3 Practical Tips for Dealing with a Loved One Who Won’t Stay Sober

family therapy

Nothing is more frustrating than dealing with a loved one who won’t abstain from drugs or alcohol. Maybe they’ve relapsed several times after PHP treatment, or maybe they were sober for years. In either case, you’re left dealing with the effects, and you’re not sure what to do. 

It’s important to know that there’s more involved with relapse than saying yes or no to a substance. Relapse is a process that involves mental and emotional factors, and people are often at war with themselves before returning to use. 

Below are three practical tips for dealing with a loved one who won’t stay sober. 

Recognize that addiction is a chronic disease. 

Even though millions of people are affected by addiction, it’s still widely misunderstood and even stigmatized. This often leads to feelings of shame and embarrassment. Fortunately, you can help reduce these feelings by understanding addiction and how it affects the mind and body. 

Addiction is a chronic disease, just like diabetes or asthma. For example, if someone has an asthma attack, they are given the tools needed to effectively manage the attack. Relapse is similar to a flare-up, yet when relapse occurs, people often feel judged or shamed. Unfortunately, this can prevent them from telling someone and seeking help. 

Just like any chronic disease, it’s normal for people with addiction to cycle through phases of sobriety and relapse. You hope that it doesn’t happen, but this is not the case for everyone. Viewing addiction in this lens can hopefully give you some insight into why relapse happens and how to best respond. 

Know the stages of relapse and what increases the risk. 

Relapse is not a one-time event. There are three stages: 

  • Emotional relapse. In this stage, the person is not actively thinking about using drugs or alcohol. However, they may be engaging in behaviors that are setting them up for problems down the road, such as bottling up emotions, no longer going to therapy or support groups and not practicing self-care. 
  • Mental relapse. During this stage, the person is having conflicting thoughts. Part of them wants to use and part of them does not. They may start fantasizing about drugs or alcohol, experiencing cravings or start hanging around old friends. 
  • Physical relapse. The last stage of the process is when the person actually returns to use. 

By understanding the process in full, you can learn to recognize the signs that your loved one may be at risk for relapse. For example, no longer attending meetings or having open communication are red flags. While you can’t intervene and stop the process, you can have an open, honest conversation with your loved one. Factors that play a role in relapse are a lack of support, enabling, unmanaged co-occurring disorders, unmanaged stress and unawareness of personal triggers. 

Recognize where you have control and practice self-care. 

One of the hardest parts about loving someone with an addiction is that you can’t do the work for them. If they continue to use drugs or alcohol, there’s not a whole lot you can do but set and enforce boundaries and continue to support them in the right ways. If you try to “make” them stop, you will end up burning yourself out and possibly ruin all chances of them getting sober. 

So what are you in control of? Yourself. Right now, you need to work on your recovery, as addiction affects everyone in the household. By doing this, you can be more present for other people in your life, such as your spouse and children. This is not selfish — it’s actually one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and your loved ones. 

Here are some of the ways that you can practice self-care: 

  • Focus on yourself and your needs
  • Set and enforce solid boundaries 
  • Seek professional help with a therapist who specializes in addiction
  • Allow your loved one to face their own consequences 
  • Attend Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings 

Healing Individuals and Families in Easton, PA

Addiction can be an isolating disease for both the individual and their family. However, enabling your loved one to keep them “safe” is not good for you or them. It allows the addiction to continue because your loved one isn’t facing the consequences of their choices. 

Recovery Cove in Easton, PA is here for you when you need us. We offer various programs on an outpatient basis, and we provide support for the whole family. Contact us today at 484-549-COVE to learn more about our programs and our approach to healing individuals and families from the cycle of substance use.