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Navigating a Loved One’s Addiction Relapse

 

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. – Johnny Cash

A relapse can be a devastating blow for both an addict and his or her loved ones. Consider the following Do’s and Don’ts when you see a family member return to the cycle of drug or alcohol abuse:

Do:

Recognize the red flags. You’re likely well-acquainted with your loved ones patterns when he or she is actively abusing substances. If your gut is telling you that something is “off,” it likely is. In addition to erratic behavior, you may also witness patterns of isolation and withdrawal. It can be tempting to dismiss these signs, but early intervention will guarantee better outcomes.

Don’t:

Take the relapse personally. For some, signs of a relapse can awaken old emotions. It’s normal to feel frustrated when your ongoing support appears futile or unappreciated. You might feel the urge to escape from the seemingly endless roller coaster. At this stage, however, your loved one is likely to have a minimal support network. Their struggle is not a reflection on you.

Do:

Steer your loved one back toward the previous treatment plan. Clearly, new elements will need to be implemented to increase the prospects of success, but the foundation has been laid.

Don’t:

Waste energy on blame. Whether you are finger-pointing at yourself or your addicted loved one, you are better served to channel those efforts into recovery efforts.

Do:

Rely on the support team. If your loved one has relapsed following a period of abstinence, he likely has an involved team of professionals that are familiar with his substance abuse history. It is not your responsibility to reinvent the wheel. Seek guidance from those that are trained to intervene when sobriety plans A or B get derailed and take comfort in their familiarity with the nuances of your loved one’s case.

Don’t:

Take on the responsibility of “saving” the addict. As you now know, your loved one’s thoughts and behaviors are distorted when he is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Attempting to reason with or play therapist to an active drug abuser will prove futile. You can be supportive without taking on roles that will completely drain your emotional reserves.

Do:

Remain optimistic. Relapse is common and often part of the growth process for addicts. It often helps highlight holes in the recovery plan and can lead to more defined and personalized approaches moving forward.

Don’t:

Mistake slip-ups for relapse. As noted by AlcoholRehab.com, a slip is marked by drug or alcohol abuse following a period of sobriety followed by immediate cessation. It differs from relapse because rather than resuming the old behaviors “full-time,” the addict immediately experiences feelings of guilt and shame. This is a critical time to reconnect heavily with resources and supports. Urge your loved one to do so and recognize that slip ups often lead to turning points in the recovery process.

Do:

Support yourself. At this stage in your loved one’s journey, you likely recognize the importance of self-care. Watching the addict in your life ride this unpredictable rollercoaster is draining on all fronts. Lean heavily on your own support system and recognize that this is not your recovery journey. Give yourself permission to create emotional boundaries as you define your evolving role.

Don’t:

Take a slip-up or relapse personally. Watching an addicted loved one return to old behaviors can feel like a slap in the face. Rest assured, their behaviors are not personal.

Keep in mind that:

“Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and relapse does not mean treatment has failed. For a person recovering from addiction, lapsing back to drug use indicates that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted or that another treatment should be tried” – National Institute on Drug Abuse

Relapses and slip-ups are a common part of the addiction journey. Implementing clear action-plans, boundaries, and self-care on your end will allow you to traverse these choppy waters more readily.


jen-anderson-addiction-counselorJen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Sobriety Coach, and former alcohol enthusiast living in Florida with her husband and son. .

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