Addiction recovery is a life-long process, and the danger of relapse is present even years or decades after getting sober. Seeing a loved one relapse after a long period of sobriety can be difficult to watch. You may feel disappointed, angry, even betrayed, or think that it will be hard to be supportive in the aftermath. There are times when being supportive is easy, but there might also be times when you or your whole family need to relearn some hard truths about addiction and recovery.
Why Do Relapses Happen Even for Those Who Managed to Stay Sober for a Long Time?
For people in early sobriety, relapses can be more likely and more challenging because they may still have patterns, habits, and triggers they haven’t quite worked through yet. It takes some time for the brain to gradually unlearn its addictive habits and to develop healthy coping skills. Many people do not realize that relapse can happen after many years of successful recovery and continuous sobriety. This can happen for many reasons. There might be different triggers that become too difficult to ignore, or the person in recovery might think they’ve gone long enough that using or drinking one time will be okay and that leads to overindulging.
By the time physical relapses occur, there have likely been prior emotional and mental relapses. If someone in recovery lets healthy habits and practices fall by the wayside, this can allow old habits to creep back in. This is often due to either too much stress or complacency. The first scenario often comes from being too busy or competitive or having a season of traumatic life events. The second involves a person taking their recovery or the things that brought them to that point for granted. Both scenarios can make someone blind to triggers.
There is no way to immunize oneself to triggers; physical, emotional, and mental triggers will always be present. Rather than constantly trying to avoid any kind of trigger, people in recovery should develop ways to work through them when they come. This way resisting the unhealthy, harmful pull of drugs or alcohol becomes second nature. As life’s trajectory shifts and changes, remember the road to all-around wellness is a continual process, not a definitive end goal or stopping point.
Relapse Does Not Mean Failure
If your loved one has come a long way from their addiction, no one is more ashamed over the relapse than the person who experienced it. Adding to that shame is not going to help. You might feel a range of emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, and even resentment. There might also be some blame-shifting in the home, which makes it stressful for everyone.
How you respond to a relapsed family member plays a huge role in the family dynamic and the post-relapse recovery phase. Avoid thinking that relapse means failure. It is, in fact, not a failure, but a mistake that can be learned from with proper help and support. Remember that substance addiction is a chronic disease that changes brain structures and therefore requires continual care and vigilance. Giving in to anger or frustration could actually make the situation worse.
When you are emotionally calmer, talk with your loved one who is frustrated with his or her own relapse. Affirm your support and offer the opportunity to try again. Talk to them about whether they need to enter treatment again. Encourage them that since they’ve overcome substance abuse before, there is a genuine chance they can overcome this relapse too.
Become a Recovery-Supportive Family
Addiction and relapses may bring a lot of emotional pain to a family as a whole. By understanding how to be a fully recovery-supportive family, you’ll be able to work through difficulties and help your loved one through recovery. Allow yourself and other members of the family to feel the many emotions because they are valid and normal. Try to express them in a healthy way without taking them out on your loved one who is going through a relapse. The whole family should practice self-care when talking about this issue. For example, express concern with committed support by saying, “I feel sad and frustrated. I do struggle with this but I want to help and support you in the next steps.”
It may be time to work with some recovery specialists to adjust your loved one’s relapse prevention plan. This could mean a career change, more regular support group attendance, or more accountability and support from your family. Prepare for the risks and lean on the benefits of social support from a trusted recovery community, including a recovery-supportive family.
Do you know how to support a family member who has achieved sobriety but unfortunately experienced a relapse? Support from family is crucial for an individual’s recovery from addiction, no matter what stage they are at. True recovery is not a sprint, but a long marathon that promises ups and downs during the journey. Family members need to work hard to provide unconditional support. You also need to learn self-care techniques to fulfill this supporting role. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists know how to help you build a recovery-supportive home environment. For your loved one, we offer a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, 12-step programs, and custom-made treatment plans. For you and your family, our family and relationship counseling services help you become a supportive and connected family. Call us at (866) 906-3203. We are committed to supporting you so that you can support your loved one.