs to you or a loved one, can help make the journey back to abstinence a safe one.

What Is a Relapse?

A common misconception is the assumption that the process of recovery concludes with treatment. Drugs have a permanent effect on the chemistry of the brain, which makes recovery a constant endeavor. If an individual returns to their previous pattern of negative thoughts, behavior, and unhealthy coping practices, they may feel greater temptation to return to the drug and may resume using. This return is called a relapse.

How to Handle a Relapse

Family members and friends may struggle to figure out what to do when someone relapses on drugs or alcohol. A key point to remember when first determining how to handle a relapse is to understand that a relapse does not mean that recovery has failed or that the recovering individual is a failure. Relapse is a common occurrence in the recovery process and can actually be a way of discovering more about the individual and which aspects of their recovery may need more attention. However, a relapse can also be dangerous, as the individual may overdose because they are no longer be able to tolerate the amount of drugs or alcohol they were used to prior to treatment.

Knowing what to do when someone relapses on drugs or alcohol can mean the difference between pushing them back toward addiction and providing the support to continue recovery. A relapse should never be ignored. Pretending that it was just a one-time mistake can pave the way for further drug or alcohol use. The relapse should be fully acknowledged, and the individual must give serious thought to how to proceed. A return to rehab can help, especially if relapse becomes a frequent event. Some may find it beneficial to speak with a counselor. As a friend or loved one, one of the best actions you can take is to provide constant, non-judgmental support. Encourage them to continue their plan for recovery, and work to provide an environment conducive to that goal.

Professional Relapse Assistance

A successful addiction recovery means developing new habits and new ways of coping with drug cravings as they arise as well as figuring out what to do if an alcoholic relapses or a drug addict uses again. A relapse may be disheartening, but it’s also a chance to pursue recovery with renewed strength and dedication. If a relapse is particularly difficult to recover from or if it leads to a return to addiction, seeking professional treatment can be one of the best ways to get back on track. BetterAddictionCare offers a pre-screening to help determine the best treatment center match for each of our clients. A medically-assisted detox will help make the path to sobriety both safe and comfortable. After the customized treatment program concludes, a committed recovery team near you will help provide support to reduce the chances of an additional relapse. The decision to get sober is a commendable one, and we’re here to help you or a loved one find the right plan to continue recovery. Call today or fill out our contact form to start healing.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). Retrieved from
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2015). Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 74: Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons With Co-Occurring Disorders. Retrieved from
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2015). Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 45: Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Retrieved from
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2020). Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator. Retrieved from
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021). Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from
  6. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021). MedlinePlus, Substance Abuse Problems. Retrieved from
  7. U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2020). 2020 National Directory of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment Programs. Retrieved from
Who Answers