Addiction and Recovery: A How to Guide | Shawn Kingsbury | TEDxUIdaho
Supporting an Addict Who's Relapsed
The path toward recovery from addiction is often not a straight line. It's important that family and friends know what to do, and what not to do, at this critical time.
By Jean Rothman
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Seeing a loved one return to drugs or alcohol after treatment for addiction can be devastating to family and friends. It may make you feel as though everything you and the addict have done to address the addiction has been in vain.
Naturally, you want to help the family member or friend with the addiction so they can regain their health and get back to life as it once was. You may feel like you would do anything — including sacrificing your own needs and wants — to help your loved one. But experts say that’s not what’s best for addicts.
Here are some important dos and don'ts to keep in mind when a loved one relapses.
What You Can Do to Help the Addict
Do remember that this is the addict’s battle. Thinking this way will help you cope with the situation: To truly get well, they need to do it on their own.
Do stand firm. “Hold addicts accountable for their recovery from the relapse, just as it was important to hold them accountable for their addiction in the first place,” says Ray Isackila, assistant clinical and administrative director of addiction recovery services at University Hospitals in Cleveland.
Do encourage your loved one.“Just redirect them to their original addiction treatment plan,” says Russell Goodwin, a chemical dependency counselor with Impact Solutions in Cleveland. This may include suggesting they talk to their counselor or sponsor, or that they go to an addiction support group meeting.
Do take care of yourself.That’s the best way to help an addict who has relapsed. Eat well, get enough sleep, be sure to exercise, and keep doing the things you like, such as hobbies, sports, or crafts — whatever it is that you enjoy.
Do set an example for healthy living. “If you’re on your way to the gym, you can invite your loved one to join you," suggests Goodwin. "Letting them know that you would enjoy their company is very supportive. Just remember that you can’t force them to accept the invitation.”
Do be supportive.If the addiction is to alcohol, one supportive measure is to avoid having any alcohol in the house. “Many times a caregiver doesn’t understand why they can’t have a drink at home,” Goodwin says. “I ask them why they would want to have alcohol in the house when it’s the very substance that’s killing their loved one.”
You don’t have to stand idly by: You can offer support in your own ways without letting yourself be pulled down by the situation.
Do be optimistic.Even though a relapse is not the outcome you were hoping for, a return to addiction treatment can be very helpful for your loved one who could, eventually, live a drug-free life. It’s important to have a positive outlook, both for your sake and theirs.
What You Shouldn’t Do, Because It Won’t Help the Addict
Don't dismiss the problem. “This means that you don’t make excuses for the addict,” says Isackila. It’s also crucial that you don’t try to take on your loved one’s problems.
Don't push.Once you’ve urged your loved one to reconnect with the people who can guide them in the right direction, take a step back. “Remember that it’s not your mission to make them well again,” says Goodwin.
Don't try to take away the addict’s guilt or anxiety about the relapse.It's not your job. “If they’re feeling guilty, that’s probably a good thing, because it means they will go and get the proper help,” says Isackila.
Don't try to get a relapsed addict to feel guilty.If they don’t feel guilty already, this won’t be helpful. “Saying to an addict, ‘Look what you’ve done to me’ is not going to motivate them to seek treatment,” says Goodwin. You want to neutralize emotions — not make your loved one feel guilty or absolve them of guilt.
Don't be discouraged.According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction is, in many ways, like other chronic illnesses that require more than one round of therapy. Just because addicts relapse and may need another course of treatment doesn’t mean their treatment has been unsuccessful or that they won’t be able to stay clean in the long run.
Video: How To Help An Addict ► Its Probably NOT What You Think!
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