The Wider Implications of Relapse Back to Addiction
When someone relapses after a period of sobriety there can be significant ripple effects. Their actions will not only impact their own life, but also the lives of the people around them. One group of individuals who will be often deeply affected will be friends in recovery. These individuals might not only feel sad because of the loss of fellow traveler on the path to sobriety, but they may worry that their own recovery is at risk. It can be particularly upsetting if somebody who had been considered to have a strong recovery relapses. This can rock the faith of those who are in early recovery, because they may have been looking to that person for inspiration.
What Happens When a Friend in Recovery Relapses
If a friend in recovery relapses, it is almost certain to have an impact. Some of the most typical emotional responses will include:
- Great sadness about the loss of a friend back to addiction.
- Worry about what this means for the person who has relapsed and for their family.
- Anger at that person for giving up on their sobriety. There can also be anger if the individual feels in any way dependent on this other person who has returned to addiction.
- Worry about how to deal with this person now that they are back drinking or using drugs.
- Fear that this could mean that the individual’s own recovery is in danger.
- Jealousy that this other person is getting to enjoy something that those in recovery have to avoid. When people think these types of thoughts it can be a sign that their own sobriety is in danger. It is called romancing the drink or drug.
- If the person who relapses was following a recovery program, it may affect the confidence of other people who are following the same program. It can lead to thoughts such as, if it did not work for them then how could it work for me?
How to Deal with the Relapse of a Friend
In AA, they refer to the 12 Steps as a selfish program. What this means is that the individual needs to put their own sobriety above everything else. If a friend relapses, the number one priority for other people needs to be protecting their own sobriety. These are a few suggestions for people dealing with this type of event:
- It is important to talk about what has happened with other people. Those who have a sponsor might want to turn to this person for advice and support. Those who attend a 12 Step group can talk about the experience there. However, they should avoid referring to the relapsed individual by name so as to protect anonymity.
- Those who keep a journal in recovery may find that writing about their thoughts and feelings surrounding the friend’s relapse can be of great benefit.
- Now is a good time for people to put more focus on their own recovery. The friend’s relapse can act as a warning of what happens when people fail to take their recovery seriously enough.
- Sometimes the warning signs of a friend’s impending relapse will have been noticeable. It is a good idea to learn from their mistakes. By learning from these warning signs, the individual can strengthen their own recovery. In some instances it will seem that people have relapsed completely out of the blue.
- Those who are involved in a romantic relationship with somebody who relapses needs to end this relationship right away. If they fail to do this, they will be putting their own recovery in jeopardy.
What to Do When a Sponsor Relapses
When a sponsor relapses, it can be a devastating blow for the sponsee. This will have been somebody they depended on and looked up to. It may now seem that everything the sponsor ever said was just a lie. The sponsee can feel terribly let down. When a sponsor relapses, it is important to realize that there could be any number of reasons why it happened. It does not have to mean that everything the sponsor said was wrong. They may have just recently lost their way after years of successfully doing the right things.
If a sponsor relapses, then the priority for the sponsee will be to protect their own sobriety. They do not have to get a new sponsor right away, but it is vital that they get support. Now might be a good time to get closer to the 12 Step meetings by attending them more often. Those who feel they have been hit particularly hard by the sponsor’s relapse might want to speak to their therapist.
When choosing a sponsor, it is always a good idea to stick with somebody who has many years of successful recovery behind them. This does not mean that they are invulnerable to relapse, but it should greatly reduce the risk of this happening. When people choose a sponsor who is only sober for a short time, or seems to be having problems in their life, they are taking much more of a risk.
How to Help a Friend Who Has Relapsed
One of the things that concerns people most when a friend relapses is how they can help them. The wish to do something useful is understandable, but there will not be much that can be done. It is up to the person who has relapsed to get back on track. Nobody else can do this for them. All that other people can really do is to remind their friend that recovery is still an option. It is then advisable to avoid this person while they continue to drink or use.