Supporting a Loved One Who Relapses using Alcohol or Drugs

Relapse isn’t unusual and it can happen to anyone. The National Institute for Drug Abuse estimates that 40 to 60 percent of people in treatment for alcohol addiction or drug addiction will relapse at least once. Chemical dependency is a chronic, lifelong disease and some people relapse several times before giving up drugs or alcohol for good. Some even manage controlled intake without further harm.

Relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed, that the afflicted person is back at square one, or that the person lost what was gained during recovery.
However, knowing that relapse is a normal part of recovery for many people doesn’t make relapse less devastating for friends and family. If your loved one has relapsed, remember that it isn’t the end of the world, even though it may feel that way. Don’t panic. Instead, think about how you can help to regain his or her footing and return to recovery.

  • Remember that the afflicted person must deal with the problem. Most importantly, don’t blame yourself; it isn’t your fault. You can’t do it for him or her. It is hir or her choice to make, his or her journey to travel and her battle to fight. Don’t obsess about the relapse or the behavior of your loved one, and don’t take her or his problems on your shoulders.
  • Don’t blame or try to make your loved one feel guilty. Chances are, he or she already does. However, it’s critical that you hold your loved one accountable. Don’t cover up the situation and don’t make excuses for the behavior, which led to relapse. Allow the person to feel guilt and remorse that comes from relapse. In order to get back on the path to recovery, he or she must gain knowledge from the experience.
  • Set boundaries about what you are willing to accept in the relationship and what you are not willing to tolerate, and then stand your ground. Relapse may be part of your loved one’s recovery, but that doesn’t mean you must sit by and watch. Don’t pay debts. Don’t allow use of drugs or alcohol in your home. Never allow yourself to be mistreated or abused.
  • Be hopeful. Encourage your loved one to talk to a sponsor or a healthcare professional. Remind him or her of the original treatment or recovery plan. If necessary, encourage your loved one to return to treatment or rehab.
  • Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Eat nutritious foods and remember to exercise regularly. Take time to relieve your own stress by spending time with friends and doing things you enjoy.
  • Find help for yourself if your loved one isn’t ready to seek treatment. If necessary, find a support group or talk to a counselor.
  • Detach with love, detaching and accepting does not necessarily mean that you don’t care.
  • Most importantly, try not to be discouraged and don’t give up hope.
  • Try to accept what is, it can help to unburden yourself from undue stress and strain and realize that every person has his or her path to follow “one day at the time”.

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