Addiction is a pervasive issue throughout the United States. It affects every state, impacting most communities and many families. According to a report from the U.S. Surgeon General, more than 27 million Americans use illegal drugs or abuse prescription medications, while more than 66 million reported binge drinking within the previous month alone.

Substance abuse is a chronic disease, which means the condition requires lifelong management. According to estimates from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, relapse rates for people with substance abuse issues are similar to relapse rates for people with other chronic illnesses – including hypertension and asthma. About 40-60% of people with substance use disorders relapse, while 50-70% of patients with hypertension and 50-70% of patients with asthma relapse, respectively. For many people, relapse is part of the alcohol addiction recovery process.

Relapse is common, but it is understandable that you may feel frustrated about the process. To help yourself and your loved one move forward after a drug or alcohol relapse, you need to understand why people relapse and the immediate steps that should be taken.

Communicate Your Concerns and Offer Suggestions

Do not try and discuss relapse or recovery with someone while they are high or drunk. Once your loved one is sober and ready to talk, you need to let them know you are aware that they are using again. The key is to make sure you remain nonjudgmental. Passing judgement on someone who has relapsed will only contribute to their feelings of isolation and loneliness. They may also be less likely to trust you if they run into issues. You want to remain as open-minded as possible while communicating your message clearly – the substance abuse must end and help is available.

Recognize Situations That May Lead to Alcohol Relapse

Having a stable and loving place to live can help addicts stay on track, but the reality is that there is an entire world outside that they will need to face. Understanding what situations might trigger an alcohol relapse can help you better support your loved one as they move through their recovery. Major causes for relapse include:

  • Stress and/or loneliness. Stress is an inevitable part of life, but people recovering from addiction are going through an exceptionally stressful phase. Feelings of loneliness and anxiety are common among people in recovery. Try to help your loved one avoid stress as much as possible and to keep them company during tougher moments.
  • People or places from the past. People going through recovery need to do their best to avoid the people and places they associate with substance abuse. It is likely that if they return to their old circle of friends, alcohol or drugs will once again be within close reach. Encourage your loved one to meet new people and to establish new routines.
  • Alcohol, and to a lesser but still important extent drugs, can be synonymous with celebration. Abusing these substances can be especially tempting when everyone is celebrating. Your loved one should avoid these types of celebrations if they can, but if they must attend, they should be prepared to battle their temptation the entire time.

Suggest Aftercare Programs and a Means for Ongoing Support

A relapse can suggest that the original treatment strategies were not fully followed. Was your loved one seeing a therapist for counseling? Do they attend support groups? Do they participate in spiritual activities for mindfulness? These are important parts of recovery, and aftercare programs can help to facilitate these strategies.

Ongoing professional help can support continued sobriety and decrease the likelihood for future relapse. Aftercare programs can help your loved one:

  • Understand their triggers
  • Learn coping mechanisms to deal with stress and anxiety
  • Deal with any co-occurring mental issues, such as depression or personality disorders

Feelings of despair are common among people who have relapsed. Recovery is hard work, but reminding your loved one that they have a life worth living and keeping them accountable to that hard work can help them stay on track and ultimately lead a healthy, happy, substance-free life.