For every one of the 20 million Americans who are dealing with addiction, there are many more friends and relatives next to them who also have to deal with the fallout in their lives. Addiction never only affects the person directly struggling with it. When the addicted person goes to treatment and enters the recovery phase, friends and family feel optimistic and hopeful that they will finally be free. Unfortunately, recovery isn’t always a straight path. Relapse is a common issue that many people struggling with addiction must deal with at some point. If your loved one has relapsed, what do you say to them? What are some things you shouldn’t say to a relapsed person? Let’s take a look.
What Does Relapsed Mean?
When a person struggling with addiction goes in for treatment, they typically spend that time drug-free. This drug-free state may continue for a while through recovery as well. However, relapse is fairly common throughout the treatment and recovery phases. Many people go back to treatment several times before they are finally truly able to change their habits and lifestyle. When someone is said to have relapsed, it means that they have gone back to using drugs or alcohol as they did before. Relapsing can be very dangerous in some cases as the person may go back to using the same amount of drugs or alcohol that they did before. However, without tolerance in place, this may put them at high risk for overdose.
What To Do If Someone You Love Has Relapsed
Opinions sometimes differ on how you should help someone who has relapsed. One opinion is that you should focus on yourself and make sure to set boundaries so that you’re not enabling them. One method is to write an intervention letter to let that person know that you care about them, but you also want them to get help and get better. The problems come when you focus too heavily on the person who’s struggling with substance abuse so that your own life begins to suffer.
What Happens When Your Loved One Denies Their Substance Use Disorder?
This is a common scenario as well. The second approach is to urge them to seek help for another issue. For example, it’s common for addicted people to have issues with depression or anxiety. There’s a good chance that the substance use disorder will be brought up when they see a therapist for mental health problems.
What Shouldn’t You Say To Someone Who Has Relapsed?
Before you think about what to say to someone who has relapsed, it’s a good idea to consider what you shouldn’t say. It’s important to understand that they likely feel bad and guilty about relapsing just as you might feel angry and disappointed.
Don’t Say “How Could You Let This Happen?”
It’s common to be angry and disappointed with someone who has relapsed. It’s also common to want to blame them. However, addiction is a disease, not a voluntary choice that people make. Even after treatment and through recovery, chronic drug and alcohol use can maintain a hold on the brain. A person might be well into the recovery phase and still have the risk of relapse. Addiction doesn’t always just go away.
Don’t Say “I’m So Angry At You.”
As previously mentioned, it’s normal to feel angry and disappointed. However, understanding the nature of addiction is necessary to realize that your anger is probably misplaced. A person going through the recovery doesn’t want to relapse and didn’t choose to relapse. They likely feel terrible about themselves when it happens. Adding guilt and self-loathing to their plate doesn’t help.
Don’t Say “It’s Time To Try This Addiction Treatment.”
It’s also common for people to offer treatment advice to those who have relapsed. They may suggest that the person needs residential treatment or that they need to try the latest holistic treatment. However, most quality addiction treatment centers have programs tailored towards the individual for a reason. The same treatment doesn’t always work for everyone.
What Are Some Helpful Things To Say To A Relapsed Person?
The best things to say to a person who has relapsed are encouraging and optimistic. Addiction recovery isn’t a destination but a path. Sometimes there are detours and obstacles. It’s important for the relapsed person to feel that there’s still hope in recovery as long as they keep putting forth the effort.
Do Say: “Relapse Doesn’t Mean Failure.”
Relapse is often simply part of recovery. It’s not necessarily inevitable, but it’s very common. It’s important to remind a person who has relapsed that they aren’t alone. It also doesn’t mean that they’ve failed in their recovery goals. It might simply mean that they need to pursue another type of addiction treatment. Being relapsed doesn’t mean that you’ve failed, but that you need to try again. Long-term recovery is always possible. You’ve only failed when you quit trying.
Do Say: “You’re Still Supported.”
A relapsed person especially needs to hear that they’re still supported. They likely expect disappointment and resentment from others. They may also feel that they’ve let their loved ones down as well as themselves. The only caveat to this is to make sure that you’re not enabling them to continue previous bad habits. If your loved one has relapsed, a simple statement of support is enough. Let them know that you will help them get the treatment they need.
Do Say: “You Can Get Back To Recovery.”
It’s very common for a relapsed person to feel that they have to start over. However, it’s important for them to remember that they did have a sober period. Ask them what motivated them to get sober the first time. Tell them that you know they can get back to sobriety because they did it before. Remembering why and how they got sober can be a big motivator to seek better treatment and continue the recovery journey.
Do Say: “What Did You Learn From Relapsing?”
It’s very important for a relapsed person to have a supportive listener. They may be able to identify and discuss triggers for why they relapsed. Ask the question in a non-judgmental way that implies you simply want to hear their story. Encourage them to get in touch with their therapist and discuss the answers as well.
When Helping Someone Who Has Relapsed, Remember to Be
• A good listener
The most important thing is to urge them not to give up and to continue seeking treatment.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or have relapsed, Dr. Howard Samuels is ready to help. Dr. Samuels has many years of experience in the field of treating addiction and mental health. Contact him today for more information on how to start or continue treatment.