For those lucky enough to never battle an addiction, the concept of “relapsing” can seem hard to grasp. People can often feel anger or betrayal towards a loved one who uses again, without ever realizing the pain that they’re experiencing. This certainly shouldn’t be a moment of shaming, but rather a moment to show support. Interestingly enough, the website SELF.com did a commendable job of covering this tender topic, with some important “Dos” and “Don’ts” regarding loved ones who relapse.
In the “Don’t” category, shaming rises to the top of the list. An approach that SELF identifies as an absolute no-no is, “Why did you have to screw up your good streak?”
It is important to understand that addiction is a disease and not a choice. Timothy Brennan M.D., director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai, offered a telling quote to the mag. “So much of the way people conceive of addiction is that it’s some sort of volitional disease,” he explained. “A relapse to many people seems like something somebody chose. But just like you wouldn’t blame a loved one whose brain cancer returned, it’s not fair to point the finger at someone who relapses.”
Another “Don’t” is the anger approach. Yes, it is natural to feel upset when someone you love falls off the wagon, but try to express those feelings in an encouraging way. Talk through your anger with another person because yelling at the loved one who relapses may just drive them into a deeper depression. Believe us, the guilt is already there.
So the question then becomes, what should you say to help a loved one who uses again? SELF did a nice job of covering that too, offering quotes and exercises to steer a close confidant back into recovery. Key points include emphasizing your loyalty. A quote like “I’m here for you through thick and thin” is referenced, for example. Showing unconditional love and forgiveness can lift a weight off of their shoulders and prove that your relationship is stronger than any addiction.
Talking about recovery is the other big “Do” emphasized in the article. As a close loved one, they will hopefully listen and respect your opinions. The key here is offering gentle solutions versus a true hard line. The quote SELF references is, “This doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means that you might need more help.” Let that sink in with your friend or family member, then do what you can to steer them toward qualified professionals.