It can be difficult to be supportive through relapse. Simply put, substance use is complicated, and knowing how to navigate the relational aspects that go along with it can be challenging. Grace and patience are necessary for everyone involved in the healing journey. While this road may be difficult, setting proper expectations can be very helpful to you as you try to be a supportive friend of one in recovery.
Here are 3 ways that you can be a supportive friend of one who is experiencing relapse:
An important part of being supportive through relapse begins with understanding the complicated aspects of addiction. The more you can understand what your friend is going through, the more supportive you can be. Additionally, the more you know about what to expect, the easier it will be to determine how involved you want to be in your friend’s healing process.
As the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains, “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control.” As a result, addiction is not usually a conscious choice. Rather, it is a disease that can have lasting effects on an individual’s brain, body, and relationships – even long after substance use has ceased.
A major piece of addiction is that it is usually a symptom of something deeper, like a mental health disorder. It is very common for people to self-medicate with substances in an attempt to achieve relief from psychological or emotional turmoil. When two diagnoses influence each other (often exacerbating the symptoms of one another), it is known as a co-occurring disorder.
Identifying co-occurring disorders is vital in the recovery process because if additional problems are not addressed, they will persist. This is often the reason that merely ceasing substance use is not effective. If treatment only works to cease substance use rather than treat the root cause of the substance use, the individual in treatment has a higher chance of future relapse. Furthermore, relapse can lead to worsening physiological and psychological symptoms, which can, in turn, perpetuate substance use in an effort to self-medicate distressing symptoms.
Another important aspect to keep in mind is that relapse does not mean that treatment has failed. For many, relapse is part of the healing process. NIDA confirms, “Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply rooted behaviors, and relapse doesn’t mean treatment has failed. When a person recovering from an addiction relapses, it indicates that the person needs to speak with their doctor to resume treatment, modify it, or try another treatment.”
It is also important to note that while there is no cure for addiction, it can certainly be managed. This is a vital distinction, as certain people respond to treatments in different ways. One person may find success with the first treatment approach that they try, while others may need more intense therapies, residential treatment, or advanced counseling to get the healing they need. A treatment facility, like Sage Recovery, is a good place to start.
There is no one-size-fits-all for recovery. Rather, your friend’s treatment journey depends on their individualized needs, their clinicians’ experience, and what co-occurring disorders are present. Each person’s recovery journey is unique, personal, and a life-long choice. It will be full of mountaintops, valleys, and everything in between. This further highlights how valuable your support is for their recovery progress and success.
While relapse can be considered part of the healing journey for some, it can be extremely dangerous. If you are genuinely concerned about your friend’s health and safety, please reach out to emergency services immediately.
Part of being supportive through relapse is knowing how to take care of yourself. While it is good to want to take care of your friend through a difficult time, it is important to remember that you are not responsible for their healing. You are only responsible for your health and choices, which sometimes means you need to establish boundaries to keep yourself safe and healthy.
This can look different for everyone, as boundaries sometimes result in various levels of separation. For others, boundaries might look like attending counseling and support groups to learn how to heal healthily. Treatment centers, like Sage Recovery, offer many services for family and friends of people struggling with substance use.
Since humans are created to be relational, community is a vital aspect of any type of recovery. Your friend needs community as they recover and so do you. However, this doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be in each other’s recovery community. If your friend’s substance use is affecting your mental, emotional, or physical health, it’s okay for both of you to seek out different communities that will meet each of your unique needs.
Here at Sage Recovery, we understand all the relational complexities that can come with being a supportive friend through relapse. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be done alone. We offer individual, couples, and family counseling, as well as weekly support groups to remind you that no one has to go through this journey alone. Our masters-level clinicians are ready to walk alongside you as you heal from the hard things you’ve been through. Whether you’re struggling with relational complications, anxiety, depression, or just need someone to talk to, our trauma-informed staff are ready and eager to help you heal in healthy ways.