After having worked in the field of addiction recovery for a decade, I have had many of the same questions asked by families of those with Addictions. Each week I am addressing one of the five of the most frequently asked questions regarding addiction and the treatment of addictions.
Families of Addicts Question #4 – What if they relapse?
No Magic Wand
I wish I could give you a magical answer; that treatment works every time and once they go, they will be cured. But like I stated before, addiction is a brain disease. Neuroscience 101 -Things that fire together, wire together. Therefore, the more often a behavior is repeated, the stronger those connections become. The great news is that our brains can be re-wired. It takes time, effort, and patience to rewire the brain. Emotions, people, places, and things that used to be associated with the addictive behavior will still be there. Over time those connections can weaken but they do not disappear. That is why we focus so heavily in addiction treatment on triggers and how to handle triggers. Because triggers lead to cravings. Cravings can lead to relapse.
Relapse can happen
When first starting in addiction treatment, I heard often from others in the recovery community that “relapse is a part of recovery”. I disagree. Relapse CAN be a part of recovery but it does not have to be. Some clients only attend treatment one time and are able to maintain recovery from then on. It is important for the family to know about the relapse warning signs of their loved one. When I used to do inpatient treatment with addictions, I would always have my clients tell their family members about their warning signs of possible relapse and how they can confront them when they see them (without starting a fight).
Some relapse warning signs include: quick to become angry, not attending support groups, any life changes (new relationships, job change, loss), going back to old using places, and feeling overwhelmed. It is very helpful to know these signs and be able to lovingly address your concerns with the person you are worried about. When I teach relapse prevention to clients and their families, I let them know that relapse is a process. Meaning that there are usually signs that a relapse is coming soon, and if you can recognize those signs it can prevent a relapse from happening.
What if they do Relapse
A relapse does not have to mean that treatment failed, or they will never recover. It does not take away all the hard work they put in prior to the relapse or negate the success they had in recovery before the relapse. It means that they need to have created a plan, while in recovery, that they will follow if they relapse. This can include calling a sponsor/mentor, attending treatment again, or reaching out to a therapist to process the relapse and get back on track. Your role as the family member is to support them in that process and stand your ground on what you agreed to do (and not do) to support them; no more and no less. No matter how hard you may try, the only person that can ultimately prevent relapse is the addict themselves.