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He’s just out of rehab and I think he’s drinking

Spiral of Recovery - inspired by Stephanie Covington

I suspect my husband drank today. He’s just come out of a two week residential program for depression and substance abuse. He’s currently about half way through an out patient program that meets four nights a week. I want to believe he didn’t but I suspected he did. So I went out to search his truck and I found an empty bottle. He tells me it’s old and swears he did not drink today. Problem is I totally don’t believe him. I know he has to do this for himself but I need advice on what the best way to handle this is.”

It’s really hard to put 30 days of abstinence together. It may not be any easier to get 60 days. The world is starkly different without alcohol or drugs on board. The urge can be deafening, even when one is getting a daily message of sobriety from a treatment program.

There are different kinds of relapse. There are relapses (some would call them lapses) that are short. The person scares themselves after one or several episodes of use and climbs quickly back onto the beam of early recovery. There are also relapses where the episode of use (re)opens the floodgates to further use and the desire for sobriety ends for the time being.

In Learning Module One, we provide a graph of the recovery process as elliptical. With each successive effort at recovery, the relapse hopefully gets less frequent and is shorter in duration.


Recovery is a process. It’s not like a light switch ON-OFF.

Learning Module 6 talks about what to do when you see use. You saw use. You suspected it. You were right. The fact that your husband used is by no means the end of things. He is on a path to recovery, he can no longer claim to be naïve about his addiction or naïve about the way out. The programs he is attending are educating him and providing him skills for recovery.

It’s a bumpy process. You probably felt quite a relief to see your husband get the help he so desperately needed and were shocked to find him slipping.

You know him best. Your suspicions were correct. Learning Module 5 says step away, be cool and calm as best you can be. Disengage yourself perhaps by saying something like:

Something doesn’t feel right, I’m going to skip making dinner and go to bed early and read. Perhaps we talk in the morning.

You don’t ask him about his drinking. You go with what your gut is telling you. This way you avoid conflict, and you avoid putting him in the position of having to defend or deny his use – which gets both of you nowhere.

The natural consequence of his drinking may be little to none, but you created one by neutrally freezing him out. He is left alone for the rest of the evening, unsure of what is up with you. There isn’t the usual fight that occurs when he drinks. You’re leading him onto new territory and setting the stage for a different kind of communication around his using.

You’ve taken away any rewards of the evening: your company, your warmth, dinner, hanging out on the couch watching your favorite show…

It all sounds little, and it is. No explosion, no ultimatum. He drank, you withdrew. He can think about it.

Drinking after treatment is not uncommon. Don’t let it destroy you. You, too, need to get back on the beam and be strategic about how you react and perceive what has happened.

I am thrilled to hear your husband went to treatment and is continuing with an intensive outpatient program. It takes time and he is in the right place. I am rooting for your husband and for you.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Reading this post is a reality check for me. I want so much for my daughter to be successful in recovery but preparing myself for a lapse or relapse is the best thing I can do to protect myself from disappointment. I want to fully enjoy the positives in the steps she is taking today but if she relapses she can still come back to recovery. If I am prepared for it then my daughter will get the right message from me if or when the time comes. Thanks for the discussion.

    1. So glad you found a nugget of wisdom here and that you can see how opening to the reality of recovery as an elliptical cycle can be of great help for both you and your Loved One. Kudos to you for being willing to accept difficult truths, you’re keeping it real (and non-judgmental) and this is such a boon for your Loved One, and yourself.

  2. I completely understand the above strategy, but what do you do when the loved one already is isolated from you and spends their time with another individual who is also a substance abuser. My daughter lives with me and has been home from a a 45 day rehab for a month and has slipped twice. The first time that I know of she was so inebriated that she vomited all over herself and her “friend” left her alone in the basement, with me only to find her at 1:00 am. She is working, but completely unwilling to discuss any further treatment – she has not been to therapy since coming home.

    1. Your daughter’s unwillingness to protect herself from relapse by not continuing treatment or attending self-help raises the issue of what to do in regards to her continued stay in your home…we have addressed this in a number of posts that you may find helpful to review (topic: home as a reward).

      This is all very new and very frightening. On top of this, your daughter is hanging out with friends who drink and who abandoned her when she became sick from alcohol. Even more frightening….

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to klmaiuri here:

  3. Thank you for your advise and guidance. I will certainly try that strategy. It’s just so disappointing to see a loved one on a great path only to start to turn around and go the wrong way again. It’s scary how fast things can turn around and I hate to see it get worse before it gets better.