How to Deal With a Loved One’s Relapse

“Rather than viewing a brief relapse back to inactivity as a failure, treat it as a challenge and try to get back on track as soon as possible.” – Jimmy Connors

I have entered and aborted the recovery process more times than I care to admit. For easily over a decade, I was the “new guy,” once after a more than over eleven years sober. It’s both confusing and embarrassing. The shame and terror are overwhelming. In my time on the other side as a sober member of the fellowship doing my best to help others get better, I have watched thousands relapse. Both sides are very familiar to me. There seems to be no one clear rule, but some guiding principles for that can be most helpful to the person dealing with a loved one’s relapse.

What can I do about my Loved One’s Relapse?

They may appear to be in contradiction to each other. Carole Bennett, in an older Psychology Today article speaks to the complexity well “Relapse can take on many shapes and forms. The important thing is not what form the relapse takes, or even why one relapses, but rather deciding how one will change and therefore commit to a stronger more formidable recovery program in the future.”

The difficulty arises here with the unpredictability of the fallen loved one response to there relapse. Some use and come right back with a renewed resolve and others can’t get back. For the loved ones, this creates a need for two sets of plans put in motion, one for themselves and the other in response to the relapsed.

Plan for Yourself During a Loved One’s Relapse

The most important thing is to compassionately remove yourself from the blast radius of the loved one back in active addiction. Your ability to be useful to them indirectly relates to your ability to take care of yourself. Sound judgment never comes from emotional imbalance. The sad fact is not every situation will end with them getting back on track. Your actions can increase or decrease their odds, but ultimately the course will be determined by them. You can always be helpful; the only question is if you are going to help them up or down. Enabling does nothing but assist in them going further into addiction although our actions are often well-intentioned, it is ineffective as far as their or your well being.

  • Protect yourself financially: do not give them access to money or valuables
  • Have an honest talk about their relapse. If they are in denial, you may be forced to stop aiding in many ways. You come first.
  • Seek peer support for yourself. Look up fellowships such as Al-Anon and attend to get guidance and support that is proven to have results.

How to Approach your Loved One’s Relapse

  • Confront. The only way you can help them is if they admit and ask for help. If not, stay on the above plan for yourself.
  • Set a plan with them. If they are seeking help, utilize all your options.
  • Remove all alcohol and prescription medications you may have from any place they may have access to.
  • Offer support in the form of getting them back on track. This includes getting them back into detox, treatment, or reconnected to their recovery path whichever is more inappropriate.
  • Set boundaries.

This is often why structured living is so important in the beginning. Many addicts, although reluctant at first, respond well to structure being imposed on them until they learn to live responsibly on their own. This could come in the form of curfews, drug test (can be bought cheaply at any pharmacy), and accountability.

The above article adds the very valid point that these situations are not so black and white. “What can one learn from a misstep? Relapse doesn’t have to be a hanging offense as you want to keep in mind all the previously clean and sober days. The route of recovery can be a very circuitous path. Be mindful that at the end of the day, only the person recovering from addiction knows how strong their commitment to their recovery program is, and only they know whether they are practicing recovery or relapse.” Always be kind to them, because that’s the kindest thing to do for yourself.

If you or a loved one have or are frightened by relapse, contact us here at GateHouse and we can help. Reach us at (855) 448-3588.