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How to Support a Recovering Alcoholic Through Relapse

 In Alcoholism, Relapse, Support Resources

It’s a question no one wants to ask. My spouse or loved one relapsed, what do I do next? The journey of recovery for alcoholics is a long one, dotted with obstacles and temptations. You may have already been there with them through an alcohol rehab program. As unfortunate as a relapse is, it is not the end, but an opportunity to provide support and understanding.


The Stages of Alcoholic Relapse

Before recovery can begin, one must understand the process of relapse. Relapse occurs in three stages: emotional, mental, and physical. Each play their part into one’s internal justification to begin drinking again.

Life constantly throws challenges at us, and it can be a struggle to maintain a healthy emotional balance. For alcoholics, they may have resorted to drinking to find that balance in the first place. The escape that alcohol provides is a comfort, reducing the toll of the workday or impact of personal stressors. Reminders of that escape are everywhere, especially when going through a particularly trying or difficult time. Anxiety, depression, and mental illness are triggers that many alcoholics struggle to overcome, and left unchecked, begin a relapse.

Mental relapse occurs when one struggles with determining what they value most. The reasons they stopped drinking in the first place seem to be in the past, the negative effects to one’s relationships, career, and health just distant memories. One must contend with two parts of themselves; the drinker and the recovering alcoholic. The former may take the shape of a fantasy filled with positive experiences with alcohol, overshadowing the reality of addiction. That romantic recollection of alcohol use can be motivation enough to begin planning the relapse outright, choosing what drink and where, and how to conceal it from loved ones despite needing their support more than ever.

Finally, the very act of drinking: physical relapse. The alcoholic chooses to drink, and does so to excess.


Recovering from an Alcoholic Relapse

Regardless of what drove your loved one to begin drinking again, it wasn’t an easy decision for them to make. Recovery is a lifelong journey, and relapse is a painful reality for alcoholics. It may feel like the weeks, months or years or sobriety are gone in an instant, leaving them vulnerable to the allure of alcohol. That makes the support of their loved ones an even more crucial component to their recovery. Here are some things to keep in mind through this process.


Limit Judgment

Relapse is a humiliating experience for recovering alcoholics, but one most alcoholics contend with at some point. For you, it’s a frustrating time as well, likely having been there during the recovery process. As difficult as this time is, it’s important not to point fingers. Addiction is a disease, and alcohol has one of the highest relapse rates of any substance. It’s important to acknowledge that a relapse is not the end of an alcoholic’s recovery, nor does a recovering alcoholic have to start from scratch. The routines, behaviors and support systems that maintained their sobriety in the first place are still there, and they can continue building on their progress.


Encourage Proactive Behaviors

A degree of ongoing treatment is necessary for any recovery from addiction. The factors that drive alcoholics’ behavior are not going anywhere, the circumstances perhaps fresher in their minds than ever following a relapse. Encourage your loved one to seek therapy, attend support groups and be there when they need you. Those established routines and behaviors above will be paramount to reestablishing sobriety and moving forward.


Respect Yourself

Your needs are no less important than those of your recovering loved one. While supporting an alcoholic through this especially difficult time is a priority, do not neglect yourself. Your physical and emotional health should not take a backseat: if you don’t take care of yourself, it will be virtually impossible for you to support another. Seek a support group for spouses and loved ones of alcoholics and share your experience with others. Psychology Today has an excellent tool to locate support groups near you:


Above all, recognize that you are not responsible for your loved one’s drinking, nor their relapse.



Lake Hughes Recovery understands that recovery is a process. If you feel that admission to a rehabilitation center is appropriate for your loved one, please do not hesitate to reach out below or call (888) 677-0502. We have an attentive, informed staff to give you more information on our center and treatment options.

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