Does someone close to you have a problem with addiction?
How do you know what to do when an addict relapses? First, I recommend taking a step back and gaining some perspective on the situation. Keep in mind that your loved one is more than just an “addict.”
They are a real person with dreams and goals in life, like anyone else. A person trapped by active addiction needs your help, but in a constructive way. We can begin by talking about the word “addict.”
In NA meetings, members are encouraged to identify themselves as an addict.
For example, you might hear these introductions in a meeting, “My name is Steve. I’m an addict. My name is Joe. I’m an addict.”
Some members insist that identifying as an addict is so essential, they say the word “addict” before their name. For example, “I’m an addict. My name is Jim. I’m an addict named Carol.”
Is it wrong that Narcotics Anonymous meetings put social pressure on new members to identify in this way?
Thought leaders in addiction treatment and recovery are now recommending that we change our vocabulary when it comes to talking about people who are more than their addiction.
We need to get away from the traditional vocabulary of NA, AA, and other support groups. Drug addiction is a medical condition that requires medical care, treatment programs, and appropriate support systems.
If you went to a doctor with a sore throat, imagine how you would feel if the doctor looked up as you walked in and said, “Oh, a sore throat just walked in.” Wouldn’t you appreciate it if the doctor recognized that you are a whole person and more than just your illness?
It may not be as easy to say, “my son is a person who suffers from substance use disorder” compared to “my son is an addict.” Yet, it is essential to take the extra time and effort to say it the right way.
Do you know what to do when someone relapses?
When you suspect that a loved one has returned to old, self-destructive behaviors, do not start by beating them up over it. They have enough sorrow, guilt, and remorse as it is without you adding to it. Making things more difficult is not going to get them to listen and do what you want them to do. More likely, you are going to push them away and back to using drugs.
If you want to know what to do if someone relapses, think about how you deal with impossible situations where you felt trapped with no way out. Do you also have your coping mechanisms? There is nothing different about a person who has relapsed. They have simply found a way to cope with highly stressful situations where they see no other solution.
Unfortunately, addiction to drugs is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually damaging to the individual. It takes a long time to heal from active addiction.
Remember that your loved one is still there.
The person they may appear to be while on drugs is not them. You can be there for them, ready to help them come back to life again.
If your loved one was free of drugs for a long time and is now in relapse, understand that this is not a failure. Many people have had a slip in their recovery and come back from it.
When relapse occurs, it does not have to last for very long.
This relapse could be a small blip in the middle of many successful years. Chronic relapsing is a part of the condition of substance use disorder.
Also, the experts are now recommending that we stop referring to people who do not use drugs as being “clean.” To say that someone is now clean implies that they were previously “dirty.” How would you feel if your family called you dirty when you were sick?
Don’t forget to take care of yourself first.
When it comes to helping a loved one to overcome active addiction, your efforts can be draining. You may find that you are neglecting your self-care.
Be aware of yourself and your needs. As you already know, to help someone else, you must first take care of yourself and your health.
And, there is nothing wrong with asking for help. Consider seeing your doctor for a check-up. You may also want to visit a psychologist or family therapist.
Being open to communication is essential.
Your loved one is going to need someone to trust and count on for help. If you are confrontational, you may cut those lines of communication. Make it clear that you are there for them and ready to listen if they want to talk. When they ask for help, you will be there for them.
You can make a plan to help your loved one who has relapsed.
Have you prepared to work with professionals to help them when they are ready for your help? Have you researched local addiction doctors to find the right one?
What about an intervention specialist? In the past, interventionists would join in on a family meeting with the person who has relapsed. This professional would enforce the atmosphere of tough love, encouraging family members to put ultimatums in writing. Do you believe that tough love and making threats will help your loved one to get treatment and get back to recovery?
Tough love is another concept that is no longer considered valid.
Pushing away a person in active addiction is not helpful. The thinking was that if you forced them out of your life, they would find a “sufficient bottom” to go then and get help. Unfortunately, these days, “hitting bottom” often means dying of an overdose or drug-related sickness. The best thing we can do is to focus more on harm reduction.
Try to meet them where they are now.
Sometimes a person who has relapsed is not ready to come back yet. Of course, you should not give them drug money or drive them over to their drug user. Yet, if possible, don’t kick them out of their home either, especially if they have nowhere else to go.
If your loved one is using opioids, keep Narcan in the house. Narcan contains the opioid blocker, naloxone. It is a rescue drug that can reverse an overdose.
When you speak to your loved one, do not blame or shame them. The goal is to make a connection. Your loved one may feel trapped inside, trapped by addiction. Be prepared to offer your help and support.
You may still want to find an intervention specialist, yet find one onboard with your harm reduction approach. For example, the intervention expert may agree to have a one-on-one conversation over the phone with your loved one.
They can talk about options for treatment and support. Maybe your loved one has misconceptions about addiction treatment. A knowledgeable, caring, compassionate interventionist can make all the difference.
Consider your lifestyle going forward to help support your loved one.
Do you keep alcohol around the house? What about prescription drugs that have abuse potential? Having these items in your home can make your loved one uncomfortable.
Think of it as being like leaving a loaded gun lying around in the kitchen. Supporting your loved one in recovery means creating a safe environment. Taking the safety of the home environment into consideration will help your loved one to stay sober.
You can provide positive reinforcement when they make progress. If you take your loved one to the doctor for addiction treatment, let them know that they are doing the right thing. They have made a step in the right direction. It will make all the difference for you to let them know that they are making positive progress.
To help prevent future relapses, help to remove triggers from the environment.
What are “triggers?” A trigger is something that sparks thoughts in a person’s head that can start them obsessing over drugs again.
We already discussed some triggers here. Having alcohol and drugs in the house are definite triggers. Nothing causes thoughts of relapse, like seeing your drug of choice right in front of you.
If you are recovering from addiction, it almost seems like people around you are permitting you to relapse by giving you easy access to drugs and alcohol.
There are many other examples of triggers. A particular street or neighborhood could be a trigger. If your loved one who is recovering from addiction used to buy or use drugs in that neighborhood, it is good to steer clear of it.
Another person could also be a trigger. A past significant other or a person who provided drugs are examples of people triggers.
When it comes to helping your loved one to avoid these triggers, don’t expect them to just put up with them. Will power can only go so far. Long-term, the best chance of success will depend on placing barriers between your loved one and triggers that lead them to relapse.
What if my loved one won’t admit to using drugs again?
While providing support and being available to help is essential, sometimes, your loved one is in imminent danger. You see that all the signs are there of them using drugs again. You try to offer help, and they deny that there is a problem at all.
But, what if you are concerned that they are on a path towards destruction?
For example, you are confident that your loved one is using opioids on the streets. Maybe there is a high risk of overdose, particularly if they have overdosed in the past. If your loved one also has a history of significant mental illness, the chances of a tragic outcome could be much higher.
In these cases, you may want to take further action. The law provides a mechanism to ensure that a person gets immediate mental health. There is the Baker Act, which doctors and law enforcement officers can use to get a person into an inpatient facility and keep them there for three days.
Three days may not seem like much, but it might help prevent one fatal overdose that would have occurred otherwise. If the facility provides ideal treatment, for example, opioid addiction, they might start Suboxone treatment. Getting started with medication-assisted treatment might help to wake up your loved one to the fact that they can move on with their lives without drugs.
In Florida, there is also the Marchman Act. This law allows a judge to order a person to go to mandatory inpatient substance abuse treatment for as long as six months. In some cases, long-term treatment might be the best option for ongoing success.
When it comes to mandatory drug treatment, we have to be careful.
On the one hand, we want to save our loved one from a tragic outcome if we stand by and do nothing. On the other hand, we may create an atmosphere of distrust with our loved one and make it difficult to provide support and help in the future.
Before making this decision, you may want to consult with professionals with experience in addiction treatment. Consider talking to an attorney with experience in using these laws and a doctor who treats addiction. Before taking action, it is best to make an informed decision.
You may find that your loved one who does not want to admit to using drugs may open up to you if you provide a safe, trusting environment, and make it clear that they can count on your support. As I discussed earlier, consider involving an enlightened intervention specialist who can have a one-on-one talk with your loved one about treatment options.
If the interventionist makes it clear that their conversation is completely confidential, your loved one may be willing to confide in them and have a useful talk about getting help. These talks can help to move your loved one in the right direction. Soon, they will be opening up to you about what is going on.
Handling a relapse is never easy.
Experts say that the families of people who struggle with addiction are always “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” The shoe drop refers to the belief that relapse is inevitable, even after years of being drug-free.
Often the best source of support available comes from friends and family. It is important to be there for your loved one when they most need your help.
Relapse prevention starts with you.
Rather than waiting in dreaded anticipation for the relapse, you can make preparations ahead of time by keeping lines of communication open. And, educate yourself on how experts understand addiction today.
When you go to public support meetings, such as Naranon or Alanon, you may hear outdated information about tough love and punish and shaming your loved one to keep them from relapsing.
It is best to study the works of modern psychiatrists and psychologists about the nature of addiction. People who struggle with addiction are real people and deserve our respect and understanding. If and when relapse does happen, we will be best prepared to help our loved one move past this episode and back to success in recovery.