Imagine your loved one has just completed a 30-day rehab program. They have learned important techniques for managing risky behaviors, but they grow to miss their addiction and end up relapsing. Or perhaps your loved one has been sober for years, but something triggers them into using drugs or alcohol again to cope with pain or loneliness. No matter where your relative or friend is in their recovery journey, relapses are always devastating – for both the addicted person and their support system. Know that while your loved one should be accountable for their actions and has the choice to shape their own future, addiction’s chronic nature is a considerable barrier to sobriety.
Comparing addiction to asthma and hypertension may seem strange, but all of these chronic diseases have something in common: a strong potential for relapse. The likelihood that a person struggling with the disease will turn back to substance use at some point in their recovery is high: 40 to 60 percent end up relapsing. While this statistic may seem alarming, it can also put your loved one’s struggle into perspective, demonstrating that they are not alone and that there is nothing morally wrong with them.
The aftermath of the episode can feel overwhelming, but relapse does not indicate that your loved one is doomed forever. There are constructive ways to handle this setback. Here are suggestions to help you support your loved one and your own well-being after they relapse:
Before you can even attempt to help your loved one, you need to have a healthy state of mind. This may seem easier said than done, as it can be distressing to watch someone you love experience pain. You may feel disappointed and angry that your loved one strayed from their sobriety after all of their counseling sessions and efforts to stay alcohol- or drug-free. Manage these negative feelings through therapeutic activities, such as going for a run, meditating, and attending a support group. Making efforts to strengthen your own mental and physical health during this vulnerable time will allow you to be more patient, rational, and understanding around your loved one.
Invite Open Communication
While a relapse episode is discouraging for all involved, remember that it will be especially disheartening for your addicted loved one. They will be their own worst critic, dealing with feelings of regret, frustration, and hopelessness. They will need a support system, now more than ever, that can help them get back on track and recover from this stumbling block. Relapse is just that, a temporary obstacle to long-term sobriety. Friends and family will need to reinforce that all of their loved one’s efforts were not in vain and that they owe it to themselves to keep trying.
Brainstorm Treatment Options
Your loved one’s relapse does not mean they will never live a rewarding, sober life. The event should simply be interpreted as a warning that the person requires further treatment, whether through a residential or outpatient program. Everyone handles addiction differently, and treatment is not one-size-fits-all. Some people may need to continue with the same treatment methods for longer periods of time before they can truly see a difference. Others may need to tweak their current rehab routine to better suit their needs or pursue different forms of treatment altogether. Your loved one can boost their chances of long-term recovery by complementing traditional therapies with therapeutic activities that encourage self-discovery and holistic healing such as yoga, music therapy, and acupuncture.
Enjoy Sober Activities
Be mindful of your loved one’s triggers and try spending time together at places where alcohol and drugs are not present. See a play or a movie or have a picnic in a park. Being in nature will boost both of your moods, and any safe activity that takes the focus off of substance use will benefit the two of you. Being able to enjoy lighthearted activities together can also help to heal any tensions in your relationship with your loved one.
Encourage Them to Attend Support Groups
Programs such as SMART Recovery and 12 Step can help your loved one socialize and realize they are not alone. They will most likely find others within these support groups who have relapsed, giving them the opportunity to learn from other people’s experiences. You may even consider attending a Nar-Anon meeting for family members and friends of people coping with addiction, finding your own sense of comfort and community with others who are facing similar challenges.
Know the Signs of Relapse
Relapse does not happen at random. People who are about to relapse display certain behavioral cues before they turn back to drugs or alcohol. If you suspect that your loved one’s newfound sobriety is in trouble, have a conversation with them and ask if there is anything you can do to support them during this challenging time to reduce the risk that they will use again.
If you did not see your loved one’s relapse coming, don’t punish yourself. Remember to take care of yourself during this stressful time and spread positive energy by reassuring your addicted relative or friend that their future is hopeful. Remind them that you are genuinely proud of them for pursuing recovery in the first place and that the path to long-term sobriety is not always linear. The recovery journey has its ups and downs, but above all else, remind your loved one that they will not have to go through it alone.