It can be incredibly frustrating–your loved one has finally gone to treatment and after several months, they seem to be getting their life back on track. Then something goes wrong and suddenly they’re drinking or using drugs again. You find yourself disappointed and confused and you don’t know what to do next.
Should you just give up and wish them the best? Every situation is different, of course, but relapse is a common setback in addiction recovery and you shouldn’t consider it a permanent failure. If your loved one has relapsed, here’s what to do next.
Addiction is complicated and even if you are supportive and do everything right, you ultimately don’t have much control over your loved one’s behavior. All you can really do is offer your support and be engaged in the recovery process. It’s especially common for parents to feel guilty about their children’s substance use issues.
If you are sensitive to the role family plays in addiction, then you’re probably ahead of the curve and at least trying to do the right things. Also, addiction is a chronic condition and recovery is hard, so don’t feel like every setback is your fault.
If you want to be there to support your loved one, you have to take care of yourself first. That means getting enough sleep, eating healthy, getting a bit of exercise, and taking a little time for yourself to relax and have fun. It also means relying on your own support network, whether that’s your friends, your family, your therapist, your support group, or some combination of all of those. You don’t have to face this challenge on your own.
When you learn that your loved one has relapsed, you are likely to feel a lot of different things–anger, disappointment, worry, compassion, frustration, and so on. However, this is not the time to give them an earful. After a relapse, people often struggle with their own challenging emotions, including disappointment, shame, discouragement, and frustration. They certainly don’t need anyone telling them how badly they screwed up.
Instead, take a more compassionate approach. Try to understand how they’re feeling, and what they were dealing with leading up to the relapse. Practice listening to them without judgment. In the long run, this kind of approach is a lot more persuasive than lecturing or criticizing.
When the lines of communication are open, you can begin to discuss what went wrong. Maybe they’ve even talked about this a little already. While analyzing the situation, beware of offering advice unless asked. No one likes to feel like they’re being lectured. Your role should be to mainly ask questions.
“When did you first start noticing a problem?” “Was there a specific incident that caused it?” “What could I have done to help more?” and so on. The point of this is not to place blame or say they should have done this or that, but rather to help them think more clearly about their situation and come up with ideas for moving forward.
When you’ve discussed the situation and have a clearer idea of what happened, it’s time to talk about what comes next. A lot will depend on how bad the relapse was. If it was a minor slip–one night of drinking, for example–they may be able to renew their commitment to their recovery plan and just keep going.
If it was a more serious relapse, you may have to talk about whether they need medical detox and whether they need to consider going through some kind of treatment again, even if it’s some form of outpatient treatment rather than a full inpatient program. There are also services available to increase support and accountability and enlisting some of these may help your loved one get back on track.
The time right after a relapse is especially dangerous because your loved one’s tolerance had gone away, leaving them more vulnerable to overdose. If your loved one was recovering from opioid use disorder, you can help reduce their risk of a fatal overdose by getting a naloxone kit, which can reverse an overdose in a matter of minutes. These are now available without a prescription in pharmacies in most states.
Although you may feel disappointed, angry, and everything else, your loved one will be relying on your support. Try to stay positive. Take the view that this is just a temporary setback. Reaffirm that many people relapse and are still able to get sober again and enjoy a long recovery. Let them know that you are there for them and you will get through it together.
Finally, encourage your loved one to try again. Help them review their options. If you decide together that going back into treatment is the way to go, help them research programs, or help them decide whether to return to a program they’ve previously completed.
Keep in mind that making these kinds of decisions is much harder when you’re struggling with substance use and possibly co-occurring mental health issues as well. Remind them of the lessons they learned from their relapse so they have reason to be more optimistic about trying again.
Relapse is always disappointing but it’s not uncommon and it doesn’t have to be a permanent failure. However disappointed and frustrated you feel about your loved one’s relapse, try to remember that they probably feel even worse. They don’t need criticism and judgment right now; they need empathy and support.
At Hired Power, we specialize in providing services that treatment programs don’t. That includes interventions, sober transportation, case management, sober assistants, sober monitoring, and others. We know that treatment is just the beginning of recovery and we assist our clients and their families with their long-term recovery needs. For more information, call (714) 559-3919.
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