When somebody in your life relapses, it can be difficult to know what to do. We want to help, but don’t know the perfect thing to say. We may help someone go to treatment, find a sober companion, or some support. With the pain of watching someone struggle, it is important to educate ourselves about what to say to someone who relapsed. Here are five ways you can support someone in your life struggling with addiction.
1. Do Not Reinforce Guilt
First, remember that relapse does not mean failure. An addict or alcoholic who has relapsed is dealing with enough internal guilt. Don’t compound this. Although you may be disappointed, hurt, or sad, it may not be beneficial in this moment to share it with your loved one. It is indeed okay to let them know that you hope they find what works for them, but be careful with your words.
Instead of reinforcing guilt with speech that makes the person feel more ashamed, see if you can create some openness. Let them know you are a bit disappointed, and make the point that you believe in them. See if you can support them, and help them toward recovery. Your feelings and experience do indeed matter. There may come a point in the person’s personal recovery where they are ready to acknowledge the ways you have been hurt. In the meantime, you can find other resources to share your own pain. Reach out for help from a therapist, find a support group, or talk to another loved one constructively.
2. Remember It is Not Your Battle
When learning how to talk to an addict, one of the biggest things to remember is that it is not your battle personally. Although the person’s addiction may deeply impact your everyday life, the addiction is not yours. In the support group Al-Anon, they teach that you did not cause it, you cannot cure it, and you cannot control it. One of the main symptoms of taking the person’s addiction on as your own is the tendency to try to fix. Remember that the addiction is this person’s issue, not yours.
Instead of trying to fix it your way, see how you can support the individual. Although it may be hard, see if you can get out of yourself and really be present for this other person. Don’t take personal responsibility for their behavior, and don’t blame yourself. Stay out of guilt, and stay in care for the other person.
With the first two ways to talk to somebody who has relapsed being about what NOT to do, here’s something you can do. Offer your support. Remembering it isn’t your addiction and not to reinforce guilt, you can offer your support however you’re able. This may be small. Offer time and space to talk, or even just to listen. Let them know you are here for them and open to supporting them. What you think is helpful may not be what is helpful, so don’t be afraid to ask.
You can also do your research. Find differen things that may be helpful, like exercise, eating healthy, or alternatives to twelve-step meetings. You don’t need to push these on the person, but offer to go with them or take up healthy habits. The smallest show of support can make a big difference, so don’t worry if you feel like you’re not doing enough with these simple things.
4. Stand Firm, but With Compassion
Boundaries are an important piece of relating to those struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. If the person asks you for money, to stay with them, or anything else that you think may feed their addiction, lay down your boundary. Stick to it, as this is even more important than setting boundaries in the first place. Even if a boundary seems firm or harsh, recognize that the best thing for your loved one may not always be the most flowery and kind thing in the moment.
When setting boundaries, compassion can be helpful. Instead of being stone-cold and harsh, try to bring some kindness and explanations to your decision. Let the person know the boundary clearly, and speak with love. Don’t guilt, and don’t blame. Set boundaries for yourself, and stand by them.
5. Share Your Own Experience
Finally, don’t be afraid to share your own experience. We have all tried something and made mistakes. You may not have the same experience with addiction, but it’s likely that you can find common ground. Don’t be condescending, but share that you too understand what it is like to not succeed perfectly with a goal. This can help humanize the experience, and create some openness. This piece will help both you and the other person.
If you or somebody you know is struggling with addiction, please reach out to us via our contact form any time. We have a team of coaches, interventionists, and peer support specialists standing by and ready to offer expertise.