How to help someone who has relapsed on drugs or alcohol
Seeing someone relapse on drugs or alcohol after treatment can be so disheartening. It isn’t the outcome that either of you were hoping for, but it also isn’t the end of the road. They can still get better.
Within this blog, we will look at how to help someone who has relapsed so that you both have the opportunity to turn the often distressing blow into a useful experience to grow from. We will also outline the professional treatment that is available at Priory’s rehabilitation clinics to support you both at this time.
Don’t ignore, dismiss or enable the problem
If someone close to you has returned to drugs or alcohol, you will want to see them get better, even if you feel disappointed, angry or sad about what has happened. No doubt you’ll be feeling worn out too.
You can support the person, but it is important to do so in a way that doesn’t enable their behaviour and that doesn’t interfere with you recovering your own health and wellbeing. Always remember the ‘three Cs’ from Al-Anon; “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it”.
Alcoholics and addicts often try to avoid responsibility and blame partners, employers, friends, or circumstances - like ‘bad days’ - for their drinking or drug use. Don’t take on this responsibility and blame, and don’t bend or shift your values to accommodate their addictive behaviours.
Be mindful not to make excuses for their behaviour to others or help when their drink or drug use leads to them becoming irresponsible. Don’t phone in sick for them at work, don’t lend them money and don’t buy alcohol or drugs for them. When thinking about how to help someone who has relapsed, always remember that you shouldn’t be doing anything that makes it easy for them to continue with their destructive behaviour.
Letting go of these responsibilities can feel like you’re abandoning the person but you need to find a way to be supportive without taking responsibility for them. They need to be left with the opportunity to be responsible, which in turn can free you up to take care of yourself.
Don’t be afraid to stand firm and stand back
When you’re helping someone who has relapsed, you may forget to look after yourself. You may feel selfish if you put your needs above the other person. But, if you’re not taking care of yourself, how can you be expected to have the energy to truly support anyone else?
When someone has returned to active addiction, remember that they are the one person who can get them well again. Don’t sacrifice your own health and wellbeing. And don’t exhaust yourself worrying about whether it is your fault or your responsibility.
Instead, take the time to eat and sleep well. Also, don’t shut yourself off from others. You won’t be able to help anyone, including yourself, if your batteries are depleted.
It is so important to look after yourself at this time
Start to think about how you can change in the way you react to the person’s addictive behaviours. For example, make sure that you keep your own social appointments rather than adjusting your life around the person. Also, make sure you get into bed at your normal time, even if the person hasn’t returned home as promised. Even if you can’t sleep, this will give you time to shut your eyes and get some rest. You may also want to phone an understanding friend or someone from a support group.
Do things to make yourself feel better. Give yourself time for quiet reflection, and try to do this throughout your day. Take care of your mental health by booking in time for relaxation, maintaining hobbies and seeing friends. Also, look after your physical health, and maybe have a check-up with your GP.
Discuss your feelings with them
When thinking about how to help someone who has relapsed, it is important to consider how you will sit down and talk to the person about your worries.
We understand that this is a difficult conversation – and is one you’re probably dreading – but it is so important to have. Choose a place that is private, and focus the conversation on your thoughts, feelings and observations by using phrases like “I’ve noticed…”, “I’m worried about…” or “I’m scared that…”
By keeping the conversation on you rather than them, this can stop the person from becoming defensive or feeling as though you are attacking them. It can also help them to see how their relapse has been affecting you and others who care about them, which can sometimes help a person recognise the extent of their problem.
When you talk to them, don’t try and reason with them, as the pull of their addiction will often be so much stronger than logical and rational thought. While it may be tough, also try not to lose your temper. It’s perfectly understandable for you to feel angry and upset, but express these thoughts and feelings with others. And if the person isn’t ready to hear what you want to say, pause the conversation and have it at a different time.
Don’t accept promises
During these conversations, the person may promise to stop drinking or drug taking.
They may say that they don’t need treatment and that they can get better by themselves, or that they just slipped up and will be fine from now on. While the person will mean these things in the moment, their cravings will typically become more powerful than the promises they made. So, you are likely to find that they go broken.
Encourage professional treatment
If the person has previously attended an Addiction Treatment Programme, encourage them to get back in contact with their team – also, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone yourself to speak to them.
Returning to addiction treatment can be incredibly helpful, whether that is returning to a previous treatment centre or undergoing a programme at a new facility. Doing so is also highly recommended, as it can help the person to learn from what has happened and receive a helping hand so that can get themselves back on the road to recovery once again.
At Priory Group, we have supported people who have relapsed. As our programmes focus on healing, abstinence and long term sustainability of sobriety, our therapists work to teach people the skills they need for a sustained recovery.
Emphasise your encouragement
When someone experiences a relapse, they can feel embarrassed and ashamed. These feelings can stop the person from seeing a way out and in turn, reaching out for help.
Your support and encouragement can show that there is help and an opportunity to get back on track. Let them know that you are there for them as they seek support and will continue to help them in their recovery.
Join Al-Anon or Nar-Anon
Often it can be helpful to get an outsider’s point of view, especially from people who have their own experiences of addiction within the family.
Al-Anon and Nar-Anon provide support to people affected by someone else’s drinking or drug abuse. These can be particularly useful if you find it difficult to talk to your friends and family about the problem.
Addiction is something that has such a big impact on the people surrounding an addict, and these support networks allow you to be amongst people going through similar experiences. Along with discussing how to help someone who has relapsed, you also have a chance to air your concerns, worries and thoughts, and receive helpful advice and support from people who really do understand the situation you are going through.
At Priory, our Addiction Treatment Programmes run Family Support Groups, where family members can come along to reflect, get support and learn from others. These support groups can help to unload the burden of responsibility and be with others who understand. This can be validating and reassuring when you are close to someone in active addiction. Don’t try to handle it by yourself and don’t suffer in silence.
Sometimes it’s difficult to think rationally in a crisis, so don’t sit in the fear of the worst happening. Instead, be prepared. For example, have a list of emergency telephone numbers including the person’s GP, local hospital, and social services.
Also, for your own wellbeing, have a list of a couple of friends who you know you can reach out to and agree times when you can call for support if and when it is needed.