Relapse… Now What Do You Do?

Nothing is worse than a loved one relapsing after going to rehab. When an addict goes to treatment, the family can finally sleep again at night, knowing their loved one is safe and on the road to recovery, beating their addiction once and for all. When an addict completes treatment and leaves rehab, they look good, have their health back, are “bright and shiny,” and have a new zest for life. They have big plans for the future. They are going to stay clean, get a great job, save money and possibly start a family if they do not have one already. At that point, they have a whole new sense of feeling they can have all those things that were once unobtainable to them while they were using. Mom and dad are proud parents again and feel confident the problems the family once faced are now in the past.

Then tragedy strikes.

Mom now finds herself holding her son’s lifeless body after finding him overdosed in the bathroom, waiting for the paramedics to arrive.

Dad finds little baggies under the seat in his daughter’s car as she’s nodded off on the couch.

A call comes to house from the hospital, telling the family to come quickly.
“How did this happen?”
“How did they get sobered up, do well, then go back to their old ways?”
“Why did they think they could get away with using drugs again?”
“What do we do now?”
As the panic sets in, these are the questions many families ask themselves. What does a family do now that their loved one has relapsed?

The following is what every family should do.

Don’t panic!

don’t panic

This is much more easily said than done. Of course, most families’ initial reaction is to panic. Addiction is a life or death situation and any set of parents more than cringe at the idea of organizing a funeral for their child. Panicking does nothing to solve the situation. Although panicking is a natural reaction to a relapse, all it does is create more undue stress than is needed, especially during an already stressful situation. What families need to understand is there are solutions to a relapse. Yes, it’s terrible, awful, upsetting, and scary but there are ways to properly deal with a relapse and sending everyone into a panic isn’t one of them. What the family has to do is try to remain calm and take the next necessary steps to effectively handle the situation.

Don’t let the addict out of your sight

After it’s found out the addict has relapsed and started using drugs and alcohol again, no matter what, do not let them out of your sight! Addicts, backed into a corner, might have a “fight or flight” response and try to run away from everyone so as not to confront the gravity of what they’ve done and they often seek drugs as a means of dealing with it. Remember, drugs and alcohol are used as solutions to problems for addicts, so this may turn out to be yet another thing the addict can’t deal with unless they’re high or drunk. Without question, the family must keep the addict at home or somewhere safe with family watching them while they take the next necessary steps to help them. A family member needs to be “assigned” to the addict and keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t try to sneak off and get high or run away altogether. If the addict is left to their own devices, more than likely, they are going to make another bad decision, they have already made one by using drugs or alcohol again. The family needs to keep the addict on an extremely short leash while plans are made for their treatment.

Assess the addict’s willingness to get help

get help
After an addict relapses, they’re not always chomping at the bit to go back to treatment. Even though most addicts get so beaten and battered by their addictive lifestyle and should be grateful for being offered any help again, sometimes after a relapse, they can be completely unwilling to get help. If an addict has failed treatment a few times they, as well as the family, might get to the point where they feel as though rehab doesn’t work and maybe there is no “fixing” them. On the other hand, there are addicts that are desperate to go back to treatment and figure out what went wrong and what they need to do to correct the situation. Once a relapse occurs, the family must assess the addict’s willingness to get help again. If they are unwilling to get help, although it’s not the easiest situation, it doesn’t mean there’s no solution. There are treatment centers that work with professional interventionists who will work with the addict one-on-one to get their agreement to get help and then escort them to the treatment center. If the addict still remains unwilling to fix the situation they’ve created, the family needs to be ready to put their foot down and not enable or help the addict unless that help is directed toward getting them back into treatment. The addict needs to know the family won’t let them live at home and take continuous advantage of them while they’re actively using or drinking. The point is, get the addict’s willingness to get help again after a relapse.

Get the addict back into rehab quickly

After an addict relapses and becomes willing to go back to treatment, time is of the essence and the family must act quickly to get them into treatment as quickly as possible. What every family needs to understand is that once an addict becomes willing to go to treatment, there is a very small window of time before that door shuts. As quickly as they may have decided to go get help, they can flip and do a complete 180 in a heartbeat. The idea is to get the addict the help they need and fast! There’s no time to waste. The addict may say they need a week to “take care of some things” or they “want to be at grandma’s birthday” or “give work proper notice” but none of that matters when an addict is literally playing with their life. There’s no reason good enough to put off the addict going back to rehab. The faster the addict is enrolled back in a program, the quicker the crisis situation can end and the family can rest easily, knowing their loved one is getting help and hopefully they’ll get what they missed the first time.
Relapse is an unfortunate reality for many addicts. A lot of the time when addicts relapse, it is because they didn’t get the right help for themselves. Not every drug rehabilitation program works 100% of the time for everyone. If an addict has relapsed after doing traditional treatment, find an alternative program that takes a different approach than the standard model.
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Once a relapse occurs, don’t panic, don’t let the addict out of your sight, assess their willingness to get help and get them into treatment quickly. Although a relapse sends a whole family unit spiraling out of control with seemingly no hope in sight, realize that there is a solution. As long as the relapse is handled effectively, the addict can find themselves on the road to recovery again and get everything they need to live successful, productive lives.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call us today at 888-718-8510.


Jason Good

Jason has been working in the field of addiction and recovery for over 10 years. Having been an addict himself he brings real-word experience to the table when helping addicts and their families, while also offering a first-person perspective to the current drug crisis. Jason is passionate about educating the public about what’s currently going on in our society, and thankfully, offers practical solutions. Jason is also the co-host of The Addiction Podcast—Point of No Return. You can follow Jason on Google+, Twitter, or connect with him on LinkedIn.