“Relapse is a part of recovery.” This is a term that has circulated around drug and alcohol treatmentfor decades. It is meant to help people to not become discouraged when an addict or alcoholic experiences a slip. However, this way of thinking can also be used as a way to rationalize a conscious decision to go back to active drug or alcohol abuse. Because the terminology can be somewhat ambiguous, what should someone do when a “relapse” occurs? What is the appropriate way to react? There can be a fine line between support and enabling consequently any loved one of an addict or alcoholic needs a lot of support.
So, Define Relapse
A simple way to understand relapse is to remember that a person who is new to recovery has depended on a chemical fix for an extended period of time. Abusing drugs or alcohol has become the normal way to live. It is the default response to any aspect of life, positive or negative. An addict uses drugs and alcohol to enhance good feelings as much as attempting to escape emotions that are uncomfortable. It is a major shock to the system to approach day to day life abstinent from all mind changing chemicals. In early recovery when emotions start to rise to the surface the newly sober drug abuser can become overwhelmed. His first thought will be to get high. Obviously it is best to avoid the temptation and work through his feelings. But when the opportunity to use comes up and is acted upon a drug abuser will either admit the mistake and move forward or become discouraged and continue to use. Whether or not this is considered a relapse depends on the reaction of the user. When a person relapses and is able to continue his program of recovery this can be very positive. After a short period of sobriety the positive payoffs of drugs and alcohol tend to fade. This contrast between using and recovery becomes dramatic. In this sense relapse is a part of recovery.
What Can I Do?
One person’s relapse is another person’s manipulation. One of the reasons it is so important for family members to be involved in an addict’s recovery is because of the need for accountability on all levels. No one can “keep” another person sober. However, when everyone is engaged in the recovery process the addict is less likely to see getting high as a viable option. The family has to make the decision that the rollercoaster ride of active drug and alcohol abuse is over. When an addict knows this wall exists and everyone involved is committed to recovery the decision to use again becomes much more difficult. Just like an addict in sobriety needs a sober peer group, parents and other family members thrive with support of an empathizing circle. Family members need counseling, guidance, and support. With the right kind of encouragement the recovery process will continue for all involved.