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What to Do When a Loved One Relapses

Recovery journey

Discovering that a loved one has relapsed from drugs or alcohol can be a devastating experience. You may feel a mixture of emotions, from anger to helplessness. It’s crucial to remember that relapse is often a part of the recovery journey, not the end of it.

Your loved one is in a vulnerable place and trying to determine what to do after a relapse. By responding with compassion, understanding, and a clear plan, you can support your loved one in getting back on track. Here are some steps to help you navigate what to do when someone relapses.

Step 1: Stay Calm and Take Care of Yourself

Your initial reaction might be one of panic or anger. It’s essential to stay calm. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is a setback, not a failure. Ensure you are getting enough rest, eating well, and engaging in activities that help you manage stress. You can’t help your loved one if you’re not taking care of yourself.

Joining a support group for families affected by substance use disorders can provide a valuable outlet. Sharing your experiences with others who understand what you are going through can offer comfort and practical advice. Engaging in activities that recharge you, such as reading, exercising, or spending time with friends, can also be beneficial.

Step 2: Communicate Without Judgement

When you’re ready to talk to your loved one, approach the conversation without judgment or blame. Express your concern and love for them. Use “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory.

For example, say, “I noticed you’ve been struggling lately, and I’m worried about you,” instead of, “You relapsed again; why can’t you stay sober?” This approach can help open the lines of communication and make your loved one feel supported rather than attacked.

Effective communication skills involve active listening. Give your loved one the space to express their feelings and struggles without interrupting or offering solutions right away. Acknowledge their feelings and validate their experiences by saying things like, “I understand that you’re going through a tough time,” or “It sounds like you’re feeling really overwhelmed.”

Step 3: Encourage Them to Seek Professional Help

Encourage your loved one to reach out to their therapist, counselor, or substance abuse specialist. If they were part of a support group, suggest they reconnect with it. Sometimes, when a relapse occurs, it can indicate that their current treatment plan needs adjustment.

Professional help is crucial because addiction is a complex condition that often requires specialized treatment programs. Addiction treatment programs can also offer evidence-based strategies and coping skills to help manage cravings and substance use triggers. If your loved one is resistant to seeking help, gently remind them of the progress they have made in the past with professional support for long-term sobriety.

Step 4: Avoid Enabling Behaviors

While it’s important to support your loved one, it’s equally important to avoid enabling behaviors. Enabling them can make it easier for them to continue their drug addiction. This might include giving them money, making excuses for their behavior, or covering up their actions.

Set healthy boundaries and stick to them. Let them face the consequences of their actions, as this can be a powerful motivator for seeking help and committing to recovery.

Establishing boundaries is essential for both your well-being and your loved one’s recovery. Clearly communicate what behaviors you will not tolerate and the consequences of crossing those boundaries. While it may be difficult, allowing your loved one to experience the natural consequences of their actions can encourage them to seek help and take responsibility for their recovery.

Drug addiction

Step 5: Provide Emotional Support

Relapse can be a significant blow to an individual’s self-esteem. Your loved one may feel a deep sense of shame or guilt. Offer them emotional support by being there to listen and reassure them of your love and commitment to their recovery.

Encourage them to forgive themselves and to view the relapse as a learning experience rather than a failure. Reinforce the idea that they have your support every step of the way.

Providing emotional support involves being present and attentive. Sometimes, just having someone to talk to can make a world of difference. Let your loved one know that it’s okay to feel upset or disappointed and that these feelings are a natural part of the recovery process. Encourage them to share their thoughts and fears without fear of judgment.

Step 6: Help Them Reestablish Healthy Routines

A relapse often disrupts the routines and structures that help maintain sobriety. Work with your loved one to reestablish these routines. This might include encouraging regular sleep patterns, healthy eating, physical activity, and participation in hobbies or activities they enjoy. A structured schedule can provide stability and reduce the risk of future relapses.

Help your loved one create a daily routine that includes time for self-care, work or school, and leisure activities. Encourage them to set small, achievable goals each day to build a sense of accomplishment and progress. Support their efforts to reconnect with healthy social networks and participate in sober activities, such as community events or volunteering, which can help them build a sense of purpose and belonging.

Step 7: Stay Informed and Involved

Educate yourself about the stages of relapse and addiction. The more you understand, the better equipped you will be to offer effective support. Staying informed and involved shows your loved one that they are not alone and that you are committed to their recovery journey.

Understanding the nature of addiction and relapse can help you approach the situation with empathy and patience. Stay involved in your loved one’s recovery process by attending therapy sessions or support group meetings with them, if they are comfortable with it. Your presence can provide additional motivation and reassurance.

Step 8: Plan for the Future

Discuss a plan for preventing future relapses. This might include identifying triggers, developing coping strategies, and setting up a support network. Encourage your loved one to create a relapse prevention plan with their therapist or counselor. Being proactive can help both you and your loved one feel more prepared and less anxious about the possibility of another relapse.

Work together to identify the specific situations, emotions, or people that might trigger a relapse. Develop a list of relapse prevention skills and healthy alternatives to substance use, such as calling a friend, engaging in a hobby, or practicing relaxation techniques.

Encourage them to establish a strong support network of friends, family members, and professionals who can provide guidance and encouragement. Remind them that relapse is not a sign of failure, but an opportunity to learn and strengthen their commitment to recovery.

Move Forward From Addiction With Lumina Recovery

Dealing with a loved one’s relapse is undoubtedly challenging, but it’s important to remember that recovery is a journey with ups and downs. Your love, patience, and understanding can make a significant difference in their path to long-term recovery.

Lumina Recovery offers comprehensive family therapy as part of both inpatient and outpatient programs, helping families heal and support their loved ones through recovery.

Contact Lumina Recovery today to learn how our addiction treatment programs can support you and your loved ones on the path to recovery.

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