Every year, about 20 million Americans struggle with some kind of substance use issue. For every one of these, there are many more spouses, siblings, parents, children, and friends whose lives are affected by a loved one’s addiction. All of these people feel a sense of cautious optimism whenever their loved one agrees to treatment and begins recovery. However, many will also feel disappointment, anger, and even despair when a loved one relapses. As disappointing as this is, it’s important to remain supportive. Most of the time, someone who has relapsed will already feel bad about it. Adding your own condemnation will not help solve the problem and will likely make it worse. Instead of criticizing and placing blame, here are some things you can say to someone to help her get her recovery back on track.
“A relapse doesn’t mean you’ve failed.”
A common myth about relapse is that it means you’ve failed. In reality, relapse is very common. By some estimates, 90 percent of people trying to quit alcohol or opioids will relapse in the first year. Overall, an estimated 40 to 60 percent of people who get treated for substance use will relapse. However, people can and do sustain recovery after a relapse, or even multiple relapses. Sometimes a relapse isn’t even a full relapse. People who try to quit drinking will often slip up and have a couple of drinks, or even get drunk, then wake up feeling awful about their lapse and recommit themselves to recovery. Even a full relapse that lasts weeks, months, or years isn’t a failure. As long as someone is willing to try again, there is a possibility of a long-term recovery. You haven’t failed until you quit trying.
“I still support you.”
One of the worst parts of relapse is the feeling you’ve let down the people who care about you. Many of these people will have already tolerated a lot of bad behavior and stuck by you when others didn’t. It can be very hard to face these people after a relapse. If your loved one has relapsed, it’s important to let her know that you are still there for her. Make sure she knows you are going to help her get sober again and you won’t give up on her. Just make sure your efforts are directed toward helping her recover and not enabling her addiction by giving her money or other financial support.
“I know you wanted this to work.”
There is a common misperception that when someone with a substance use disorder relapses, it’s because she didn’t really want to stay sober. The reality of addiction is very different. Our behavior is often determined by factors that are out of our control. What we do largely depends on our circumstances and what part of our brain happens to be in charge at the time. It’s easy for people recovering from addiction to feel overwhelmed, hopeless, or depressed, especially early on. They may feel like really need to use again, even if, rationally, they really want to stay sober. This conflict runs deep. It’s important to acknowledge and reinforce the part of the person who wants to get sober and stay sober.
“What have you learned from this experience?”
When you have established that you still support your loved one and that you don’t blame her for relapsing, it’s time to figure out what to do next. The first thing is to figure out what went wrong. Typically, full relapses happen in stages–emotional, mental, then physical. In the emotional stage, the person might be feeling cynical, depressed, or dissatisfied. Maybe her recovery is not going as well as she had hoped or some new stress has been too much to deal with. Then she may progress to the mental stage, when she starts thinking about using again, possibly romanticizing the good old days of active addiction. In the last stage, she may quit doing many of the things that kept her sober, start hanging around with old friends who drink or use drugs, then eventually relapse fully. See if you can figure out where the relapse began. Try to figure out what triggers gave her the most trouble. Consider the possibility that some co-occurring condition such as anxiety or depression was not adequately addressed in treatment. After all of this, figure out a new plan that will account for these factors when she tries again.
“What can I do for you?”
Let your loved one know you are willing to play an active part in her next try at sobriety. Ask explicitly what she needs and what you can help with. Let her know she’s not on her own to try again. It may be something like helping her find a good treatment program, driving her to appointments with her doctor or therapist, or even helping her figure out how to pay for treatment. Your own level of involvement is up to you and anything you can do will improve her chances of success.
“You quit before and you can do it again.”
Optimism is very important when you want to help your loved one get back on track. Having just hit a major obstacle, she is not likely to be feeling very optimistic. You may not be feeling very optimistic either. You may be deeply disappointed, but it’s important to be the voice of optimism. Fortunately, there is something you can say that is both optimistic and rational: “You quit before and you can do it again.” Not only does the earlier success prove she can quit, but quitting the second time is not at all like starting over. She may feel discouraged from her relapse, but she’ll have learned a lot since the first time she got sober. She may have participated in therapy, spent some time sober, and made some sober friends. These are all huge assets going forward. Detox, therapy, mutual aid meetings, and other aspects of recovery are no longer a mystery. It’s only a matter of trying again and trying to avoid making the same mistakes.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.