20 Jun How to Support an Addict Who Relapses
Addiction to alcohol or drugs can be confusing, frustrating and devastating. Because it involves the reward chemicals in the brain, it’s not a disease with a quick cure. In fact, an addict may relapse up to six times before becoming sober for good. Our brains are wired to desire the feel-good chemicals that substance use activates. It’s difficult to transition to a different reward system once the addict becomes sober. Many experts consider addiction to be a chronic disease.
What You Should Know About Relapse
It’s not that treatment doesn’t work; it’s just that an addict may need a different type of therapy or additional time to recover. You might worry that a relapse means that your loved one will never be free of their addiction. However, research suggests that each relapse makes an addict more likely to stay sober afterward.
A relapse is most likely to occur while the individual is going through withdrawal. During this time, the body is trying to balance itself out without substances. Withdrawal may feel like the worst illness someone has ever had. They might reach for their substance of choice, using it as medicine just to extinguish the agony.
A relapse is not a failure. Some experts claim that relapse is a normal part of recovery. You wouldn’t call someone a failure if their diabetes worsened after years of taking medication. Addiction is just like any other chronic disease. It always has a chance of returning.
It’s helpful to understand the signs of relapse. Many people who are going to relapse exhibit similar behavior.
Some signs of relapse from alcohol or drug recovery include:
• Frequent depression, loneliness or dissatisfaction
• Avoiding support group or recovery meetings
• Not taking care of oneself
• Bargaining with oneself to come up with ways to “safely” use alcohol or drugs
• An increase in cravings
• Lying to one’s therapist or support people
You might not know that your loved one is dealing with these issues. Look for the following signs of relapse if you are concerned that your loved one is about to fall off the wagon:
• Physical and emotional isolation
• Working obsessively or not working at all
• Overeating or under-eating
• Making unrealistic plans
• Poor sleep habits
• An increase in anxiety or irritability
How to Support Your Loved One if They Relapse
Understanding that relapse doesn’t indicate a moral or ethical failing is important if you want to be there for your loved one. This is not their fault. Casting blame can make the situation worse.
Encourage Open Communication
You should open the door to healthy communication at this time. Reprimanding or criticizing your friend or family member for a relapse could lead them to shy away from your support.
One of the best ways that you can help a loved one through relapse is by staying open and communicative. Don’t be pushy. Instead, let your friend or family member know that they can come to you with anything. If they do confide in you, try to remain as neutral as possible.
Don’t make them feel worse about their relapse or behavior. Most addicts shame themselves enough; they don’t need someone else to rub salt in the wound.
Remind Them of the Benefits of Treatment
You might want to remind the person with the addiction that their treatment efforts have not been fruitless. They’ve likely picked up tools and coping skills that they can use going forward. But it takes time and practice before those resources become second nature. Still, those skills can continue to be used to support your friend or family member’s recovery.
Prepare for and Navigate Triggers
Support your loved one as they navigate the next steps. Someone who has recently gone through recovery may have triggers for drug use. For example, family events, returning to their career and holidays may stress them out. When they’re in a situation in which they used to use drugs or alcohol, they may have a difficult time refraining and return to their addiction.
It helps to talk about these situations beforehand. That way, you can come up with a plan for addressing these scenarios before they become reality. You can also support your loved one better when you understand their triggers and know how to best help them.
Plan Sober Activities
Your loved one may have to adjust their entire life to support their recovery. For example, they may not be able to hang out in the same social circles as they used to. They might need to avoid certain places where they once used alcohol or drugs.
Help them relinquish their old addiction patterns and find fulfillment in new ones by enjoying sober activities with them. This may mean that you have to change your routines too. If you were used to drinking alcohol with your loved one, you may need to stay away from your favorite bars, for example.
Some excellent options for sober activities include:
• Watching movies
• Playing sports
• Going hiking or camping
• Learning a new hobby together
Spending quality time together can also enhance your relationship. As your bond grows, your loved one may confide in you even more and appreciate your support.
Consider Different Treatment Options
There are several approaches to addiction treatment. Evidence-based treatment options, such as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy, have been proven to help individuals recover from addiction and take care of their mental health in general.
But not all treatment methods are the same. A substance use treatment center that offers a variety of approaches may be beneficial if your loved one hasn’t found success with conventional options.
Alternative therapies, such as yoga, meditation, nature therapy, acupuncture and art therapy can complement traditional methods and enhance the chance of long-term recovery. These approaches also provide new tools and coping skills that your loved one can use long after rehab.
You might want to research addiction treatment centers together. Discuss what has worked and what hasn’t with your loved one. Look at different options, and talk about what might be necessary for lasting sobriety.
You may also consider going to therapy yourself. Coping with an addiction is stressful for loved ones. In therapy, you can learn skills to support your friend or family member.
Support groups are also instrumental for helping families with recovery. Encourage your loved one to attend groups in person, on the phone or online. You can also find community in support groups for families and friends of addicts. You’ll meet people who are in similar situations and get even more resources for supporting the person that you love.
New Method Wellness offers a wide variety of treatment programs for drugs, alcohol, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. We complement our evidence-based approaches with alternative modalities to provide holistic care for people who are struggling with addiction.
We also offer family group therapy, which provides addiction education for friends and family members. It allows everyone to be on the same page regarding their loved one’s recovery. Family group therapy encourages you to set strong boundaries, eliminate codependency and be the support person that your loved one really needs.