What Steps Should Family Members Take When Dealing With Chronic Relapse?


Chronic relapse occurs when individuals have managed to abstain from an addictive substance but have yet to address the psychological motivators that perpetuate their substance misuse. This involves those in recovery who achieve and maintain a sober lifestyle for an extended period, only to relapse repeatedly with little to no change in outcome each time. Chronic relapsing differentiates itself from other forms of relapse in that the cycle involves multiple instances of extended sobriety before patients revert to pre-treatment addictive behavioral habits. 


This cycle of sobriety and relapse is often depicted as exhausting and immensely frustrating for those in recovery and loved ones making up their support network. For clients, recognizing the cycle can be the first step to finally addressing the underlying mental health issues instigating repeated incidents of relapse. For family members and friends of a person’s support network, there is, unfortunately, no absolute best course of action in a scenario where a loved one suffers from chronic relapse. As much as family members and loved ones want to help, how to handle it is ultimately up to the person in recovery.


However, family members can still support the person in recovery by taking the necessary steps to safeguard themselves, finding ways to assist without enabling, and seeking out the counsel of peers in recovery. The most important level of support that loved ones can give is not giving up, despite the person’s constant missteps in maintaining their sobriety. Addiction is a cunning, powerful, and baffling disease. This level of unwavering support can go a long way in instilling some much-needed confidence in the face of repeated frustrations from multiple relapses. 


Create an Open and Honest Dialogue About Creating Safeguards


Those experiencing chronic relapses might only appear to be a danger to themselves; however, substance use disorder (SUD) tends to spill over, involving all members of a support network. Members of a support network should handle chronic relapse by having an open dialogue about actions taken if or when the person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This uncomfortable but necessary conversation should also touch on safeguards for friends and family that should be in place when the person is going through another relapse. This conversation should not be about fixing the struggle with chronic relapse. Rather, it need only address the safety and well-being of family members, friends, and the person in recovery.


When all members involved realizing a person may be suffering from chronic relapse, a discussion about potential plans in case of another relapse can be essential to recovery. These plans can involve requests to take the person to the hospital or perhaps assisting by taking away their financial and banking access. In some scenarios, they may also involve court orders to keep off loved ones’ property when a person is using drugs or alcohol. 


Some of these measures amount to some serious tough love, and that is why loved ones should discuss plans before a relapse occurs when the person is sober. Otherwise, they might feel blindsided, further perpetuating their substance misuse. Loved ones will certainly feel an immense level of guilt that cannot be healthy for the already tenuous relationship.


Best Ways to Support Rather Than Enable


Members of a support network should always try to support rather than enable the recovery of their loved ones. Enabling differs from support in that the actions will perpetuate addictive behavioral patterns instead of improving the chances of recovery. The majority of assistance provided by support networks is most often viewed as support and not enabling. Even if a supportive action unintentionally enables a person, the overall intent of recovering from an addictive disorder generally outweighs an argument against it being supportive. 


Chronic relapse, though, tends to throw a wrench in this depiction of support versus enabling as people are once again stuck in a rut. Any form of financial support could be seen as enabling when it becomes clear that they are struggling with chronic relapse. This is why the best form of support that a loved one can provide is listening with encouragement. There is no possible way that listening can be inferred as enabling, and it provides a much-needed level of support during a trying time in recovery.  


Support for Support Networks


Al-Anon is the most well-known recovery group for family members and friends who make up a person’s support network. The support group meets weekly in most local communities and provides an outlet similar to recovery meetings for members of support networks to discuss their frustrations and successes with supporting a loved one struggling with addiction. 


Addiction is a family disease. The consequences of constant substance misuse affect family, friends, and individuals diagnosed with an addictive disorder. If you or a loved one struggles with substance use disorder (SUD), then Choice House has dual-diagnosis treatment services that can help. We offer men various therapeutic modalities to help them learn the necessary skills to maintain their sobriety. Our treatment methods address addiction as a family disorder, and we readily include family therapy sessions as part of the healing process. Our treatment services include a 90-day inpatient program, an intensive outpatient program, as well as the opportunity to reside at our sober living campus. Communication is a critical component of the recovery process that we help men acknowledge as they build their new, sober foundation based on love and empathy. For more information regarding Choice House facilities and treatment services, please give us a call at (303) 578-4977.

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