When a loved one finds sobriety, we feel a great sense of relief and happiness. When a loved one battles addiction and commits to recovery, it’s pleasing to see their happiness and all the positive things that are happening in their life as a result of getting sober. While a sober family member or friend may be diligence in working their program of recovery, temptation often lurks around the corner. If a recovering addict does not address the underlying triggers and cravings they encounter, relapse often follows.

Much like addiction, the signs of relapse can be subtle and hard to detect at first. When you notice changes in a recovering addict’s mood or behavior, it can be difficult to sense if they are simply having an off day or if it’s a sign of potential relapse. The following are major signs that a loved one has relapsed. The more you understand the signs of relapse, the better you can help a loved one find help.

Signs That an Addict Has Relapsed

Changes in Behavior

One of the tell-tale signs that an addict has relapsed in a significant difference in their behavior. While behavior changes are alarming, you must look deeper before rushing to judgment. Staying sober can be very challenging, and people in recovery will have bad days. However, if you notice that a loved one’s behavior has changed for the worse over a more extended period of time, the alarm bells should sound. If your loved one is isolating or being defensive about how they are acting, it is a good chance they have relapsed, or relapse is about to occur.


During early recovery, people can feel on top of the world and that the worst is behind them. While this is a remarkable achievement, it can also lull those early in the recovery into a false sense of security. They may feel they are “cured” and don’t need to stay proactive in working a program of recovery. They may start missing meetings or stop working with their sponsors. Additionally, they may stop engaging in the healthy activities that helped strengthen their recovery. If a loved one or friend starts saying they are “cured” or “don’t need to work their program,” it’s essential to steer them back in the right direction. Missing meetings and commitments and going dark from sponsors, friends, and loved ones is a tell-tale sign of relapse.

Unable to Deal with PAWS

When someone first starts in recovery, they will experience withdrawal symptoms that usually take a week or two to subside. After this initial period, many new to recovery feel the worst is over. What many in early recovery may not realize is that the second wave of withdrawal symptoms will be felt a couple of months after treatment begins. This phenomenon is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

PAWS symptoms are mainly psychological and often cause considerable anxiety, depression, insomnia, and stress. Because these symptoms can be severe, those new to recovery may have tremendous difficulty in healthily handling them. If a newly recovering person is always stressed and finding a healthy way to manage that stress, they are setting themselves up for relapse as substances become to go-to for alleviating stressful situations.


When people are active in addiction, they live with a massive sense of denial. They are the last to see how their behaviors and actions impact their lives and the lives of others. When people who are in recovery feel vulnerable, they will turn to denial as a defense mechanism. They will deny stress is getting to them and will deny they are having problems with their sobriety. If they relapse, denial may keep them from gaining control of the situation before it gets back out of hand. It’s crucial for those to relapse to be honest and upfront and get back on track right away.

Helping Someone Who Has Relapsed

If a friend or loved one has relapsed, they will feel a tremendous sense of guilt and anger towards themselves. You must remain supportive when they are feeling their lowest. Be empathetic and take the time to listen. Be there to support them as they rebuild their recovery and offer to go to support meetings or counseling sessions. Let them know you are behind them 100 percent, and to not give up on themselves.