Relapse can be a challenging experience, both for the individual facing it and for their loved ones. It can be unsettling and frustrating, making it hard to begin helping someone who has relapsed. Despite the best intentions, people may falter in their journey to recovery. The chronic nature of addiction, unfortunately, makes relapse a common occurrence. However, it’s crucial to understand that relapse doesn’t signify failure in achieving long-term change.

When a relapse occurs, your loved one needs the support of their friends and family as they navigate the path to recovery once more.

So, how can you extend a helping hand during this vulnerable time? Here are six ways to assist your friend or family member if they have experienced a relapse:


One of the most important things you can do is to lend an empathetic ear. Rather than passing judgment, create a safe space for your loved one to share their feelings and perspectives on the events leading to the relapse. 

It’s vital to display empathy and withhold judgment, encouraging open communication. Addiction is a challenging battle at any stage of recovery. During low points like a relapse, offering positivity and support is crucial. Remind them of the better days ahead and reassure them that you’re there for them.

Avoid Blame

Avoid directing blame at your loved one by refraining from asking questions like “Why did you do it?” Such questions can lead to feelings of guilt and defensiveness. Instead, focus on discussing the events that preceded the relapse. 

Please encourage them to explain the situation, including any specific triggers they may have encountered. By having an empathetic and open conversation, you can work together to identify negative pressures or triggers they should be aware of in the future.

Offer Unconditional Support

Understand that your loved one is likely experiencing one of their weakest moments. They may be hesitant or embarrassed to seek help or confide in someone else. Therefore, it’s essential to offer your support without judgment. The fact that they’ve shared their relapse with you demonstrates their desire for help. 

Your support can motivate them to seek addiction treatment and rejoin their recovery community. However, avoid becoming a crutch or exerting excessive control while offering support. Your loved one needs to make decisions regarding their recovery, and it’s not for you to dictate.

Choose Your Words Thoughtfully

It’s natural to feel disappointed upon learning of your loved one’s relapse, especially if it’s not their first. Despite your feelings, try not to express this disappointment excessively to your loved one. While sharing your emotions is okay, remember how your words might come across. 

Instead of focusing on their perceived failure, use “I” statements to express your feelings. For example, say, “I feel uncomfortable with [specific activity]” rather than making accusatory statements like “You need to stop [specific activity].” Remember that your loved one may already be grappling with guilt, and adding more guilt can be counterproductive to their recovery.

Billy Vevle, LICSW, Chief Executive Officer at The Estate, encourages family and friends to take a moment to reflect on themselves before making a statement. “Look back at a time that you made a change in your life, whether it was going on a diet or starting an exercise routine,” Vevle advises. “Did you ever slide back to your old ways? Now, think about attempting to change your life when you have a disorder that physically alters your thoughts.”

Set Boundaries

Although offering support is crucial, it doesn’t mean you should provide a free pass for your loved one’s actions. It is important to set boundaries and ensure they don’t take advantage of your generosity. Your loved one should not develop the expectation that you will always “bail them out.” Vevle adds, “Allow the natural consequences of relapse to occur while remaining ready to act when they ask for help.” 

Setting boundaries helps heal and prevents your loved one from becoming overly reliant on you. Remember that their sobriety is ultimately their responsibility. To progress in addiction treatment, they must take ownership of their actions.

Respect Their Privacy

While you may be genuinely concerned for your loved one’s health and well-being, it’s important to recognize that their recovery progress, or lack thereof, is ultimately personal. Avoid trying to control or manage their recovery, as you may have attempted to control their substance use in the past. 

Instead, be there to offer support when they need it. If they want to discuss their progress, listen attentively and with empathy. Recovery is an ongoing journey that requires dedication and effort. Appreciate the challenges your loved one faces, and take the time to celebrate even small victories.

When a loved one experiences a relapse, it can be distressing and frustrating for everyone involved. However, it’s crucial to remember that relapse doesn’t equate to failure. With the support and assistance of caring friends and family, your loved one can be encouraged to take the necessary steps to rekindle their journey toward recovery.