Nov 10, 2014 | By Tim Stoddart

7 Signs Your Friend Might Be Headed Towards Relapse

Relapse Prevention

7 signs your friend is about to relapse

It’s often said in recovery circles that “you are the last one to know that you are about to relapse.” It can be very tough to be self aware, and often times we need loved ones and supports to let us know if we are slipping.

If you have ever relapsed, you will understand the pain and the shame that comes with it. Not only did you lose all the recovery time that you worked so hard for, but now your life is spiraling down hill and you are too ashamed and embarrassed to ask for help. If you are in this situation, you need to swallow your pride and ask for help. Picking yourself up after a relapse is possible.

However, it is best to never get to that point. It is easier to stay clean than to get clean. In order to stay clean, we have to look out for one another. Sometimes we get worried our friends are headed towards a relapse, but we don’t know exactly what to look for.

If you need to talk to a professional, call the Sober Nation hotline. We will never judge you. 866-317-7050.

Here are 7 straight forward signs to look for if you think a friend is heading towards relapse…

 1 – They Stop Going to Meetings

Not everyone gets their recovery from a 12 step fellowship, but for those that do, this is and always will be the most glaring sign.

Even for those that do attend meetings, not everyone goes to meetings every day. But, some really depend on meetings and fellowship to stay sober.

It should be a concern when anyone admits that they aren’t going to meetings anymore. Some people decide to stop attending meetings and still maintain their sobriety, but it’s still something to be aware of.

Meetings work, fellowship works, and helping another alcoholic is the most proven and reliable method to stay sober. If your friend stops going to meetings, you may want to have a conversation about that.

2 – They Lose Connection with their Support Group

Everyone needs a little help sometimes…

i got your back

Once people in recovery start to think “they have it all figured out” is when we should start to worry.

Remember that a good support group will respect you enough to tell you when they think you are acting inappropriately. A good support will “call you out on your bullshit.” When people start avoiding their supports, it’s usually because they don’t want to hear what they have to say. Probably because it’s the truth.

If you see a friend or a loved one start drifting away from the people who hold him or her accountable, have a talk with them. Maybe there is a good reason for it, but it’s definitely a warning sign that should be addressed.

3 – Starts Talking about “Having Just One”

just one drink

Every addict or alcoholic goes through this at some point. I have yet to meet someone in recovery (including myself) that hasn’t wondered if they could go out and have a drink with friends or a glass of wine with dinner. It can play tricks on your mind, and it’s important to tell the truth.

If we could have just one, than we wouldn’t be here.

“Most of us had been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.”

– A.A. Big Book. Chapter 3. Page 30

The obsession is very real. Sometimes we need to confront our loved ones. When you are stuck in this kind of thinking, it can be difficult to see for ourselves. That’s why we need people around us to tell us the truth.

4 – Your Friend Starts Isolating

There is always the possibility that you’re friend or loved one is going through a tough time. Depression can sneak up on people. Dealing with depression is very difficult because it feels hopeless. It may feel as though this depression will last forever, and your mind fills with fears and worries and anxieties.

Isolation is a common coping mechanism when people are feeling depressed. The problem with isolating is that when an addict is alone, they have no one to listen to but themselves. We get stuck in our heads and there is no one to tell us otherwise. At some point a soft creeping voice in our minds may whisper the words “maybe a drink will make me feel better.”

If you notice your loved one isolating, simply ask to have a talk, and ask them what is going on. Your support means more than you know.

5 – Denial – They Say Things Like “It Wasn’t that Bad”

Actually… it was that bad.

It’s common for people with some clean time under their belts to start forgetting just how terrible a life of addiction actually is. We learn so much about ourselves in recovery and we imagine that if we start drinking or using, we can maintain this life.

It is important that we never forget how bad it used to be.

Speaking personally, the anguish of my withdrawals are and always will be a huge motivating factor in my daily reprieve from using. If a friend starts saying things along the lines of “it wasn’t that bad” or “I just had a little problem” do not hesitate to point out all the destruction and all the pain they caused while in active addiction. Don’t hesitate to mention being shipped to rehab or maybe even prison. Your tough love may save their life.

For real addicts and alcoholics, there is no middle group. It’s all or nothing.

 6 – Talks About “Just Wanting to be Normal”


This one is also very common. It is difficult to admit the truth. It is difficult to know in our hearts that no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to drink like other people.

This is one of the most common reasons people relapse. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Countless times people we love pick up that first drink hoping they can do it like everyone else. Over and over again we have to watch them spiral down that dreaded path into full blown addiction.

It’s one of the most peculiar things about addiction. We know it hasn’t worked for other people. Very few of us have seen examples of people being able to “start drinking like a normal person,” yet we give it a shot anyway. Then it’s off to the races.

It can be really heartbreaking to watch.

7 – Starts Replacing Addictions

The drugs and the alcohol aren’t necessarily what addiction is about. Addiction is about a person not understanding themselves, not belonging to something and coping with the struggles in their spiritual, mental, emotional and physical lives.

If someone starts acting obsessively, you should take notice.

This might include…

  • obsessive exercising
  • obsessive eating habits: counting calories, not eating enough, purging or binge eating
  • getting overly involved or concerned over a relationship
  • cutting or other forms of self mutilation
  • working around the clock
  • hording belongings

This is important because until the real issues are addressed, it is common for people to replace one addiction with another. Some would say that these other addictions are less harmful. They might argue that “at least their not shooting heroin.”

There may be some truth to that, but understand that the drugs and the drink are always at arms reach. Unless the real issues or addressed, the chances of relapse are always much greater.

It is one thing to have a healthy workout routine, or watch what you eat. It is another to do these things obsessively to where they take precedence over everything else. This is really a judgement call, but if a loved one is at the “borderline” it worth having a conversation.

How To Approach a Friend You Think Will Relapse

Our best advice is to come from a place of love, compassion and understanding. If you are having a talk with a friend about some concerns, it’s best to be honest. You will not be able to manipulate an addict, in fact it may turn against you.

Tell them that you love them, that you have seen them slipping and that you are concerned. Come from a non judgmental viewpoint. Tell them you understand and that you just want to help.

Relapse is heart breaking for the families, friends and the person relapsing. So it’s best to be supportive and remind them how far they have come and that they are doing a great job.

If all else fails, just show them this picture.

whos awesome

16 responses to “7 Signs Your Friend Might Be Headed Towards Relapse

  • I have been drinking for 57 years I did stop for a couple years but like it said relapse. No I cannot have only one I want it all. I will be sober for two months this Thursday Go to meetings a lot almost daily.I find it easier to go through the day if I go to the meetings. Will be 75 this month and would like it to be a sober one
    Thanks RED

    • Great article and so true. Getting to someone before they actually pick up the chemical is imperative. Relapse like recovery is a process and relapse ends when we pick up the chemical

  • Elizabeth H

    9 years ago

    Best of luck to you David! I will be “1” this month, anniversary is Nov 20. Meetings are so important to me. I am so much happier than I’ve ever been, and life is happening again! Never too old to live sober, I didn’t get it til I was 50!

  • Red. Don’t drink and you won’t get drunk. Congratulations on two months.

  • Way to go David. You don’t ever have to take another drink as long as you live if you don’t want to. That is the truth. Stay in today. Thursday is still a couple of days away. Just don’t drink one day at a time. Glad to hear you’re going to meetings. Keep going. This thing works! I’m living proof. May you be blessed with another day sober and hope you have a sober birthday this month. It’s never to late my friend. Go to any lengths to stay sober. God Bless! 10170 (days sober).

  • Keep it up Red!!
    Just keep it one day at a time and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Meetings are a great thing. I have been taking it one day at a time for over 22 years now and still need my support group and my meetings!!

  • I have stopped going to meetings and have picked up again and am ashamed of admitting it. I had five years until something traumatic happened and then suddenly one day I just decided to have a drink.

  • Nonsense.
    If we are beyond all human aid then humans can not provide us with the defense against the first drink.
    If we are not, then we are probably wasting good drinking time.

  • My boyfriend is four months clean from heroine.. Because he was in jail. Before that he was about 1 year clean (with methadone). And before that he was on it for 5 years.. He’s a brilliant man. Super smart. Graduated high school, top 4 of his class..He’s staying with me now im trying to help him get a job and get back on his feet again. This article really helped. When he came off methadone, not even a week later, he started heavy drinking, talking about the “great” sensation it gave him.. Etc. So thank you. I didn’t know those were relapse signs..thank you!!

  • Donna Drury

    8 years ago

    My son was at your rehab, he got discharged for two months. This means two months back in jail. You want to discuss relaps , I don’t agree with discharge. I thought he was there to overcome these behavior issues . Jail is full of drugs and you feel worthless. I feel there were other ways of punishment then releasing him to the streets. He loved rehab and can’t wait to get back even his attorney said he could see a difference in him.
    I’m just a mother reaching out for help, Thanks

    • I feel your pain Donna. My son also was “sober” while he did his time in jail. Before that he was in rehab and got kicked out because of his behavior too. He’s been out for 3 months and has relapsed 4 times that I am aware of so far. We have to lock all doors and windows at our house and live like we are in jail when he is out of jail. Tough love isn’t tough….it’s heart breaking! He is looking into other rehabs in our area, and this time I am NOT helping him. If he wants to do this he will find a way and his father and I will support him only if he finds a program and actually uses it……thoughts and prayers to you and your family

  • Donna Drury

    8 years ago

    My son is doing great, even though he is sitting ing jail waiting to go back to his rehab. My concern is if they act out at all they are discharged instead of being punished. I just can’t understand that rule. If it’s a big matter like beating, bringing in drugs and etc. I can understand. But little child things No.
    Bottom line they need help, my understanding jail us worse than the streets for drugs. Do not understand how they get them in. Luck with your Son

  • You absolutely do not lose the recovery time you already have. That time counted! That time meant something and to say some one loses that time because they have to start at day 1 again, is absolutely a lie.

    Besides all we really have I’d ODAT.

  • Nancy Ripley-Hood

    4 years ago

    There is only one thing that I disagree with. That is that the article said that the relapse will cause the person to lose all their sobriety time. That is, in my opinion, wrong. Nothing takes away the sobriety that a person has or had. It means the person must start again but to suggest they have lost their sobriety when the person slips is wrong. The fact that one has had sobriety can help the person to recover. I had 21 years of sobriety. I went to a tea one afternoon with my husband and figured I wasn’t an alcoholic after all. I had one glass of changed and no ill consequences. We went to another function and I had another glass of champagne. Again, no i’ll consequences. Three weeks later, my husband found me drunk, having drunk a whole bottle of Crown Royal. My husband asked me why and I slurred back that I was an alcoholic. My home group had an interesting take on my major relapse. They told me I had had 21 years of sobriety and no one could take that away from me. I held on to that thought and have been sober since. I know if I believed that my sobriety had been in vain, I would have given up completely. But I believed it hadn’t been in vain and I could and did rise again.

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