What to do if your loved one relapses

Recovery is not unlike a rollercoaster. The ride is rarely smooth; it can be riddled with unexpected highs and lows.

According to Arms Acres, around 40-60% of individuals who leave rehab after drug or alcohol treatment relapse within the first month. Additionally, about 85% experience at least one relapse within a year. However, this shouldn't be seen as failure; it simply highlights the challenging nature of addiction.

Understanding the unpredictable nature of relapse is the first step in knowing what to do; even knowledge that seems insignificant can play a huge role in your loved one's recovery process. This article will provide some insight to guide you through those tough times, offering practical advice and emotional support so you can face these challenges together.

Getting to know addiction

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

To effectively support your loved one, you must first understand both the nature of addiction and your own strengths and limitations. This mirrors Sun Tzu's concept that knowing oneself and the enemy is essential for success. Just as generals use knowledge to navigate battles, you must use your understanding to help your loved one. This means asking key questions about addiction, researching its mechanisms, and being honest about your own strengths and weaknesses.

Armed with this knowledge, you can devise strategies to support your loved one effectively. When the addiction seems stronger, you might need to retreat and seek professional help. In tougher times, your support can provide the firm ground they need. And when all else seems to fail, your unwavering presence can inspire resilience and strength.

In tougher times, your support can provide the firm ground they need.
What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a lasting condition that often comes back. It's marked by a strong urge to seek and use drugs, even when it causes harm. It's not just about willpower or morals; it's a complex issue that changes how the brain works, making it hard to quit.

The mechanisms of action

Simply put, drugs are small packets of chemicals designed to change how living systems, like the human body, work. Drugs have no goals; their effects depend on the user. When someone uses drugs, the chemicals disrupt how brain cells send, receive, and process information.

Different drugs affect the brain in various ways, but many of them flood the brain's reward system with dopamine. Dopamine is the body's "feel-good" neurotransmitter responsible for regulating feelings of pleasure and reward.

Naturally, when we engage in pleasurable activities, like eating or interacting with friends and loved ones, our brains organically release dopamine. Certain substances, however, can trigger the release of up to ten times the amount of dopamine needed by the body, leading to an intense surge of pleasure commonly known as a "high." Continuous use of these drugs rewires our brain to link the substance with this intense pleasure, which compels the user to seek it out repeatedly.

The brain then learns to deal with an overabundance of dopamine over time by either decreasing its natural production or by eliminating the number of dopamine receptors within the body, consequently deteriorating an individual's ability to gain pleasure from their usual day-to-day non-drug sources, which leads to increased drug usage in an attempt to maintain normalcy and avoid withdrawal symptoms. This is why relapsing is so common and frequent.

This change in how the body functions will affect the user's life directly. Friends and loved ones get hurt by uncharacteristic behaviors. Hobbies and fulfilling activities are abandoned for unhealthy ones. Motivation for anything other than getting and using drugs disappears. That's why support is crucial during recovery from drug abuse and addiction.

"What if I am giving all the support I have, and my partner still relapses?"

Don't worry; relapses happen. Here are a few simple tips to help you and your partner through it.

How to deal with a relapse

Understanding that addiction is a recurring condition can help shift the focus of a relapse from blame to support. There are various ways to handle the issue of reuse, but you might want to start with the following:

Stay calm and focused

Stay relaxed, take a deep breath, and think clearly. Getting angry or scared can make things worse and make your loved one feel alone or ashamed. Your calm attitude helps them talk openly.

Practice Open Communication

Encourage your loved one to talk without fear of judgment. Ask open-ended questions like “What started everything?” or “Was there something causing stress?” Work together to find and identify triggers, then find ways to avoid these same triggers in the future.

Keep a journal

Keeping a journal can be a powerful tool during the recovery process. For your loved one, it provides a private space to reflect on their journey and manage their addiction. For you, it helps track emotions and observations, fostering open communication and mutual understanding.

Avoid blaming

Remember, relapsing is not an unusual event during recovery. Focus on helping your loved one rather than blaming them. Don't make them feel ashamed. Remind them that relapse is a learning opportunity to improve their health.

Encourage professional help

Suggest reaching out to a doctor, counselor, or support group. Getting help from a professional can give you the tools and techniques you need to deal with relapse. Therapists can help your loved one find ways to manage their problems, and support groups provide them with a sense of community where they can share these problems and get support from others who have first-hand experience recovering from drug addiction.

Find balance

Supporting someone with addiction can be emotionally tough. Take care of your own health too. Lean on friends, family, or a psychologist. Do activities that help you relax, and don't hesitate to seek professional help for yourself as well, if needed.

Celebrate progress

Notice and appreciate your loved one's achievements, no matter how small. This can boost their mood and reward good behavior.

Set boundaries

Being supportive is important, but setting healthy boundaries is also essential. This will ensure you look out for your health while helping your partner. Make it very clear which behaviors are acceptable and which won't be tolerated. Setting limits helps keep a balance between helping and enabling.

Now you know what addiction is, its mechanism of action, and why it is so difficult to overcome. With this information, you can now begin to help your partner get through their relapse, as well as strengthen the bonds of your relationship by showing kindness, understanding, and practical help. Remember, healing is a process that has ups and downs; being a steady source of support can make all the difference.

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