When you love someone who is struggling with substance misuse, it can be hard on your heart. Watching another person go through recovery can be fulfilling. You see them work their way back to the life they lived before substance abuse. But what happens when your loved one relapses? What can you do to support and help if your loved one retreats?
What Causes Addiction Relapses During Recovery?
People are unique with different and individual experiences. There is no set reason why your loved one relapses. However, it is not uncommon during recovery to relapse. It should not be considered a failure or defeat on the part of your loved one.
The best way to help when a loved one relapses may be to understand what could have caused their regression.
Stress is usually the common cause for your loved one and their relapse. Misuse of substances might be how they dealt with stressful situations. When stress comes up in recovery, it may trigger them to want to battle it with old habits.
Sometimes, negative feelings and emotions may also lead your loved one to relapse. They may feel that their recovery isn’t going fast enough or well enough, and they may be doubting themselves. Your loved one may wonder if they can even get through recovery and if they will start this whole new life. It may trigger them to feeling like it’s not going to be successful anyway, and they relapse. Your loved one may also have unrealistic expectations about the recovery process. They might not realize how much patience and persistence it can take and become overwhelmed. These feelings could make them want to go back to their old coping mechanisms.
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When your loved one cannot quickly change where they can go and the people they interact with, it can trigger a relapse in social groups or activities in which drinking or drug use will need to change. Coming back in contact with those people or places may trigger relapse as well.
Any combination of the above may leave your loved one vulnerable to a relapse. It’s essential to know how to help when a loved one relapses are invaluable.
When A Loved One Relapses In Recovery: How Can You Help?
When a loved one relapses, one of the most important things you can do is make sure you’re fully able to be there for them. Watching a friend or family member struggle with addiction and then recovery is challenging. Be sure to give yourself the care you need to be there for them.
Because that’s what it’s really about when you’re trying to help your loved one—being there. Being supportive of one’s process (without judging one’s relapse or reacting with anger) can make a huge difference in someone’s desire to get back on the right path. Being openly frustrated and angry with a person and their relapse may make them feel those negative thoughts and emotions that could make their recovery even worse.
Being supportive and accepting looks different than enabling and codependency, though. Sometimes, we desperately want to help our loved ones, and we’ll encourage them and make their recovery worse. We can love them without assisting them in destroying their recovery process. We can’t let our happiness in life be determined by whether they are happy or dealing with negative consequences in their lives. Our support should come in the form of love and understanding that they’re dealing with a chronic issue, but not helping them make excuses or taking the blame for their action.
We can also help when a loved one relapses by identifying their triggers and helping them avoid them in the future. When we do so from a place of empathy, we help our understanding of what they’re going through. We’ll be able to see actions they may take less personally. It will limit our anger or sadness towards them as they go through the relapse.
When A Loved One Relapses: Communication Is Key
When your loved one relapses, being able to talk about it is essential for you both. Please encourage them to see you as a safe place that won’t bring them shame or guilt. Ask if they want to talk about what’s going on—their triggers, cravings, and feelings may be at play. Help talk them through these issues. You can support them by reminding them of how far they’ve come and what is still ahead can be empowering.
Be direct when a loved one relapses and ask how you may specifically help them. Sometimes, it’s as simple as figuring a way out of the peer group that leads them to use substances, and you can engage in a different activity with them. Sometimes they may need help restarting their career or navigating through legal paperwork resulting from their misuse. Sometimes you may not be able to help because the request is just undoable. But knowing you would help if you could show your loved one you’re there beside them.
Help them understand that no one is perfect and everyone can make mistakes. Help your loved one to feel less alone and more motivated to get back on the path to recovery.
Find Additional Help When A Loved One Relapses
The most important thing you can do when a loved one relapses is to encourage them to seek additional help to maintain sobriety. At Ocean Hills Recovery, we know that it’s hard to watch your loved one relapse, and we are here for you both. Encourage your loved one to seek a renewed focus on recovery and let our compassionate and experienced staff walk with your loved one. We combine the proven theories of twelve steps and evidence-based psychotherapy approaches to help give your loved one the tools they need to live a healthy and sober life.
Your loved one doesn’t have to go through recovery or relapse alone, and neither do you. Contact us today for more information.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.