What Not to Say to Someone Who Relapses

Relapse is a part of recovery for most addicts, but it doesn’t signify weakness or failure. If you love someone in recovery, you need to know how to be sensitive after a relapse. There are things you should and shouldn’t say, and the distinction may not always be obvious. What to say to her after relapse can make a real difference. You can lift your loved one up or you can make her feel bad about herself. It’s all in what you say. Here are some things to avoid saying:

  • You’ll be stronger next time. To say that this relapse will make your loved one stronger the next time she feels the urge to use implies that she was weak. It doesn’t help to imply weakness. You need to understand that substance use and abuse leads to a chronic disease called addiction. Relapse is a natural part of any chronic illness.
  • You just need more willpower. Again, addiction is a disease and it has little to do with willpower. Your loved one does not necessarily lack the will not to use, but her brain has been changed by drugs or alcohol, and those changes drive her to use again.
  • You have to start back at zero now. You don’t need to say this because the recovering addict who has just relapsed is saying it to herself. Relapsing feels like you have just wasted your weeks, months or years of sobriety. The idea of starting all over again feels hopeless. The truth is that she isn’t back to zero. All the work she did to get sober can help her after her relapse.
  • Don’t be a quitter. This statement is completely unfair. Relapse is not quitting. When a loved one quits rehab or treatment, you might consider that giving up, but relapse is different. If you have struggled and fought to resist the urge to use again, only to finally give in, it isn’t quitting. It’s simply a temporary relapse.
  • I guess it’s time to go back to rehab. It’s true that having a relapse means that a recovering addict needs to consider getting more treatment, but it does not necessarily mean that she has to go back to a residential rehab. She may do just fine with some extra therapy sessions or attending more support group meetings. Not everyone needs to do rehab again.

If you have a loved one who has relapsed, think carefully about what you say and remember that she is always in recovery. She will always be fighting the urge to use again, and this is a great burden to carry. Be sensitive to her situation and lend support instead of criticism. What you should say is that you still love her, you don’t think any less of her and you will be there to support her as she continues on her journey of sobriety.

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