Understanding Addiction Relapse – A Family Guide

addiction relapse family walking in woods

Each member of the household must have an accurate perspective on addiction relapse and their own recovery plan


For family recovery to become a reality, each member of the household must have an accurate perspective on addiction relapse and their own recovery plan.  Any situation that stimulates old addictive pathways can lead to relapse in the person with addictive disease. Likewise, to members of their family! The most important thing is what the individual with a substance use disorder (SUD) and their family does when those old pathways are stimulated. 


Understanding Addiction Relapse

Acknowledging the realities of relapse and understanding the factors that contribute to relapse are essential to the recovering family. Here are some things to keep in mind when building an accurate and healthy perspective towards relapse.


Any person who enters recovery from an SUD is likely to experience a relapse in some form or another. We know that addiction is a complex, chronic, and progressive brain disease. Indeed, all chronic diseases are prone to relapse.  Addiction is a manageable and treatable disease; however, like other chronic diseases, it will always require management for stability.


Like other chronic diseases…

Like other chronic diseases, there is a 40%-60% rate of relapse (NIDA2018) for those with an SUD. In fact, relapse may well be a learning experience and part of the recovery process.  Relapse is so common in the human behavior change process that, a 6th stage has been added to the model of The Stages of Change, Relapse & Recycle. (Prochaska & DiClemente) 


Beverly Conyers, in her book, Everything Changes, reminds family members to always be prepared for relapse. Recovery for someone with an SUD and their family is a lifelong process.  Time spent in treatment for a SUD is laying the foundation for ongoing recovery.  Ongoing recovery happens as a result of the lifestyle that the individual with the SUD and their family create together.  This is where effective management of this family disease comes into play.


addiction relapse

Ongoing recovery happens in the lifestyle that the family creates together


Your individual recovery plan can “beat the relapse rate odds” for your loved one!


A Family Guide to Addiction Relapse and Recovery

An effective individual (adult) family member recovery plan includes the following:

  1. Attend individual counseling to reduce your own codependent behaviors.
  2. In addition, attend a weekly support group for yourself with other people dealing with codependent behaviors.
  3. Obtain a sponsor or accountability partner, especially if you do not get one-on-one counseling.
  4. Journal your thoughts and feelings about your interactions with your loved one. Such as positive and negative feelings. Do this several times a week. And take some of these journal entries to counseling or your identified support person.
  5. Read about addiction and family life.  
  6. Practice daily positive self-care: eat and sleep correctly, exercise, work and play!
  7. Keep communication open with your loved one with the SUD. Further, share your thoughts and feelings, refuse to argue, and agree to disagree.
  8. Do not judge or shame your family member with the SUD for their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors
  9. But do keep encouraging yourself and your loved to do what is necessary for each of your recovery plans.
  10. Keep in mind – recovery is a lifelong process.
  11. Last but not least, keep improving your family life together and keep recovery talk to a specific time.


In upcoming articles we will review factors that contribute to relapse and create a model for conducting Family Recovery Meetings.  Right now, build your foundation for your own recovery plan!


For more information on Recovery and Addiction Relapse, click the link below:


Caroline (Carli) Parmelee-Noffsinger has 20 years clinical experience including: primary therapist and case manager for residential, IOP and outpatient therapy. Carli’s primary role at Sanford House is facilitating the Family Program. She is currently updating and revising the program design and content and hopes to improve upon an already successful approach to family intervention. In her free time, Carli spends time with her horse. She has been a horse lover and owner for most of her life and has facilitated equine therapy sessions. She says, “The back of a horse is good for the inside of a person.” You can reach Carli with questions about The Sanford House Family Program at cnoffsinger@sanfordhouse.com