How to Make a Relapse Prevention Plan with Your Loved One in Recovery
Having a loved one finally agree to professional addiction treatment is a relief—and also a source of new anxieties. Will they manage to stick it out? Will withdrawal do them physical harm? What will the “new life together” be like? What changes will I have to make? And the dreaded question that haunts every emotionally involved supporter from the beginning of detox through at least the first few months of post-rehab sobriety: What if they go right back to addiction as soon as the going gets tough?
No denying it, relapse is a real danger for at least the first 90 days after treatment—which is why addiction treatment experts recommend spending at least that much time in inpatient or intensive-outpatient care—and a high risk for at least a year. That doesn’t mean relapse is inevitable: nor does it mean recovery from relapse is necessarily any harder than the initial rehab treatment. It just means no one should ever take it for granted that everything will be fine once the party with the addiction is physically “clean.”
As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense—and the best way of avoiding relapse is preparing in advance for situations likely to tempt in that direction. Most detox and sobriety counselors recommend writing out a relapse prevention plan that recognizes personal drug-use triggers and that outlines options for dealing with tempting or stressful situations that can’t be avoided. Since the support of loved ones is among the best tools for successful long-term sobriety, this article will look at ways you can supply some of that support by helping the person in recovery make a relapse prevention plan.
APPRECIATE WHAT YOUR LOVED ONE IS GOING THROUGH
Despite the tendency to see drug addiction as largely a character defect—and despite your understandable hurt feelings over the pain addiction-related behavior has caused you—“I just can’t stop using” really is a legitimate claim, to a certain degree at least. True addiction is classified as an illness because it causes serious (sometimes deadly) physical effects if the “medicine” is cut off, and because scientific studies have repeatedly shown that drug cravings have a biological basis.
This isn’t, of course, an excuse for continuing in addiction while denying all responsibility and flatly refusing to seek help. But if your loved one is in recovery, he or she is already past that stage and has a genuine desire to change. Stay gentle and empathetic while working out the relapse prevention plan. People in recovery are already under considerable stress from the recent memories of physical detox, the prospect of living without their familiar coping strategies and the knowledge that many people will be judging them by their addiction for a long time to come. Don’t add to the stress by tossing in your own negative judgments.
ALLOW EVERYONE TO CONTRIBUTE INPUT, BUT LEAVE FINAL DECISIONS TO THE PERSON MOST DIRECTLY AFFECTED
Whether your household or intimate circle comprises two people or ten, recovery is most effective when all of them are encouraged to share ideas, express their feelings, take responsibility for their own actions and do what it takes to minimize the addiction-affected party’s exposure to relapse temptations. But don’t let joint contribution to a relapse prevention plan turn into a session of dictating to your loved one “what you need to do for your own good.” That encourages feelings of helplessness and “getting no respect,” which increases the risk of relapse.
True recovery requires that the person with the addiction take ultimate responsibility for his or her own actions and control of his or her own life—so save the free advice for matters of legitimate concern over legitimate weak spots, and offer any advice you do give in a spirit of “I know you’re smart enough to do the right thing.”
BE PREPARED TO HELP YOUR LOVED ONE AVOID POTENTIAL RELAPSE TRIGGERS
And be prepared to inconvenience yourself, as necessary, for the common good. Depending on your loved one’s specific addiction issues and trigger points, actions required on your part may include:
- Removing all alcohol or intoxicating substances from your household
- Keeping your own prescription medicines locked up
- Living on a lower budget if your family member needs to quit a high-paying but stress-laden job
- Taking over errands that require passing drug-sales venues
- Being a chauffeur for, or riding along with, a loved one who struggles with “stop for a drink” temptations when out alone
And remember, doing such things in obvious annoyance at the “burden” they cause you is almost as bad as refusing to do them at all. If your recovering loved one is constantly subjected to “you’re a nuisance” messages, he or she will likely wind up reasoning “you’re driving me back to drink, and obviously you think we were all better off that way anyway.”
Note of caution: Sometimes there’s a fine line between providing legitimate help and enabling someone to continue in irresponsibility—irresponsibility which may come in the form of laziness and low initiative, as well as addiction. If you feel unreasonably put upon, and “the stress of adjusting to a new situation” just doesn’t feel like an adequate explanation, have a fresh talk with your recovering loved one (preferably in the presence of your family counselor) about what constitutes reasonable responsibility for each party.
FOCUS ON HELPING YOUR LOVED ONE STAY HAPPY AND FULFILLED, NOT JUST “RESPONSIBLE.”
- Understanding one’s values and purpose
- Following one’s dreams
- Being appreciated, by self and others, for the unique and priceless individual you are
- Taking good care of overall physical health
- Having things you do regularly just for fun
When putting together the relapse prevention plan, be sure to encourage your loved one to include a personal evaluation of his or her better qualities, goals to start working toward, and wholesome activities they simply enjoy doing. Wherever possible, make plans to regularly participate in these goals and activities with them. Joy shared is joy multiplied—and people whose lives are full of joy (and love and support) rarely struggle with temptations to return to the cheap comfort of drug use.