You have likely heard it before, yet it is worth repeating over and over again that addiction is a disease. It can affect any person at any age regardless of gender, race, income, background or education. Generally speaking, it is an equal opportunity offender. If you have a friend in recovery, they will be prone to relapse each and every day. As a friend, you have the power to help them through the more challenging moments.
The best place to begin when helping a friend during or after a relapse is to understand addiction and the ways this powerful disease affects your loved ones. Substance use disorder is the common term used for the most severe cases of addiction. The cause of addiction is not entirely unknown; however, scientists believe addiction is related to brain alterations and one’s genetic makeup. It is believed that some people are genetically more prone to addiction whereas others develop an addiction from repeated substance use that changes to the brain’s behavioral responses and ways of thought.
There is also often a direct connection between untreated and unknown mental health disorders and substance use. Many times, when a person does not realize they have mental health issues, they use substances as a way to self-medicate and feel better. This can sometimes result in a Dual Diagnosis.
Reasons People Relapse
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that somewhere between 40% and 60% of people who complete a treatment program will relapse within the first year of leaving. This is simply a further demonstration that relapse is part of the recovery process and should not be seen as a failure on the person with substance use difficulties.
For most people, a trigger will be the contributing factor for a person to relapse. It is important for an addict to have a solid understanding of their own triggers to have a fighting chance at recovery. This does take time, and it is a learning process. And everyone has unique triggers related to their life experiences and mental health. In time, they will learn to manage their triggers and avoid relapse.
Some Things Are Out of Your Control
It is important to remember that this is not your fight and very little is within your control when it comes to the recovery of your friend. However, you can be the rock they lean on when they find themselves in trouble. When a friend chooses to go through recovery, it can be easy to make the process about you rather than keeping the focus on them. Do not forget that this is their disease, and they are the ones going through it, not you. And remember that if your friend does relapse, it is unlikely related to anything you did or said.
While you should avoid making your friend’s recovery about yourself, it is important that you prioritize your health and wellbeing so that you can be there for your friend when they need it. You must take care of yourself before you can take care of and be there for others. Helping a friend through a relapse can take a lot of time and energy, so you should eat right, remain rested, and drink plenty of water throughout the process. If you are also in recovery, it is essential to put your own recovery over anyone else’s recovery. You can be supportive, but your recovery must come first.
Relapse is far more complex than simply having a desire to use. People experience three different stages of relapse, including emotional, mental and physical relapse. The primary stage is the emotional stage when a person experiences a range of potentially triggering emotions during recovery, such as nervousness, anxiousness, depression, anger, and others. Mental relapse is next. During this stage, people will begin to struggle with thoughts of using, or they begin to spend time with potential trigger people as a way to manage the emotional stage. Finally, the physical relapse is the actual act of using again.
Additional aspects of relapse are essential to consider. Various studies show that up to 60% or more of people who complete treatment programs will experience a relapse. This is a rather common occurrence. Another even more common reaction your friend will experience is that of tremendous shame and guilt. It will not be easy for them to admit that they did not remain sober. And you have to remember that it is not your job to keep your friend sober. You can and should be supportive, but sobriety is the sole responsibility of the one in recovery.
Ways to Help During a Relapse
You are not entirely helpless in the effort to help a friend remain sober. While the person in recovery is in the driver’s seat, you can assist in a number of ways.
The Importance of Empathy
Have a healthy abundance of empathy on hand at all times when your friend has a relapse. This is a disease that can pop back up at any time. It lasts a lifetime, and each person reacts to recovery differently. Addicts have to learn how to manage their disease. As such, a few missteps are likely to occur along the journey to sobriety. You should not blame or shame someone who experiences a relapse but, rather, show endless empathy and support. Encourage them to shore up their resources and take preventative steps to move forward.
Emergencies May Arise
Embrace and accept that emergencies may arise during relapse and recovery. You may be called to pick up your friend in the middle of the night from a bar, hospital, or police station. If opioids are the drugs of choice for your friend, you might consider always having naloxone, which many people know as NARCAN, on hand in the event of an overdose. This is perfectly legal and readily available at pharmacy retailers across the US without a prescription.
Just because someone completes rehab does not mean treatment should end. As previously mentioned, aftercare is a critical component of recovery. Aftercare can come in the form of medically assisted detox, therapy, and counseling. These treatments are designed to assist with relapse prevention and long-term recovery. However, if all three stages of relapse do occur, you should encourage your friend to seek out further treatment in an outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation program. The type of treatment will depend on the person and the addiction.
Avoid Enabling and Codependency
It might be your initial instinct to want to do everything for your friend and be overly helpful. Such actions might lead to enabling their poor behavior or creating codependency that prevents them from being able to learn the tools necessary to remain sober for a lifetime. You can also become codependent in a way that you end up relying upon their happiness to experience happiness for yourself. This can be quite unhealthy for any number of reasons for both of you.
Learning how to support, not enable, is crucial to their recovery and your own mental health.
Know Their Triggers
Your friend is going to have triggers. People will experience both internal and external triggers during recovery, and triggers will be different for everyone. Some people may be triggered by different environments and places, such as bars, sporting events, holiday parties, and others. Your friend might have triggers with certain people, including a boss, family member, acquaintance, co-worker, and more. If you know their triggers, you can help them avoid dangerous situations and circumstances that will lead them to want to use.
Remain Supportive, Encouraging, and Positive
There may be times when you become frustrated, sad, scared, and feel defeated. During these times, it is essential that you remain supportive, encouraging, and positive for your friend. Remember that this process is not about you and that their disease is likely far more challenging than anything you are experiencing as a result of their struggle.
Skip the Excuses
It is equally as important to never make excuses for your friend in recovery. They have to learn to be accountable for their actions and to learn that their behavior and actions have consequences. In some ways, people in recovery have to relearn certain aspects of life most people take for granted every day.
Some people in recovery will try to take advantage of those around them to do the hard work for them. You have to set boundaries to prevent this from occurring. Just because they are recovering from a disease does not mean they are helpless. Your friend may have to learn to become self-sufficient all over again. You should also remember that you are not their therapist or sponsor. It is not your job to treat them. Leave that to the professionals and those who have the experience and know-how to help with the more difficult areas.
Assist With Relapse Prevention
Once upon a time, it was suggested that people have to reach rock bottom before they can improve their behavioral responses. This is no longer the understanding. The Partnership to End Addiction organization has a well-crafted guideline complete with tips on appropriate approaches and topics to help a friend or family member if you fear they are slipping.
It is also critical that your friend receives aftercare once they complete a treatment program. Many people believe the misconception that completing rehabilitation means that a person is cured. A person with addiction or substance use disorder will never be cured. The best they can do is manage their triggers and take the necessary steps to prevent relapse whenever possible. If relapse does happen, they must take action to get back on track.
If you really want to be a great friend during the recovery of a friend, empower yourself in the process. Join a group for friends and family of substance use disorder survivors. Keep up on the latest education as new studies are always in development along with new medications, new techniques, etc. When you are armed with knowledge, you can win the sobriety war.
You can do so much for a friend who is experiencing a relapse in sobriety. Be sure to keep your assistance to an appropriate and acceptable level to ensure your friend is empowered to remain sober. If your friend is struggling with a relapse or recovery, it may be time to seek out professional treatment, and Granite Recovery Centers can help through a number of programs related to alcohol and substance use as well as mental health. Many people with substance use disorder will relapse. If you or a loved one is beginning to feel they are going to slip, give us a call so that we can provide refreshment treatment in recovery practices and the assistance necessary to continue on the right path toward recovery.