Telltale Signs Your Loved One May Have Relapsed During the Holidays

December 23rd, 2019

The holidays can be difficult for people recovering from substance abuse. Alcohol-centric events, stress and pressure from family members, and reconnecting with old friends can create an unsafe environment where the individual risks relapsing.

Relapses can be extremely dangerous. Over time, people who are addicted to substances develop a tolerance for them. As a result, they need to use more to feel the effects they crave. If a sober person relapses and uses the same amount of drugs he or she was using prior to starting recovery, they risk overdosing. 

If you have a loved one who is in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, it is important to know the signs of a relapse before it is too late. 

The Three Stages of Relapse

A relapse is not a singular event. In fact, it’s more of a process. Usually, relapse involves three stages: emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse.

·     Emotional relapse generally occurs before a recovering person considers using again. Usually, stress, anxiety, and anger cause emotional relapse. During this stage, the person often does not eat or sleep properly and is without his or her support systems.

·     Mental relapse is the second stage. During this period, the recovering person struggles with the idea of staying sober and using drugs or alcohol again. 

·     Physical relapse is the final stage. During this stage, the recovering person will begin using drugs or alcohol again.

Several signs can help you identify whether your loved one is approaching physical relapse. Intervening during the emotional and mental relapse stages can help your loved one stay on the path of sobriety.

Is Your Loved One Experiencing Elevated Stress Levels?

Stress is a major cause of drug and alcohol relapses. The holidays present several stressful situations and your loved one could be feeling family pressure, financial strain, travel, pressure to use alcohol or drugs, and reconnecting with old, potentially dangerous, friends. 

Stress increases can be due to a major life change or several small things building up over time. Your loved one can reach a critical point and want to drink or use drugs to relieve this stress. If your loved one seems stressed or tells you about feeling stressed, this may be an indication that a relapse is approaching. 


Many people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction experience depression. These prolonged periods of sadness can cause great mental anguish. Depression can lead to emotional relapse, which could push your loved one toward a physical relapse. 

Keep an eye out for these symptoms of depression and encourage your loved one to seek help:

·     Lack of interest in old activities

·     Low motivation

·     Poor or erratic concentration

·     Irregular sleep patterns

·     Irregular eating habits

·     Feelings of sadness

·     Fatigue

·     Suicidal thoughts and feelings

Isolation and Lack of Support

During recovery, your loved one’s support system is vital to keeping him or her on track. From one-on-one meetings to rehab group therapy, trained professionals with a wide array of resources and a wealth of addiction experience can help your loved one stay sober. 

However, people in recovery can start to isolate themselves from these positive influences if they are in the stages of relapse. They can also isolate themselves from friends and family, as well as activities they used to enjoy doing. Pushing accountability frameworks away makes it easier for someone to start using again.

If your loved one begins to isolate him or herself and avoid support groups, this could be a sign that he or she is considering using drugs or alcohol again.

Romanticizing Drug and Alcohol Use

If your loved one talks about drugs or alcohol in a positive or glamorized way, it could be a sign that he or she is in the mental relapse stage and physical relapse may be imminent.

Doubting the Recovery Process

Once your loved one starts to shun addiction support groups and treatment programs, he or she might start to question recovery altogether. Showing disdain for sobriety programs and doubting the effectiveness of sobriety is a bad sign. He or she may wonder if the process is worth it. This can be a strong indicator that your loved one is on the way to relapse.

Changes in Self-Care Strategies

Poor eating habits and sleep deprivation are indicators of stress, depression, and anxiety, all of which can sharply increase the risk of relapse. Keep an eye on your loved one’s self-care behaviors and make note of any drastic changes:

·     Not eating full meals or eating irregularly

·     Sleeping too much or too little

·     Low energy and fatigue

·     Irritability

·     Lack of interest in old hobbies and activities

·     Poor concentration

Lack of Daily Structure 

Transitioning from a rehabilitation facility to the real world can be jarring. It may be difficult to develop your own daily structure after having gone through a well-constructed program. Your loved one may not have a job or attend school, making it hard to develop a normal schedule. 

Without structure, your loved one can become bored and depressed. He or she may not know what to do with unstructured time and experience feelings of hopelessness and sadness. These conditions can lead to drug and alcohol use. 

Mood Swings and Irritability

When we are stressed, we can become irritable and often overreact to situations. Mood swings can be an indication of underlying mental health problems. If your loved one is acting unusually irritable or experiencing mood swings, he or she may be experiencing emotional relapse.

Seek Professional Help 

If your loved one relapses during the holiday season, let him or her know it is okay. There will be many bumps in the road before your loved one reaches full recovery. The most important action to take during this time is to seek professional help for your loved one immediately.

Windmill Wellness Ranch is a private drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Canyon Lake, Texas. We provide holistic care to patients in all the stages of recovery. To learn more about our programs and how to enroll, contact Windmill Wellness Ranch today.