For the Family: Dealing with Relapse

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Relapse is difficult for the entire family, and they will need to lean on each other for support. (Ruslan Guzov/Shutterstock)
Relapse is difficult for the entire family, and they will need to lean on each other for support. (Ruslan Guzov/Shutterstock)

We’ve previously written a guide to staying sober over the holidays, with a number of suggestions. However, with Thanksgiving and most December holidays behind us, many of these suggestions are now moot. We now approach New Year’s Eve, one of the biggest drinking nights of the year. And as unfortunate as this is to say, many families may soon see their loved ones falling off the wagon. This is unfortunate, but many spouses and other family members will have to prepare for the possibility. Relapse is a major concern at all times of year, and you need to have a plan.

In order to help you out with this, we’ll discuss a bit below why relapse is such a major concern—especially over the holidays. We will then outline a few major steps that you will have to follow if you want to help the addict or alcoholic in your life overcome the threat of relapse so that they may return to recovery rather than continue their downward spiral. Finally, for the sake of providing you some peace of mind, we’ll talk about how families can help themselves in this time of worry.

Why Relapse is a Concern

Extended time with the family, especially during the holidays, can often put the addict or alcoholic in the direct vicinity of wine and other spirits. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)
Extended time with the family, especially during the holidays, can often put the addict or alcoholic in the direct vicinity of wine and other spirits. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

In a previous article on relapse prevention, we noted that those without a rather solid relapse prevention plan are just about always at risk. They will not know how to handle certain triggers, and they may not have prepared for some triggers that they didn’t even know they had. If the addict or alcoholic does not know how to handle a certain situation, such as attending a New Year’s party at which people are drinking, then there is a good chance that they will do the wrong thing.

As for why relapse is a specific concern over the holidays, part of the problem may unfortunately be the extended time that families spend together. There are sometimes unspoken resentments that may come to light during such periods, and the result is that tensions can often run pretty high. Even if there are no major fights or arguments, the addict or alcoholic may be dealing with their own guilt or resentments that will cause them to become emotionally disturbed. If they do not deal with this properly, they may resort to their drug of choice.

The best bet here is to focus on sheer prevention. Try to ensure that they go to meetings, keep them away from functions at which alcohol is present, and keep an eye out for signs of addiction such as glazed eyes and strange personality changes such as defensiveness and argumentativeness at times when no one has given the addict a need to defend themselves. Alterations in personality may not indicate that the addict or alcoholic is actually using, but it is a sure indication that they are not in a good place. Unfortunately, even prevention may not always be enough. And if the addict or alcoholic should suffer a slip, then further measures may need to be taken.

Step One – Intervention

Interventions bust be firm, but not angry. Be sure to offer love and support. (Adam Gregor/Shutterstock)
Interventions bust be firm, but not angry. Be sure to offer love and support. (Adam Gregor/Shutterstock)

The first goal if the addict or alcoholic should suffer a relapse is to attempt a direct confrontation. Do not be rude or overly aggressive, as this could lead to much worse problems. Simply try to ask if anything is wrong. In some cases, you will be surprised at how honest many addicts will be when questioned directly. This is especially true of those who truly care about their recovery, and wish to get better after their slip. But there are also many cases in which you may know for certain that they have relapsed, yet they will refuse to admit it under any circumstances. They may be in denial that the problem is as bad as it was before, or they may simply be lost under the grip of the same condition that has tortured them in the past.

In these cases, the addict or alcoholic will often continue to use. They will do their best to hide it, but they will still suffer the same downward spiral with which the family is so painfully familiar. Rather than watching them undergo this horrifying journey once again, you must do your best to stage a successful intervention. Gather those who care about them and tell them how they are hurting you again, while emphasizing how difficult it is to watch them hurting themselves. Seek the help of a qualified intervention specialist if you must.

Remember that you must do everything in your power to control your anger during this intervention. Confrontation is important, but you must be firm without causing the sort of outrage that might lead to failure and further use. Above all, remember that the goal is to get your loved one to return to treatment. They did it once before; they can do it again, if they possess the willingness to try.

Step Two – Treatment

If possible, you may need to send your loved one back to treatment. (Bacho/Shutterstock)
If possible, you may need to send your loved one back to treatment. (Bacho/Shutterstock)

Many treatment centers handle patients on the relapse track a little differently than first-time residents. Amethyst Recovery is no exception. Our programs are highly individualized to give each patient the specific level of care that they require, and our staff is well aware that those who have relapsed may have certain inner demons that need more attention than others. As such, we endeavor to get to the heart of these issues so as to prevent a future relapse from occurring.

It is never easy for the family to watch a loved one enter treatment once again after suffering a relapse. While they may have been relieved the first time around, knowing that they would be able to spend between thirty and ninety days without having to worry about their loved one’s safety, they are now left with fear and doubt. You may wonder whether or not you will ever be able to break the cycle of the addiction disease, and save the one you love from themselves. Many focus on the importance of treatment for the addict or alcoholic, but it is easy to forget how difficult a time this can be for the family.

If you are not sure how to afford treatment, then be sure to contact us for information on our free verification and referral program. We will do our best to assess your insurance options and try to get the one you love into treatment. Even if we are not able to accommodate them ourselves, we will do our best to find someone who can. Your family has already been through enough. You should not have to suffer a new financial burden as well.

Step Three – Support

Family members who feel affected by the relapse of a loved one should lean on a support group, in addition to each other. (SpeedKingz/Shutterstock)
Family members who feel affected by the relapse of a loved one should lean on a support group, in addition to each other. (SpeedKingz/Shutterstock)

Since relapse can often be as hard on the family as it is on the addict or alcoholic, it is important for the family to seek some means of emotional support during these troubling times. The family counterparts to AA and NA—Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, respectively—are two of the easiest choices for families who are seeking outside support for dealing with their troubles. These groups provide a forum for families to voice their fears and concerns, as well as their regrets. Families will meet several others who have struggled with the relapse of a loved one, who can share their own stories of how they learned to deal with the fall and focus on maintaining their own happiness.

We also offer our own means of support. For those who must work extra hours to pay for treatment and are having a difficult time finding a local support group that fits their schedule, it may be worth checking out A Mother’s Hope, our Facebook group for the parents of recovering addicts and alcoholics. There are thousands of users in this group, and you will not be the only one with a child who has suffered a relapse. This can be a useful tool, as it is always helpful to be reminded that we are not alone.

If your child has undergone treatment at Amethyst before, then you may also benefit from our parent alumni program. In fact, you may even know some of the parents in this program already. As such, you will not have to go as far out of your way to meet people who know and understand your story. In the end, however, it does not matter which program you seek. Find support somewhere, and remember to lean on other family members. You will need each other in this hour of concern.

Step Four – Maintenance

The family must firmly discuss some boundaries to be set after the relapse. (Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)
The family must firmly discuss some boundaries to be set after the relapse. (Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Once the addict or alcoholic in your life has graduated from treatment, you may find yourself a bit apprehensive. They have suffered one relapse already, and there is no telling if or when they may suffer another. This is why you must do what you can to be there for them. Every addict needs a strong support system if they are to thrive in recovery. You may be sad, angry, resentful, or experiencing any number of other emotions toward the addict in your life. But if there is even a part of you that believes they truly regret what they have done and long to get better, then you owe it to yourself and to them to be there for them when they need you.

Of course, there are some cautions that accompany this. There are times at which stubbornness may get the best of you, and you may have trouble forgiving them for what they have done. Remember that they did not relapse specifically to hurt you. They did it because they were in pain, and the addict is a person who often responds to their own pain by hurting themselves through substance abuse. It is a vicious cycle, and this is a bad time for them to feel alone.

That said, you must not make too many allowances. Do not resort to enabling them, as it will only lead to further pain for both parties. If they relapse yet again, you will need to set firm boundaries. If they find themselves with new legal issues, then you must let them know that you will not be there to bail them out every time. This is the hardest step for some families, but it provides the addict with a chance to realize that they are responsible for their own actions. The nature of their disease should not change this.

Letting Go of Guilt

Do not fear that people will blame you for what happened. It is not your fault. (PathDoc/Shutterstock)
Do not fear that people will blame you for what happened. It is not your fault. (PathDoc/Shutterstock)

We cannot stress enough that one of the most important things to remember through all of this is that your loved one’s relapse was not your fault. Regardless of the family dynamic, and regardless of the nature of the disease, they made the choice to use again. Having already been through a full continuum of care and discovered the tools they need to stay sober, at some point along the way they stopped using them. Had they called their sponsor instead of contacting their drug dealer or driving to the liquor store, then they would not have saddled you with the guilt and regret that you are now feeling.

This is not to say that you should be spiteful or resentful, because that will hurt you every bit as much as it hurts them. We are simply saying that you should learn to let go of your negative emotions. At some point, you come to the realization that you cannot run another person’s life. It may be painful to hear, but they will have to be the one to decide whether or not they care enough about their family and about themselves to stay sober. All that you can do now is to be there for them while they grapple with this decision.

When you learn to free yourself of guilt, you realize just how little focus you have given your own needs in lieu of favoring those of the addict or alcoholic in your life. It is quite possible that, even after their recovery, you may have continued to enable them in a fashion that allowed them to fall back on old habits. This does not make it your fault, but it should be something of a wake-up call. You must focus on your own needs from time to time. Never be afraid to treat yourself a bit, especially after all that you have been through.

If you are reading this before New Year’s, then we hope you have a good one. If you are reading this at another time, then we still wish you well and hope that you have a good year. You’ve been through a lot. You deserve to be happy. Never forget that.

Categories: Categories Addiction, Aftercare, Intervention, Treatment
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