How to Recognize Relapse in Your Loved One
Author: Atlanta Addiction Recovery Center Editor
If your loved one has finally entered a treatment program for their addiction, you may feel a tremendous weight lifted from your shoulders. For the first time in a while you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And although you and your family are on the right path to healing, you may not realize that your journey to recovery is just beginning. Many people believe that once their loved one is thriving in a recovery program, they have been cured and their problems are over. But addiction is a chronic, lifelong disease that must be closely managed and you should expect that there will be some bumps in the road ahead.
Relapse is often thought of as the moment a person compromises their sobriety by taking a drink or doing drugs. But relapse is also a process. The signs can become apparent days, weeks or even months before a person actually succumbs to the use of drugs or alcohol. Understanding what triggers relapse and being aware of the warning signs can empower families to navigate the challenges ahead. Remember, you can’t control everything, especially someone else’s behavior—but you can control how you react to it by recognizing the signs of relapse and implementing a solid relapse prevention plan.
How to Recognize Addiction Relapse Triggers
Relapse can occur when you least expect it and is often brought on by certain triggers. These triggers will be different for everyone, but here are some common ones to look out for:
- Negative emotions such as feelings of loneliness, worry, stress, anger, fear, anxiety, depression and guilt.
- Exposure to certain people, places or events associated with past drug or alcohol use.
- Exposure to drugs and alcohol.
- Exposure to social situations that make the person feel pressured to use.
- Exposure to or seeing objects or scenarios that remind them of using. For example, drug or alcohol use on television, social media, etc.
Know the Signs of Relapse
If your loved one is at high risk for relapse, you may notice certain changes in their behavior before they take a drink or return to drug use. It’s crucial for both the individual in recovery as well as friends and family to be aware of these behaviors.
These behaviors include:
- Not attending meetings that are part of their recovery schedule such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, 12-step meetings, daily readings and time with a sponsor.
- Temporary issues, such as an illness that keeps them away from recovery activities, but they do not return once well.
- No longer participating in activities they once enjoyed.
- Allowing their hygiene to deteriorate.
- An inability to set appropriate limits with others. For example, with children they are either too lenient or too rigid.
- Feeling overwhelmed by personal responsibilities and an inability to prioritize.
- Difficulty making decisions.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Changes in mood, including feeling anxious, depressed and irritable.
- Becoming emotionally withdrawn or experiencing feelings of hopelessness and loneliness.
Support Your Loved One in Recovery With Your Own Action Plan
One of the most important things to remember when a friend or family member is in recovery is that you cannot control their addiction. You can only arm yourself with the right tools to help support them in their recovery and heal yourself. Recognizing how their addiction has affected you and your family is extremely important in moving forward in a healthy way. Having your own action plan will not only help support your loved one in recovery, but also help restore and maintain balance in your family dynamics.
Here’s what you can do to help support your loved one in recovery:
- Agree to attend a 12-Step meeting at least once a week (Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Families Anonymous, Co-Dependent’s Anonymous).
- Get your own sponsor.
- Work with the 12 steps yourself.
- Develop your own daily spiritual practice (prayer, meditation, attend spiritual meetings).
- Assess your own drug and alcohol use. Consider abstaining from using and work a program for yourself.
- Develop a family schedule to improve communication and make time for family meals and activities.
- Seek both individual therapy and family therapy.
If you discover that someone you love has relapsed, the first thing to do is reach out to their support team for help. Their sponsor or therapist will be able to help you assess the situation and decide a plan of action. A relapse plan will look different for everyone, but may include getting them back into a more intensive treatment program or attending more therapy and recovery activities.
Although it may feel devastating when a loved one relapses, keep in mind that it’s not uncommon, and there are ways of regaining control, sobriety and continuing on in the recovery. A relapse doesn’t necessarily mean returning to square one. Your loved one may have slipped, but the lessons learned during recovery are still with them. Remember to stay strong and don’t give up hope.