Having a loved one in recovery can provide an immense sense of relief and hope that they can succeed in treating their substance use disorder and will be able to resume their lives. However, it’s difficult to ignore the lurking fear that they may face relapse as it’s a part of recovery for many. Relapse isn’t the end of the recovery journey; it’s a road bump that can be managed efficiently to get them back on their way and may be an experience that solidifies their recovery effort in the future. Understandably though, preventing relapse is always preferred, and it’s reassuring to know how to help your loved one avoid relapse and recognize the signs before it’s too late.
Relapse Triggers and Signs
If you sense someone dear to you slipping away or becoming distant, you may feel discouraged that they are inching closer to relapsing. It often occurs for similar reasons that initially drove them to their substance use. Triggers aren’t always a significant event or incident, and sometimes they can be as innocuous as a location, person, smell, or witnessing and hearing about substance use. Warning signs that your loved one might be approaching relapse are:
- Isolation and spending a lot of time alone
- Struggling with anxiety or feeling irritable
- Depression symptoms
- Hyperfixation on a specific hobby or interest
- Spending extended time away without checking in
- Talking about substance use
- Showing physical signs of withdrawal or discomfort and not addressing them with healthy coping skills or medication-assisted treatment options
The difficulty with triggers is that no one can make them go away forever; in essence, they will always exist. The goal is for your loved one to develop the strength to redirect their reactions to their triggers, most often helped with substance use therapy.
Creating a Prevention Plan
It’s important to note that it’s not your sole responsibility to shield your loved one from all possible triggers, nor is it ever your fault if you’re not able to prevent them from relapsing. Those in recovery have worked hard to build coping mechanisms to deal with the highs and lows of life once they’ve treated their substance use disorder. Should relapse occur, there are steps that can be taken immediately to stop them from falling deeper into their substance use disorder.
Consider creating a prevention plan where the communication lines are open. This can be done with you and your loved one alone, or you can include their therapist or substance use counselor for deeper insight. Map out a system of primary triggers, and how the situation will be handled should relapse warning signs occur. This can greatly help bring self-awareness to your loved one during dark times before relapse, especially when it’s created as a sort of contract that can serve as a reminder of their commitment to recovery. Everyone works differently, which is why counselors can offer suggestions to make the plan impactful for each person based on their unique situation.
The most important thing to remember is that if these warning signs or triggers begin occurring, showing compassion and listening can help get the person you genuinely care for through it. Shame has no place during these times, and keeping their support system strong will encourage them to speak out and seek help before relapse has a chance to occur.