Drug addiction is a chronic disease, and like other chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes) relapse is often a part of long-term recovery.
In some cases, it is just a bump in the road – a single event that stands alone and doesn’t have a huge impact on the patient. In other cases, however, one relapse can lead to another and then another until the person is no longer in recovery and again actively drinking and/or getting high.
If someone close to you in recovery relapses, it can be just as damaging to your ability to remain sober as if you relapsed yourself – especially if you are already on shaky ground and experiencing cravings. Don’t let one mistake throw you off course. Instead, learn what you can from the experience and then move on.
If a Friend Relapses
When a friend you are close to in recovery relapses, it can make you begin to crave alcohol or drugs even if you weren’t even thinking about relapse. Or if you were already feeling triggered, another person’s relapse can push you that much closer to picking up again. Instead of giving into that impulse, if you are bothered by your friend’s relapse in any way, take action by:
- Addressing your feelings: If you are feeling angry, hurt, frustrated, sad, scared, or any other disruptive emotion because your friend relapsed, validate those feelings and allow yourself to experience them. The whole goal of recovery is to avoid relapse, so it would make sense if you had a reaction to someone you care about drinking or using drugs. Just make sure that you don’t allow these emotions to be the reason you justify your own relapse.
- Reaching out to your friend: One relapse doesn’t necessarily mean that your friend is returning to active addiction. Reach out to him and see where he stands. If he wants support in getting back into recovery, let him know you will be there for him. If he is continuing to drink or get high, then give him – and you – some space.
- Connecting with other friends: Spending time with other friends in sobriety can remind you of all there is to be gained by avoiding relapse and reconfirm that you have a strong support system in recovery.
- Talking through the incident with a therapist: If you are struggling with your friend’s choice, speak to a therapist – especially if you are concerned that you are on the same or similar road. Working on yourself can help you to be a stronger support to your friend in recovery.
- Asking for help if you are concerned that you may relapse: Whether or not your friend’s relapse contributed to your current state, if you are feeling triggered or dealing with strong cravings for drugs or alcohol, then ask for a help. Your friends, your therapist, your sponsor, concerned family members – anyone who has let you know that they will be there to assist you in times of crisis is a viable option if you are concerned that you may not be able to avoid drinking or using drugs.
If You Relapse
No relapse comes out of nowhere. Though it may feel like you went from living in committed sobriety to having a drink in your hand, if you look back on the events of the weeks and months prior to the moment you picked up, you can usually identify some of the issues that contributed to the experience. In order to move forward in recovery and stop the relapse from becoming a repeat occurrence, it is recommended that you:
- Do a personal inventory. It takes time to figure out what led up to a relapse. It’s not uncommon for triggers to build over months and eventually culminate with you getting drunk or high. Do a personal inventory on the subject, and thoroughly explore events and your role in them in the past few months prior to the relapse. This can shed some light on the issues that may have contributed to your relapse so that if they occur in the future, you will know to sit up and take notice rather than ignore them and just hope they pass.
- Talk to your sponsor. Your sponsor may have noticed some changes in you in the recent past or may be able to point out some difficulties or issues that may have contributed to your relapse that you don’t remember. One of the benefits of working closely with someone with a focus on your recovery is that they have an objective view that can assist you in better understanding yourself and your reactions to events and people in your life that may affect your ability to remain sober.
- Work with a therapist. A sponsor may have witnessed or remember certain events that may have impacted your relapse, but a therapist can work with you to better understand those events and why they may have made it easier for you to justify drinking or getting high. A therapist may also be able to assist you in learning new coping mechanisms to avoid relapse in the future.
- Create a plan. Just because you relapsed once doesn’t mean that there needs to be a next time. Once you’ve identified the issues that led up to the relapse, you can create a plan to help you avoid a repeat performance.
- Ask for help. If you are unsure of your ability to remain sober or if you begin to feel cravings and/or experience a trigger to relapse, ask for help. You don’t have to do this alone.