Photo of addiction peer coach Michelle Venturelli

What to do about addiction relapse

Meet Michelle
Michelle has extensive experience in the criminal justice field, where she worked closely with offenders to help them rebuild their lives.

Q: What should I do if I think someone in my life has relapsed?

A: As any loved one knows, the behavioral symptoms of addiction are incredibly hurtful, frustrating and contradict what we know about the person we love. Lying and manipulation are all too common. It’s normal for loved ones to remain guarded or even suspicious of a person in early recovery. They’ve seen broken promises and destructive behavior before.

If you’re noticing behaviors that you believe are due to substance use, it’s normal to feel angry or scared. But as hard as it may be, try not to react too quickly. Accusations and confrontations probably won’t get you anywhere. 

I understand the impulse – it’s difficult to remain calm after being mislead or hurt by someone’s choices. But it’s also important to remember that these behaviors are symptoms of an illness. 

If the person has relapsed, they’re probably already feeling plenty of shame and guilt themselves. So when we confront them, they may react in fight or flight mode. They might become aggressive because they feel the need to protect themselves. They could also begin to distance themselves from you because of the shame they feel. It’s a common reaction when someone feels they’ve disappointed you again.

Teaching effective, compassionate communication is such a big part of our loved one coaching curriculum. Most of our members come to us feeling very defeated, exhausted and overwhelmed. A lot of that has to do with how they’re communicating. If every interaction is a fight about a substance, you’re bound to feel frustrated and at a loss.

In our work with those who have addiction, we treat relapses as learning moments. We emphasize that a recurrence of use doesn’t undo all the other good work a person has done. We also evaluate their current support system. Is something missing? What does that person need to avoid a relapse in the future? What were they dealing with in the days leading up to the recurrence?

The answers will be different for everyone, and each loved one’s role will be different. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Face It TOGETHER if you need help. Coaches provide personalized, practical feedback to those grappling with addiction-related challenges.

One last thing to remember: certain substances can be particularly dangerous during a relapse. Accidental overdose is a serious risk for opioid users. We recommend loved ones learn how to obtain and administer NARCAN®.

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