One of the most challenging times after addiction treatment is when the recovering addict is home and feels the urge to use drugs or alcohol again. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that addiction has a relapse rate of 40 to 60 percent.
While addiction is defined as a chronic and relapsing disease of the brain, it is not your responsibility to prevent your loved one’s relapse. Nonetheless, there are some things you can to help your recovering addict avoid relapse.
Relapse isn’t a sudden occurrence; it is a process that can happen over time, ranging from weeks to months. There are three steps in a relapse that you might want to learn and understand so you can best help the one you care about avoid relapse.
Emotional: Your recovering addict is not thinking about using their substance again, but their emotions and behaviors are possibly setting them up or a high risk of relapse. Some feelings that can trigger a relapse are anxiety, isolation, lack of social support, or lack of self-care.
Mental: This is the stage where the person is thinking about drinking or using drugs and could even be missing the people or places associated with their substance use.
Physical: Your loved one has relapsed and is drinking or using drugs again.
Your response to any stage of relapse can help or hinder your recovering addict’s chance of getting help when it happened. A positive approach is essential, as blame and negativity can push the addicted person deeper into substance use.
One of the most important things a person in recovery and their loved ones should know is that the recovering addict can move on from a relapse with a stronger commitment to avoid future relapses by managing or avoiding triggers before they happen.
Here’s how you can help family or friends in addiction recovery avoid relapse.
Have an honest talk with them about their triggers and how to manage or avoid them. One part of addiction treatment is to work on a relapse prevention plan. This plan is a roadmap, of sorts, that the addict uses to identify and avoid their triggers and stressful situations that could lead to a relapse. When you have a discussion with your loved one about their triggers, you might be able to help them avoid relapsing.
Some relapse triggers that could pop up are:
It is quite possible that their aftercare plan includes making new friends, seeking out activities that do not include drinking or drug use, dealing with financial, legal, or housing issues. Do what you can in supporting these activities or tasks without being demanding.
Even if your loved one seems reluctant to engage in aftercare programs, there are steps you can take to help them overcome their reluctance and continue with support meetings. When you let them know you truly care, it may help them take those excruciatingly difficult steps in avoiding relapse.
There are many programs that the addict can join after addiction treatment. But not all of them are best for your loved one. While AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) may be right for some folks, there are others who will find it not very useful. Spend time with your loved one by trying to find the best after-treatment program for them. Perhaps a joint discussion with their treatment counselor might yield some options not yet tried. The right aftercare program is the one they will stick with.
These suggestions might seem like common knowledge, but they can be easily forgotten when you are trying hard to support a recovering addict. However, keep these in mind because they are just as valuable as any other piece of advice someone gives.
Relapse is a part of substance use recovery, but you can help a family member or a friend avoid it. Encourage them to reach out to you when they feel they might relapse, offer to help them in any way, encourage healthier activities, like going outside and taking a walk, invite them to brunch, lunch, or dinner, and being available when they call, as Healthline suggests a person in recovery do when the urge to relapse is strong.
Just as there are things to do to help a friend or family member avoid relapse, there are some things not to do. As obvious as it seems, do not use drugs or drink alcohol when with your addict in recovery, especially in the first months out of treatment. Doing so increases the chance they could relapse.
If your recovering loved one relapses, try not to become too frustrated or angry. It can be discouraging to you, but it is probably more so for your family member or friend. As this Self article relays, there are some things you should not say to someone who has relapsed, such as “why did you screw up again?” “I am so angry at you right now.” “I knew you couldn’t do it.” All of those lay blame on the person who relapsed and suggest failure.
It is imperative to remember that when a person relapses, it does not mean their addiction treatment was a failure. It means their treatment program needs to be changed to better fit their needs.
It must be mentioned that it is not just the addict who needs support. Family and friends also need support and understanding so that they can better care for and support their loved ones in addiction recovery. It is not easy or comfortable helping someone you care about stay away from drugs or alcohol after they complete addiction treatment. Be sure to take time for yourself, and seek support when you need it.
National support groups have special programs and meetings for friends and family of people with addictions. Nar-Anon, Al-Anon, and SMART Recovery® Family & Friends are support groups for friends and family members of people with addiction. Here, you can vent, seek support, receive advice, gain information, and not feel alone.
NIDA. (2020, July 10). Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
Verywell mind. (2021, February 3) Relapse After Addiction Recovery. Hartney, E., BSc. MSc., MA, PhD. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-relapse-22106#citation-4
Healthline. (2020, January 7) Relapse Prevention Plan: Techniques to Help You Stay on Track 7. Distract yourself. Watson, S. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/opioid-withdrawal/relapse-prevention-plan#distraction
Everyday Health. (2009, April 20) McCoy, K. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/addiction/helping-loved-one-avoid-relapse.aspx
Self. (2018, October 20) 3 Things Not to Say When a Loved One With Addiction Relapses—and 6 to Try Instead. Todd, C. Retrieved from https://www.self.com/story/help-loved-one-addiction-relapse
Al-Anon. Al-Anon Family Groups. Retrieved from https://al-anon.org/
Nar-Anon. Nar-Anon Family Groups. Retrieved from https://www.nar-anon.org/
SMART Recovery® Family and Friends Retrieved from https://www.smartrecovery.org/family/