How to Help Someone who is Relapsing after Rehab

What You Can Do to Help

  • Be detached but supportive: You cannot make them stay sober and your attempts to do so may stop them taking responsibility for their actions.

  • Be firm: Addicts are accountable for their recovery from relapse, just as they are accountable for their addiction in the first place.

  • Remember self-care:  Eat well, get enough sleep, be sure to exercise, and keep your life normal. Do not ‘catastrophise’ the situation. This helps you and sets a good example to your loved one.

  • Get support for yourself: Use the family Fellowships such as Al-Anon, who are well used to such situations and can proffer a wealth of advice.

  • Be supportive: Ensure that the house is alcohol and drug free, don’t encourage friends who are a ‘bad influence’ to call, try not to make the loved one feel isolated. In other words, don’t stand idly by: You can offer support in small ways without letting yourself become co-dependent.

  • Be positive: Even though a relapse is not the outcome you were hoping for, it can be a useful wake-up call.

What You Should Not Do

  • Don’t dismiss the problem: Minimising or ignoring the problem can be as unhelpful as taking it upon yourself. Stay balanced.

  • Don’t push or nag:  Once you’ve urged your loved one to reconnect with the people who can guide them in the right direction, take a step back.

  • Don’t try to take away the addicted person’s guilt or anxiety about the relapse: It’s not your job. A feeling of guilt may prompt the relapser to seek help.

  • Don’t show anger towards your loved one: There is an old saying in AA – ‘Hate the disease, not the person’.

Above all, stay positive and don’t be discouraged. Addiction is, in many ways, like other chronic illnesses that may require more than one round of treatment.

A relapse provides a great opportunity for learning: By examining in detail the circumstances surrounding the relapse – a person’s physical, mental and emotional states and the external pressures that were present at the time, many lessons can be identified. A plan of preventative action for the future can be formulated.

Relapse does not mean that treatment has been unsuccessful or that future long-term sobriety is out of the question. On the contrary, a lesson learned the hard way can be hugely effective in preventing any repetition.

In short, with understanding and a positive attitude, both the patient and their family will come out of a relapse situation even more knowledgable and more empowered.

By therapist Chris Burn