5 Things to Tell Someone Who Relapsed (and What Not to Say)

Relapsing during addiction treatment is difficult for the individual with a substance use disorder as well as those in their support circle. Family members, friends, and therapists all know relapse is a possibility, but what can be done when it becomes a reality and your drug-addicted family member needs your support?

Ultimately, the individual who relapses must continue to maximize available treatment resources and tools. Everyone else in their life must continue to encourage strength and perseverance.

Consequently, extreme care should be taken regarding what to say and what not to say to someone who has relapsed. Keep reading to get tips on what to say to someone who relapsed.

What to Say to Someone Who Has Relapsed

When we experience life challenges, the words of others should help, not hurt. So, what do you say to someone who relapsed? Here are five encouragements you can say when a loved one relapses.

#1: This Doesn’t Mean You Have Failed.

Relapse is part of recovery. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 40 to 60% of those in recovery experience some form of relapse.

Your loved one may not want to hear statistics specifically, so simply saying that many people relapse before reaching long-term sobriety will let them know they aren’t alone. Reassure your loved one that recovery is a journey, and setbacks are part of every journey.

#2: I Know Your Intent is to Remain Sober.

Your loved one chose to enter treatment with the goal of sobriety. If they were not interested in the benefits of treatment, they would have never entered treatment in the first place. Recognize this and commend your loved one for starting their treatment journey towards sobriety.

#3: I Am Here to Support You.

Anytime challenges arise, the thought of attacking them alone is frightening. Your loved one will find solace in your physical presence, having your number on speed dial, and knowing they can come to you for support at any time.

#4: How has this Experience Provided Insight?

Reflection is a key component of learning and growing, even as adults. Ask your loved one questions to encourage turning a challenge into a learning experience. Be engaged in what they have to say and ask follow-up questions.

#5: What Can I Do Right Now to Help?

Many in substance use recovery live by the mantra, “one day at a time.” Helping your loved one stay in the present moment could be accomplished simply with a hug, a home-cooked meal, or a leisurely walk. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What can I do to help you feel good in this moment?”

What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Relapsed

Focusing on what went wrong or what will make it right doesn’t help a person in recovery. What not to say to someone who relapsed is just as important as what you do say to someone who relapsed. Here are three things not to say to someone who has relapsed.

#1: You Were Doing So Well. What Happened?

You may be wondering, “What causes a relapse?” Oftentimes, the smallest occurrence or barrier can result in seeking refuge or release.

Instead of worrying about what caused the relapse, be more proactive and know your loved one’s individualized warning signs. Speaking up if you observe any warning signs will be more helpful to their recovery process.

More importantly, you must remember that addiction is not a choice. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), substance use disorder is a medical condition and should be treated as such.

#2: I’m Disappointed in You.

It’s completely natural to feel disappointed, angry, or frustrated because you want your loved one to lead a healthy and quality life. However, for many individuals in active recovery, blame, shame, and guilt can be just as toxic as the substance itself. Your loved one is already being hard on themselves, and knowing someone else is angry is even more harmful.

Instead, recognize the relapse as a small setback and redirect your loved one to their relapse prevention plan. As for your own anger, expressing it to a therapist or journaling about it will help you feel better and not cause your loved one to feel worse.

#3: Your Approach to Treatment Isn’t Enough.

There are many different approaches to treatment, and your loved one no doubt had some input in their treatment of choice. You may feel that because they relapsed, the treatment “isn’t working” and an alternative approach will be better.

The truth is you really have no say in an individual’s chosen approach to treatment. After all, what will likely work will be in line with your loved one’s personal goals, and that may mean they choose a less aggressive approach that may or may not include alternative therapies, medications, or counseling.

Other Ways to Offer Support

Sometimes actions speak louder than words. It can be difficult to know what to say to someone who relapsed. If you’re anxious about saying the wrong things, here are three strategies that are proactive, practical, and positive.

#1: Don’t Talk. Listen.

No one likes to be lectured. Advice is usually not solicited, and there is never an end-all solution. The best thing you can do is listen. Be mindful of your facial expressions and body language. Avoid being defensive and just be a listening ear.

#2: Review and Update the Relapse Prevention Plan.

A plan isn’t a plan if it’s not reviewed and revised based on situations that occur during execution. A large majority of treatment programs include the development of a relapse prevention plan.

This plan includes personalized red flags or warning signs your loved one has self-identified. Be familiar with the warning signs and action items your loved one intends to use to stop the snowball towards relapse.

#3: Create Space for Self-Care.

According to Steven M. Melemis, author of Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery, recovering individuals tend to be hard on themselves, and self-care is one of the most overlooked aspects of recovery.

Those struggling with a substance use disorder typically take less than they need because they may see it as selfishness. These feelings can lead to exhaustion and resentment which only fuel the temptation to use again. Consider your loved one’s self-care strategies and provide support and encouragement to complete these.

Finding Help with MATClincs

MATClinics is a group of outpatient medication-assisted treatment centers that utilize behavioral therapy and prescription medication to treat opioid addiction. At MATClinics, with the combined effort of counselors, case managers, and doctors, we work one-on-one with patients to create a unique treatment plan that meets their needs. We are dedicated to the success of your recovery.

To learn more or start your recovery, visit one of our offices around Maryland or contact MATClinics for more information.

Speak to a member of our team to schedule a New Patient visit, or just to get more information.

Thank you for your inquiry, we will reach out to you soon. If you don’t want to wait, please call or text us at 410.220.0720.
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