How to Stay Supportive When Your Loved One Has an Addiction Relapse

addiction relapse

You will certainly love your loved one up until and after they overcome their addiction. Especially if they are your child.

However, loving someone with an addiction can be confusing. One minute they might act like their normal selves and the next like someone you’ve never met before. They might also disappear for days leaving you to worry about whether they are alive or not. 

If an addiction relapse occurs, this can complicate matters further.

Loving someone with an addiction can be challenging. But, remember, being addicted to a substance is also challenging. The addicted person is likely frightened and doesn’t know how to stop. They are controlled by a substance and most wish they could find a way out of their addiction. 

For addicts that do get sober, they are then faced with a completely new way of life. Much like a person being released from prison after serving multiple years, the addict needs to learn how to live in a productive manner again. They also need to learn new coping skills, which they may have never used before.

This pressure to change and grow can sometimes lead the addicted person back to their drug. Their disease then takes over and relapse may occur.

If the addicted person and you are lucky enough, the relapse will be short-lived. 

So what can you do or say to a person who has relapsed? Read on to find out how to react to addiction relapse. 

How to Supportively React to Addiction Relapse

Loving a person with an addiction looks differently. At times, it may mean tough love, ensuring they are safe or even allowing them to live with you while they’re getting sober. Explore the best ways to react and be supportive if addiction relapse occurs on the road to recovery. 

1. Take Care of Yourself

Addiction affects everyone. Addiction can cause people to become codependent in response to their loved one’s addiction. Codependency is a set of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that result from attempting to caretake and solve other people’s problems. 

We sometimes get so enmeshed in the addicted person’s life and wellbeing. Because of this, we need to learn how to take care of ourselves in a healthy way despite their addiction. This means practicing self-care, having firm boundaries, and having separate, fulfilling lives of our own. 

We can also attend support groups such as Al-Anon to help with self-care.

When someone relapses, it’s normal to feel disappointed. It’s also normal to feel angry. Before saying or doing anything, you need to take care of yourself.

Make sure you are emotionally ready to deal with the situation before speaking to the addicted person. By taking care of your own needs first, you’ll be able to deal with the situation in a more positive and supportive way. Knowing your own needs are met will also provide you with a greater sense of comfort. 

If you can, decide in advance how you would like to react to the situation. Explore what your new boundaries may be as a result. For example, a new boundary may be requiring the addicted person to live elsewhere. 

This is not to punish the addicted person, but to protect yourself and your other family members. Sometimes being supportive means having to implement tough love. This will also help you to avoid any enabling behaviors that may make your loved one’s addiction worse, such as giving them money. 

2. Love Them

Let your loved one know that you love them no matter what. They will likely already feel ashamed of their relapse, so it’s important for them to know that they are loved regardless. Saying “I love you” also sets a positive example of how the addict can love themselves, which can lead to greater self-esteem. 

The higher their self-esteem, the better they will be at coping with life and its challenges. The more they can cope without using drugs or alcohol, the better their recovery will be.

3. Thank Them

Thank your loved one for telling you the truth. Addicted persons under the influence tend to lie to themselves and to others so that they can hide their addiction and continue it. 

This causes broken trust in their relationships. This broken trust is difficult for the addicted person to repair, but by telling you the truth, they are seeking to change. It’s not a truth you would like to hear, but at least they aren’t letting their addiction allow them to lie and hide. 

In 12-Step programs, telling the truth and getting honest is paramount to recovery. Dishonesty can lead to shame and anxiety which are feelings the addicted person will want to mask. By telling someone whom they trust the truth about their behavior, they are then freed to make amends. 

Be the person they can trust to be nonjudgmental. Love them despite their mistake and reinforce their honest behavior by thanking them. This lets them know that telling you the truth is safe and that they won’t lose your love and support on their road to recovery. 

They will still need to prove that they can stay sober to receive certain privileges, but love should never be a privilege that’s revoked because of telling the truth. 

4. Give a Hug

Giving your loved one a hug will ease their pain and provide them with a sense of safety and comfort. When we hug someone, oxytocin, the love hormone, is released throughout our bodies. Oxytocin temporarily alleviates painful stimuli and promotes connection and trust. 

It also speeds up the healing process within the body. Stress, on the other hand, slows down the healing process. 

You and your loved one are undoubtedly feeling stressed after a relapse. Giving them a hug will make them feel safe and lower the stress in their body. When their stress is lowered, they’re able to then make clearer decisions for their future recovery. 

A big bear hug may be exactly what you need at that moment, too. You may have worried about your loved one’s safety, but when they’re back in your arms, you feel relieved.

So, when in doubt, give them a hug. Especially, when your words fall short of how much you love them and how glad you are to see them safe. 

5. Brainstorm

Many times, relapse is a part of recovery. Addicted persons relapse because their coping skills and recovery tools either fell short or they just didn’t use them. In short, their addictive behaviors and thoughts got the best of them. 

This means that they’ll need to brainstorm either with you, their sponsor, or a healthcare professional how to avoid a relapse in the future. Brainstorming gives the addicted person a greater sense of control and helps them to learn from their addiction relapse.

Even though the addicted person may relapse again, as they know better they’re more likely to do better. 

Some challenges that addicted people face is changing the environment their addictions took place in. This includes changing the people they surround themselves with, the places they go, and the things that remind them of their addiction. These factors can all trigger the addicted person to use, resulting in relapse. 

These could all be places to start brainstorming. If your loved one is willing to brainstorm, ask them exactly what happened and what triggered their relapse. Also, inquire as to what they learned from this experience. 

6. Ask Questions

Ask your loved one how you can best support them. If there is some way you can be of service to them, then let them know that you’re willing to help. 

For example, would it help if you attended a 12-step meeting with them? Do they feel like they need to check into a rehabilitation center? Maybe they just feel like they need a hug and for you to spend the day with them. 

Your loved one is going through a lot at this time. They are processing a lot of information and trying to figure out why their relapse occurred. So, they may not know how you can help them, but asking how you can support them will make them feel loved and respected. 

If they have no idea of how you can support them, then gently remind them of the positive recovery behaviors they were doing before the relapse occurred. For example, attending meetings, talking with other addicted persons in recovery, and working out on a regular basis. 

This may get their brains focused in a positive direction. And, it may remind them of how to best support themselves during this challenging time as well. 

7. Reassure

Addiction is powerful. We might not all be addicted to a substance, but we all know how it feels to be compelled to do something at times. Even if we know it isn’t in our best interest.

For example, if we’re trying to lose weight by dieting, we know we shouldn’t eat ice cream. But, the thought, feeling, and resulting craving of eating ice cream may bring us so much comfort and joy that we can’t resist. 

Addiction is sometimes about finding joy and relief, but it’s also about survival. In the beginning, the addicted person enjoyed their substance of choice, but after a while, they needed it to just feel normal. This is because their tolerance increased. 

As their tolerance increased, the amount of the drug they needed increased as well. Their brain chemistry also changed which caused them to feel like they need the drug to avoid feeling withdrawal symptoms. This change in brain chemistry and compulsion to get the drug is what changed your loved one’s behavior. 

If it were up to them, they wouldn’t have wanted to become addicted. In all likelihood, they were just looking for an escape or a good time that led to a destructive way of life. 

Understanding this can help you to better reassure your loved one that their addiction isn’t their fault. You understand how powerful their addiction is, but you have to be able to separate who they are as a person from what their addiction caused. 

Say things like, “I know this isn’t easy, but I believe in you” and “I know you can overcome this. You did it before and you can do it again.” 

9. Explore Coping Skills

As the addicted person learns more coping skills, they are better able to resist or avoid temptation in the future. 

Coping skills won’t cure addiction by themselves, but over time, they do help the addicted person to live a fulfilling life by providing them with new, healthy behaviors. These healthy behaviors will help to reduce stress and negative feelings which can trigger a relapse. 

Ask your loved one if they would like to explore and learn more coping skills. Your loved one may be resistant to the idea of learning new coping skills, but it doesn’t hurt to ask them if they need help in this area of their lives. 

Twelve-Step programs offer addicted individuals an abundance of coping skills and recovery tools. The steps themselves provide addicted people a guide to follow as they recover. Taking a moral inventory, meditating, and connecting to a group or spirituality larger than themselves are all examples of tools taught through the 12 steps.

Other coping skills learned in 12-Step programs are being a part of a fellowship and talking about struggles and successes. The greater sense of connection an addicted person feels, the more support and tools they have to avoid future relapses. 

It’s also helpful to share how you cope with problems in your life. Be willing to open up about your own struggles as well to make the conversation two-sided. This will also help them to feel more open to sharing what they struggle with as well. 

If you’re taking care of yourself first, then you will likely have an abundance of coping skills to rely on. For example, going to church, finding a support group, and exercising are great ways to practice self-care. Share some of these coping skills with your loved one to help them decide which may work best for them. 

Support After Addiction Relapse

Addiction relapse is usually considered a normal part of recovery. Those who have relapsed need your support and love, but they also need help. 

If your loved one relapsed and would like to get treatment, then consider Coastal Detox. Contact us today and learn more about our residential treatment program which treats a variety of addictions in a safe and caring environment. 

Content Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.