The Professional’s Perspective is a guest post from Ricki Townsend, a Registered Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, Ncac1, CADC-CAS, Bri-1, Chaplain and Grief Recovery Specialist
Relapse is often described as a part of alcoholism and addiction, but relapse isn’t inevitable. Still, people often worry about the possibility that their loved ones will slip back into drug or alcohol use. And while you cannot control your loved one’s decision to use drugs or alcohol, you can control your own tendency to fall back into “the bad old days” of worry, enabling and co-dependency.
A critical first step in your relapse prevention is to learn about enabling so that you don’t fall into the trap of “If they are happy and safe, then I will be happy and safe.” This is particularly important if you are the parent of a young person in treatment.
It would also be empowering for you to find a good family counselor and learn how to create and keep healthy boundaries. Taking those steps puts you in much better shape to prevent relapse – yours or your loved one’s – or to deal with itconstructively, if it does in fact happen.
My clients who fear the possibility of a loved one’s relapse often wonder about the warning signs. Here are some possible signs that a relapse is “building,” with the first three being the ones I see most often in the first year of recovery:
• Not attending Recovery meetings
• Hanging with old friends who were users
• Not working with a sponsor
• Making major changes in the first year, such as moving to a new town or starting a new relationship
As we look at our loved ones in recovery, we also need to take a good look at ourselves because family members can relapse, too. The following are the most common symptoms of impending relapse for those of us who deeply love our chemically-dependent children, spouses, parents or siblings:
• Focusing on the loved one to the point that it puts our own health at risk.
• Refusing to believe that our loved ones have a problem with drugs or alcohol (AKA “denial”).
• Covering up the messes – financial or legal problems, for example – and keeping secrets.
• Worrying, feeling constantly stressed and walking on eggshells.
• Having a hard time defining where “they” end and “I” begin.
• Yelling and making empty threats about boundaries that we cannot or will not enforce.
At the end of the day, avoiding relapse requires everyone to change: the person who has substance use disorder and those who love him or her.
Ricki Townsend is a Registered Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, Ncac1, CADC-CAS, Bri-1, Chaplain and Grief Recovery Specialist