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Involving Family in Relapse Prevention

Many partners and family members of people with addictions are highly attuned to when their addicted loved ones start to drink alcohol and/or use drugs. People with addictions may start an argument or have a certain look in their eyes that is often a precursor prior to the drinking/drugging. These precursors are reflective of the emotional/mental stage of relapse that occurs before an individual actually returns to the active stage of drug use or drinking. Individuals may be in an emotional or mental relapse for weeks or even months before the actual act of using drugs or alcohol (called physical relapse) occurs.

When Partners and Families Recognize the Signs of Emotional or Mental Relapse

Partners and family members may recognize these common behaviours of increased intensity, agitation, boredom, restlessness, lack of interest in meetings, lying, etc. (which are common signs of emotional relapse) without recognizing that their loved ones are already in “relapse mode.”  As partners and family members begin their own healing journeys, they need to take care of themselves by not following the old expert managing patterns they had during the phase of other people’s active addictions. During the addiction, many partners and family members often burn-out in the stress of always protecting, rescuing, monitoring, and managing others who were self-destructing with mood-altering substances.

Balancing Between Expert Managing and Intervening when Relapse Signs are Observed

There is a careful balance that loved ones of people with addictions need to maintain so that they are not expert managing other people’s lives in recovery, but that they are also not silent when they see the people they care about exhibiting behaviours  that look like the emotional or mental phase of a relapse. Therefore when partners and family members see the people they care about in recovery not being interested in meetings, becoming easily agitated, acting restless/bored etc., then they can mention that they think they are witnessing an emotional relapse. After making this comment, they do not have to argue their case or start defending themselves against an argument. Instead they can say: “I am seeing that you are ____________(describe the behaviour). This is one of the signs of behaviour on the emotional/mental relapse list. I am not mentioning this as a way to control your recovery program. Instead, I am just telling you what I see which may or may not be the case. All I can tell you is how I feel and what I see.” 

The Individual has Ultimate Responsibility to Stop Relapse

Loved ones of people with addictions need to also remember that they cannot prevent or even control whether other individuals relapse. The ultimate responsibility for drinking/drugging rests with the person in recovery. When loved ones are not silent about the behaviours they see, then this is an opportunity for people in recovery to really examine whether they sliding into old patterns related to the addiction.

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