For a loved one, it can be a sickening moment when the horribly familiar signs of alcohol or drug abuse reappear: bizarre behaviour, illogical thought processes or an unsteady way of walking.
If you care about someone who has been through treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction, you probably already worry about relapse.
How common is relapse?
Statistics tell us that probably half of those with a substance abuse problem will return to addictive behaviour either short-term or for a longer period.
Why Does Relapse Happen?
Neglecting the continuing care plan
When relapse does happen, it is often the result of a sequence of events. Most relapses occur when people in recovery ease up on the rigour of their continuing care plans and start to let things slip:
- Cutting out AA/NA meetings,
- Talking less with sponsors or fellowship members
- Neglecting new, healthy routines and start reverting to old self-indulgent daily routines.
In the words of the AA Big Book: ‘We thought we could find an easier, softer way..’ but ‘..half measures availed us nothing’.
Recovery is a new way of life, but it takes effort not to fall back into old ways. Relapse is not a new event but a reversion to destructive old ways.
A final test
It is not uncommon for a person completing addiction treatment to give themselves a ‘final test’ to see if they can achieve that longed-for state of ‘being able to control’ their drinking or drug use. The nature of an addict’s denial can make this happen despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And is yet another indication of the baffling power of addiction.
When this does happen and ‘just one drink’ turns into the familiar chaotic spiral, the relapser may take heed and swiftly return to the path of sober recovery, suitably chastened by the experience. While the seriousness of this should never be minimised, it can be viewed in a somewhat different light from a full-blown relapse, where the addict abandons hope and motivation for sobriety.
How Should I React?
Such self-destructive behaviour can seem like the ultimate betrayal to a family member whose tolerance has already been severely tested. It is extremely difficult to understand why someone would relapse back to drug or alcohol abuse after spending so much time and effort in rehab beating their addiction.
When a relapse happens, family members tend to react emotionally, either seeing it as a personal insult or feeling personally responsible for the occurrence. Sometimes even both.
Such reactions are understandable but may be counterproductive in terms of achieving the goal of eventual long-term sobriety.
What Can Family and Friends Do To Help?
People close to sufferer must understand the nature of the problem of relapse. Addiction is a chronic disease that causes serious, long-lasting physiological, emotional and behavioural problems. It is also a condition that is characterised by relapse, like some purely physical diseases, such as tuberculosis.