What to Do When Your Loved One Relapses - 6 Tips for Success

What to Do When Your Loved One Relapses – 6 Tips for Success

Just when you thought that the worst days were over – here comes your loved one, drinking once again. Yes, it’s the dreaded event called relapse.

It is indeed a sorry state, especially for friends and family who thought that their loved one has already been cured of alcoholism. However, it is common, if not a normal part of the recovery process. According to US News, alcoholics have a 40 to 60% chance of relapsing within a year of treatment. 

Given this probability, it is best to prepare yourself should your loved one relapse. Here are the things that you could do to help him get back on the right track:

1. Know the signs of relapse.

Warning Signs & Stages of an Impending Relapse

Relapse comes in stages. This is unlike his first brush with alcoholism, so you need to recognize what’s going on before it is too late. According to Melemis, there are three stages of relapse. They are:

I. Emotional Relapse

There’s no conscious effort to drink, but the behaviors and emotions that the alcoholic possesses are setting him up for eventual failure. Signs of emotional relapse include isolating oneself, and skipping meetings or attending meetings but not sharing anything at all and bottling up emotions. You need to check if he’s manifesting HALT – hungry, angry, lonely, and tired, as any of these may trigger the second stage of relapse, which is…

II. Mental Relapse

During this stage, the alcoholic is debating within himself the pros and cons of drinking once again. Some part of him wishes to drink, while another part of him knows it’s bad for the health.

An alcoholic individual suffering from mental relapse may exhibit alcohol cravings, and reminisce about the people and places associated with his past binges. He may lie, bargain, and even look for opportunities to relapse. As someone close to the alcoholic, you need to observe such behaviors. If they are more frequent, or more severe, then you need to be ready for an intervention. 

III. Physical Relapse

This final stage involves the actual relapse itself – where the alcoholic is back to his stubborn old ways. Physical relapse can occur following an opportunity, say a social gathering where there’s a lot of drinks available. As a loved one, it is your role to be vigilant about these chances. If you can veer him away from temptation, then, by all means, do it. 

2. Stand your ground.

Why he relapsed is not your fault. It is his. There is no good in blaming the drinker, but you need to hold him responsible for his actions. Such was echoed by Pickard, author of the paper “Responsibility without Blame for Addiction.” 

As Ray Isackila of University Hospitals, Cleveland has said: “Hold addicts accountable for their recovery from the relapse, just as it was important to hold them accountable for their addiction in the first place.” 

3. Don’t dismiss the problem.

Maybe you have seen him drink once at a party– and maybe you think he deserves it after months of being sober. While this may seem trivial to you, such a slip may spark the road to relapse. Melemis defines this as a lapse or the initial drink after a period of sobriety. 

As it has been said, most physical relapses are brought about by opportunity. If you don’t confront your loved one regarding such a lapse, he may end up drinking again excessively. 

Here are some signs that should spring you to action: 

  • Being secretive or defensive
  • The tendency to isolate/ withdraw from his surroundings
  • Sensitiveness 
  • Manipulativeness 
  • Impatience
  • Low self-esteem

With that being said, if you sense something is amiss, don’t shrug it off. Address the problem at the soonest time possible. Refer him to his therapist if needed. 

4. Give some words of encouragement.

Relapse is an uphill climb that most alcoholics have to go through. It may be difficult for you, but you can only imagine how hard this is for him. As such, a good thing you could do is to encourage him to get back on the road to recovery once again.

Encouragement is a great way to motivate change, according to the American Public Health Association. This can help the alcoholic look back on the benefits of staying sober – the way he did before. And should he continue with his drinking habits, good words of encouragement can inspire him to get treated once again.  

5. Help him be healthy.

As has been mentioned, HALT – hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness – may pave the way for relapse. As such, it is your responsibility as a loved one to make sure that he does not feel these emotions. 

Keeping him free from HALT is as simple as doing the following: 

  • Make a good, home-cooked meal whenever you come. 
  • Help diffuse his anger through kind, soothing words.
  • Be with him whenever you can, so he won’t be lonely and all alone.
  • Ensure that he gets 8 hours of sleep a night. 

These thoughtful measures may just spell the difference between a one-time slip and a full-blown relapse.

6. Show your support.

Relapse is the time when your alcoholic loved one needs you more than ever. If you got involved in his treatment before, then you will need to participate once again. The Substance Abuse Treatment Improvement Protocol has been firm with the family and its role in the treatment process. As one of the people who are most likely to suffer from the consequences of relapse, you need to show your support for his treatment.

For starters, you can help him sign up for Alcoholics Anonymous – or another bout of outpatient treatment. If worse comes to worst, you could show the support that he needs by driving him to the rehab facility. These efforts may seem insignificant, but these actions can help the relapsing alcoholic get the intervention that he needs.  

A relapse is an unfortunate event that usually occurs in alcoholics. While it may be disheartening, it can be managed through 12-step support groups, outpatient treatment, or rehab if need be. Whether you are a relative, friend, or just a concerned co-worker, you need to be vigilant for signs of relapse – so you can help the alcoholic avoid this dreaded path. 

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

Learn how to stay sober and maintain a healthy lifestyle by subscribing to our newsletter. We promise to send only insightful content that is worthy of your time.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts.