Relapse during recovery from alcoholism is common, but that doesn’t make it any less frightening to witness. When someone you care about experiences alcoholic relapse, how to help becomes your primary concern. First you want to help them regain control of their drinking, and then you want to do everything in your power to make sure relapse never happens again. However, if you truly want to make a difference, you have to understand what relapse is all about, and also what it’s not all about. Good intentions aside, there are some myths about relapse that can steer you in the wrong direction and prevent you from helping as much as you’d like. Here are three of the most unfortunate misconceptions, along with recommendations on how to avoid some pitfalls that may exist …
- Relapse during recovery is inevitable.
Study results vary but it is safe to say that more than half of all recovering alcoholics will relapse at least once, and many alcoholics will relapse multiple times before putting substance abuse behind them — if they ever do. But relapse is not inevitable and the belief it is could make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. After an alcoholic relapse, how you can help the individual is by letting them know that relapse is only a risk, and not a certainty. Tell them if they keep their eyes on the prize and focus on taking it one day a time, they can preserve their sobriety indefinitely.
- Relapse starts with the first drink.
Relapse is a persistent risk but it is not based on a spontaneous decision to drink. Recovering alcoholics are conscious of the risk of relapse and they struggle to avoid it, and when it happens, you can be sure they’ve been listening to the voice of temptation for quite some time. As someone who cares and wants to help, you should encourage the recovering alcoholic in your life to acknowledge and talk about their feelings openly and honestly, right from their first day out of rehab. Relapse generally emerges from the shadows but only after lurking for a while beforehand, and if you keep the spotlight shining into the darkest corners, it will prevent an ambush from occurring.
- When an alcoholic relapses, it puts them back to square one, and they’ll have to start their recovery all over again.
The insights into substance abuse picked up during rehab can be temporarily ignored, but they won’t be forgotten just because an alcoholic suffers a relapse. Recovery stops during relapse and resumes again the very minute the alcoholic stops drinking, and that is the attitude you should encourage in your interactions with your loved one. An alcoholic who relapses should be disappointed and they should try to learn from their disappointment so they don’t make the same mistake again. But they shouldn’t be discouraged. Relapse happens a lot and it should be seen as a brief setback, not as a tragedy or a long-term disaster. After a relapse, your loved one will need all of the hopeful words and inspirational advice you can manage, and it will be much easier for them to move past their failure if they stay upbeat and confident about the future.