As humans, we have the capacity to feel things on behalf of other human beings. When someone we love experiences pure joy, that positive emotion benefits us as well. It makes us feel good when they feel good. On the other hand, when the people we love are suffering, we might also feel their pain. If you love someone affected by drug or alcohol addiction, it is likely that you have suffered with them. Sometimes it can even feel like you are in more pain than they are. You may even feel irritation or resentment towards them at times. And when drug and alcohol relapse happens, especially after a long period of sobriety, it can feel even worse. It is easy to become frustrated by your loved one’s repeated attempts to stop using drugs and alcohol. It is very easy to think that if they wanted to stop, they would just stop. Just don’t take any more drugs, right? It may seem that simple in the mind of someone who has never struggled with addiction, but it is not that simple at all. In fact, drug and alcohol relapse is a common part of addiction recovery.
Remain Calm and Understanding
The first and most important thing to remember is that in order to support a person suffering with a substance use disorder, it is crucial to remain calm and understanding. Drug and alcohol addiction is a brain disease that hijacks the parts of the brain that influence the way a person thinks and acts. Many individuals with drug and alcohol addiction may be aware of their problem, but unable to stop, even if they want to. Eventually, addiction takes over the survival part of the brain, and the substance being abused becomes so central in a person’s life that all their energy, thoughts, and time, are consumed by it. The parts of the brain that are critical to decision-making and behavior control are also changed by repeated substance use. Therefore, sometimes people suffering from addiction are not able to see how their involvement with a substance is harmful to them or others and quitting can be very difficult, even for those who feel ready. Know that your support matters and try to always be patient. Keep in mind that your loved one may be feeling ashamed, afraid and hopeless. Neither of you are alone, and there is always hope.
Assess the Situation
A drug or alcohol relapse is not the end, and it does not mean that treatment has “failed”. Always remember to take a step back and gauge the situation. Do not assume that this misstep will cause your loved ones (or your) entire life to be destroyed. This is actually a great opportunity to look back at the last few weeks or months and try to figure out if there were any situations that may have triggered the drug or alcohol relapse. This is not a time to freak out, but a time to assess coping skills and allow your loved one to make a stronger relapse plan. Relapse can be an opportunity to strengthen their recovery.
Face Your Emotions
Whether or not your loved one is willing to seek addiction help, remember to take care of yourself. You are not responsible for other people’s actions or emotions, and they are not responsible for yours. You can’t change how someone else feels or thinks. You may be able to influence their emotions for the better, but ultimately, people decide their own behavior. Remember to always face your emotions, and not push down your feelings of sadness or frustration. It is healthy to feel this way, to accept it, and to move on. Forgive yourself for anything you think that you could have done differently. Forgive your loved one for any wrongs that they have committed. Rebuilding trust begins with forgiveness, and things can get better. Set aside time to talk to a family member or a close friend about how you are feeling. Let yourself cry, and be honest with your feelings. Be kind to yourself, and you will begin to notice the benefits in both your mind and body.
Self-Care, Self-Care, Self-Care
When someone you love is struggling, you are likely going to focus entirely on the damage the addiction is doing to them, but you may be neglecting the stress that it has on you. The more time and effort you put out, the less you have left to take care of your own needs. Because of this, you need to take steps to take good care of your mental and physical health. Self-care may seem selfish to you right now, but improving yourself will make you feel better and more capable of helping your loved one.
Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm. You are allowed to walk away and take a time out. Remember to breathe, and focus on some self-care steps you can take to feel better. Everyone’s version of self-care will be different, but a few examples of things you can do include: developing a regular sleep routine, reading, going for a walk, taking a bath, keeping a journal, or doing yoga. Make a plan that works for you, and remember to put yourself first sometimes.
Attend Support Meetings
You are not alone. There are many people affected by the addiction of a loved one. Another thing you can do to help navigate these difficult situations and emotions is to attend support meetings. There are many different types of support meetings for loved ones impacted by addiction. A few examples of these include: Al-Anon and SMART Recovery Family and Friends. It is incredibly important to educate oneself on how drug and alcohol addiction affects everyone. There is so much more to addiction than just the symptoms and causes of it. You will feel much more prepared when you know what you are up against, and the different steps that others have taken, and that you can take. You are allowed a support system, and it is normal to ask for help.
It is very important to learn that supporting an individual that is struggling with a substance use disorder / drug and alcohol relapse without allowing it to rule your emotional health, is possible. The recovery process can be a hard and long road, but with time and the proper tools, you and your loved one can heal. Drug and alcohol relapse is a completely natural part of addiction, and it is never your fault.
Author: Agy Wielechowski – Footprints to Recovery – Admissions Coordinator