When someone you care about relapses, it can be almost as difficult as dealing with a relapse yourself. It’s not easy to watch a friend relapse and make decisions that threaten their future. In addition, the relapse can stir up all kinds of fears—fear for your friend’s future, fear for your relationship with the person and fear for your own sobriety.

Relapses do happen, and they’re considered a normal part of recovery, but someone else’s relapse doesn’t have to threaten your sobriety. In this article, we’ll talk more about the risk of relapse and discuss ways to support a relapsing friend without destabilizing your own recovery efforts.

Understanding Relapse

Addiction isn’t a disease that you can cure and put behind you forever. It’s a chronic condition that can be managed successfully and sent into remission, but the risk of relapse is real. The relapse rate for addiction is similar to that of other chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, hovering between 40 and 60 percent.1

It’s important to recognize that a friend’s relapse doesn’t mean that their addiction treatment has failed. It just means that they may need to resume treatment or adjust their recovery resources to get back on track.2

Their Relapse Is Not About You

As painful as it can be to watch someone you care about relapse, you have to remember that their situation has nothing to do with you. Their relapse is their decision, and there’s nothing you could have done to prevent it—so don’t beat yourself up about it. Your friend’s relapse also doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to suffer a lapse yourself. Keep doing what works for you, and try not to let someone else’s lapse affect your own motivation and resolve.

Don’t Pull a Disappearing Act

If you’re truly worried that a friend’s relapse is threatening your recovery efforts, it’s important to take care of yourself first. You may have to put some degree of space between you and your relapsing friend. However, try not to vanish completely. This is a vulnerable time for your friend, and they need your presence and support more than ever. Just being available to listen can be incredibly helpful.

Try not to lecture them or adopt a self-righteous attitude. It won’t help, and it may push your friend away. You can be there to support your friend, but you can’t expect to save them. They have to do the hard work of getting back on track themselves.

As you’ve probably heard many times, recovery is a lifelong process. No two recovery journeys are alike, and there are likely to be bumps in the road along the way. There’s no doubt that it’s difficult to watch someone you care about undo their sobriety. While your own recovery has to come first, there are ways you can safely support your friend.

The most important thing to remember is that someone else’s relapse has nothing to do with your own recovery journey, and it doesn’t have to impact your sobriety.


  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201210/why-relapse-isnt-sign-failure