What To Do When Your Loved One Relapses

Drug relapses can happen to anyone. If your loved one relapses you can help them by practicing self-care, inviting open communication, and more.

Drug Relapse

The thought of your loved one relapsing can be very devastating. Seeing them complete a lengthy stay at a rehab clinic just to relapse can be really difficult for family members to comprehend. However, relapse is often a part of the recovery journey. A loved one who has experienced a relapse does not mean they failed. Addiction has a chronic nature, meaning that for a lot of people relapse, or returning to drug use after an attempt to stop can be a part of the process.

One way to better understand substance use disorder relapse is to compare it to other chronic diseases where patients experience a relapse. This is because relapse rates for drug use are similar to release rates for other chronic medical conditions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40 to 60 percent of people who are suffering from Substance Use Disorders relapse. Compared to 50 to 70 percent of people suffering from Hypertension and 50 to 70 percent of people suffering from Asthma relapse. These statistics may seem alarming, but it is comforting for family members to know that their loved one is not alone and a large percentage of people working to overcome their addiction relapse.

The treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply rooted behaviors. When a recovering person who is addicted to drugs experiences a relapse, it means they need to get in touch with their doctor to resume additional treatment, modify their current treatment, or try something new. Just like with the treatment of any chronic disease, when symptoms start to come back it is a sign that your body needs more help.

What to Do When Your Loved One Relapses

What to do when your loved one relapses? A lot of family members and friends wonder how they can support their loved one after they experience a relapse. The worst thing you can do is blame your loved one. It is not their fault. As mentioned above, addiction is a chronic disease. Just like how a person who has asthma can’t help it when their symptoms come back, neither can your loved one who is addicted to drugs. They need your love and support now more than ever.

Therefore, a few things you can do when your loved one experiences a relapse are practice self-care, invite open communication, brainstorm treatment options, enjoy sober activities, encourage them to attend support groups, and know the signs of relapse.

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Practice Self-Care

According to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, most people use drugs to escape, relax, or unwind. They use drugs or alcohol to escape negative emotions or enhance positive ones. Having a lack of self-care is often one of the main reasons that a person who is addicted to drugs relapses. As their life improves, they may begin to focus less and less on their own self-care. Therefore, having good self-care yourself and then helping your loved one practice their own self-care can really aid in their recovery journey.

Practicing self-care for yourself is a great way to help you stay calm and focused on helping your loved one overcome their drug addiction. Self-care includes emotional, physical, and psychological care. If you have your own unresolved issues it may be difficult for you to remain level-headed and help your loved one. Self-care can include making sure you are getting enough sleep, practicing good hygiene, and eating a healthy diet. Self-care can also include being kind to oneself, practicing mind-body relaxation, such as yoga, going to therapy, going for walks or runs, and engaging in activities you enjoy.

Invite Open Communication

Seeing a loved one relapse is difficult for everyone. However, it will be even more devastating for your loved one because they will be their own worst critic. They will act as though they failed and may spiral down the dark tunnel of feeling frustrated, hopeless, and worthless. Therefore, if you show you are open to listening to their feelings it can really help them open up and talk about how they feel.

Inviting open communication can help your loved one feel better because they can express their feelings. Talking about problems and sharing negative experiences with someone can be very healing. It can reduce stress because it can help your loved one sort through their feelings, see the situation more clearly, look at their problem in a different way, release built-up tension, feel as though they are not alone, and identify solutions they might not have thought about before.

Brainstorm Treatment Options

A loved one’s relapse could be a sign that their current treatment is not working for them. You can help your loved one figure out what to do next by brainstorming other treatment options. For example, maybe your loved one is currently seeking treatment at an outpatient setting and a better option would be for them to get treatment at an inpatient clinic.

It is important to remember that everyone is different, and needs a unique treatment plan to best suit their needs. A few options that have been proven to be successful in treating drug addiction are behavioral counseling, medication, medical devices, and applications that are used to treat withdrawal symptoms, evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues, such as depression, and long-term follow-up to prevent relapse.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, you can also complement traditional substance use disorder treatment approaches with therapeutic activities that engage the mind and body. A few examples of this are acupuncture, mindfulness meditation, such as yoga, and music therapy. Acupuncture has positive effects on adjunctive therapy for withdrawal, cravings, and anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness meditation such as yoga can reduce the consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, opiates, and other drugs. Lastly, music therapy has an effect on emotional and motivational outcomes and perceived hopefulness, which is very beneficial in substance use disorder recovery.

Enjoy Sober Activities

Keep in mind that your loved one probably has triggers that make them want to use drugs or alcohol. Triggers can include experiencing stressful events or seeing people, places, or things that remind a person of drug use. Therefore, learning your loved one’s triggers, and trying to avoid them is a great way to help them stay on track to recovery. Try to find places where your loved one won’t be triggered, such as going to the movie theater, having a picnic, exercising together, trying yoga or tai chi, taking a cooking, art, dance, or language class, or going for a hike in nature.

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Encourage Them to Attend Support Groups

Support groups are a great resource for your loved one who has recently relapsed. Encouraging them to attend support groups can bring them together with other people who are going through the same experience as them. Support groups provide an opportunity for your loved one to share their personal experiences and feelings, coping strategies, or experiences. It can provide emotional support when your loved one feels like no one understands what they are going through. Support groups can reduce distress, depression, anxiety, or fatigue. They can help your loved one talk openly and honestly about their feelings without feeling judged. They enable your loved one to improve their skills and help them cope with challenges better. Support groups give your loved one a sense of empowerment, control, and hope as well as can also improve their understanding of their own addiction and get practical feedback about treatment options.

Common support groups for people struggling with addiction are SMART Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous. These are 12 step programs where your loved one can speak with other people who are recovering from addiction who also probably have experienced a relapse at some point in their recovery journey.

There are also support groups for family members and friends of a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Nar-Anon is one support group for family members and friends where you can find your own sense of comfort knowing that there are lots of other family members dealing with a loved one who is struggling with addiction.

Know the Signs of Relapse

Your loved one may begin to display certain signs that they are going to relapse again. Maybe their self-care has diminished or they have started to withdraw from activities they once enjoyed. They might become depressed or easily agitated. Each person’s signs of relapse will be different so it is important you know your loved one’s signs.

If you feel like your loved one is close to relapsing again have a talk with them about it. See what is going on with them and try to get them help. Make sure they feel supported and not judged. Oftentimes a drug relapse can lead to overdose. Therefore, the best thing you can do for them is to assist them in finding help. Finding a high-quality rehab can provide your loved one with all the support and care they need to overcome their addiction. Rehab clinics use trained mental health professionals and medical professionals to ensure your loved one has all the tools they need to overcome their addiction in a safe and comfortable environment.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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