Addiction: Covid-19 & Relapse

Covid-19 has brought a new set of parameters to us. With Self-isolation, no in-person support networks , living, working – being furloughed etc. For the most part living in the same closed quarters that come with social distancing, it is no wonder that one may relapse on alcohol or other drugs. We know from the National Institute of Drug Abuse that between 40-60% of those who recover from substance use disorders (SUD), relapse within one year of treatment. While these stats may seem alarming, there are ways to support your loved one getting help and some sure fired ways to help reduce stress. In this article we will take a look at some of the common causes of relapsing, how to help your loved one and some ways to manage stress.

Relapse as seen in the recovery world is a process not a single event. Relapse occurs long before a person takes a drink or a drug and can be characterized by anxiety, intolerance, rapid mood swings, anger, defensiveness, not asking for help , not going to meetings. 8 Common signs of relapsing are:

  • Over Confidence -There is a difference between over-confidence and self-confidence. Think of it as ego run wild, your loved one thinks that using again might not cause any problem. They have it all covered. This thinking is dangerous as it can provide justification for having a drink etc.
  • Dishonesty – Lying and not telling the truth may have been a way of life before recovery. Lying is a sure-fire way to pave the path for relapse.
  • Unrealistic Expectations – Recovery is a lifetime process, it takes time and is a lot of hard work. Not every day will be the best day though we know that Recovery is beautiful. For some they believe that when they stop using all problems will be solved; however, that is not true, so there may be years of emotional, financial and spiritual wreckage that will need to be cleaned up .Being humble and accepting this maybe challenging.
  • Self -Pity - At one time or another during Covid-19 we all experience self-pity; however, if your loved one is fixating on these feelings and their past, this may just be the justification to drink or use drugs. The past must be addressed , grief work may be necessary however staying in the moment and practicing gratefulness is key.
  • High Expectations – SUD (Substance Use Disorder) is often a symptom of perfectionism. Many may turn to  mind altering substances as they feel they are not enough. Setting healthy expectations of yourself and your loved one is important
  • Emotional Signs - are probably the first clue that something is going wrong. Impulsive or compulsive behavior, returning to old behaviors, former drug using friends or suppliers, emotional outburst become more frequent, isolation, denial, hiding or downright avoidance, missing therapy sessions, meetings, counseling are all signs that a relapse may be occurring.
  • Physical Signs - are also important and include sudden weight gain or loss, extreme fatigue, exhaustion, slurred speech, disregard for cleanliness, unusual body odors , dilated pupils, nervous ticks , inability to sit still.

Stress of course is the number one trigger for Relapse. However, some amount of stress is good for growth. There are both good and not so good stressors.  You might not even know it’s happening from both positive and not so positive experiences, from addressing financial layoffs  to receiving a promotion at work . Although it is impossible to eliminate stress in one’s life there are some great tools available for reducing stress. These are: living in the moment, practicing mindfulness , laughter , focusing on the positives each day, finding meaning and purpose in stressful life events, learning to think outside the box, finding a physical regimen you like and sticking to it, picking a positive emotion everyday , writing it down to ignite you, learn something new every day. Of course, if you are in recovery attending meetings, talking with other support network friends or a sponsor  is paramount.

Which leads us to “What can a Family Member Do if their Loved One Relapses?” 

  • Use  “I” terms and feeling words. Do not confuse temporary for permanent. Relapsing has the greatest impact on your loved one and no doubt you may feel discouraged, disappointed or even angry, yet do not allow the relapse to create fear or negativity. Your loved one has become their own worst enemy while trying to address what their despair is.
  • Open communication is vital to help them back on their way. Relapsing is just a temporary obstacle. You can remind them that you are here to support them in health and wellness and help them find their way back. This may mean offering a live-in counselor, a recovery coach or even an invitation to outpatient or inpatient treatment.
  • Self-Care. Before you slip and put your rescue cape on, make sure that you are taking care of yourself appropriately in Covid-19.  Do not offer help if you are not in the position to do so. Seek out the hobbies , friends you have, try a family support network such as Al-Anon, Craft or Codependents Anonymous, etc. Otherwise you may find it challenging to keep appropriate boundaries. By putting on your own mask, social distancing  in healthy ways away from your loved one’s problems,  you may find it easier to seek compassionate boundaries to weather these tough times.
  • Encourage Participation in Sober Activities. Spend time with your loved one at places that are substance free. Pack a picnic lunch or dinner to enjoy in the park. Watch a movie together, go for a walk outside, rent a kayak. Something in nature can enhance a mood. The activity  should be fun and may help heal any tensions in your relationship.
  •  Support Groups. As I mentioned earlier, support groups are the cornerstone of recovery and  a lifeline. No matter where you are one can always access a help line or a support group. While a great many of support groups are online there is a Covid dissipates or lessens groups held outside. AA and NA are nationwide. There are other groups that can help a loved one.

Understanding The Signs of Relapse and the Ways in Which you Can take Action

  1. Please remember try not to panic
  2. Offer
  3. Consider working with a professional consideration underlying emotional or mental issues
  4. Consider staging an intervention and reinviting your loved one to get help
  5. Please take into consideration underlying emotional or mental health issues
  6. Practice self-care

If A Love One Relapses Be Sure and Avoid the Blame and Shame Game

I know this is not easy yet do not lose hope or become angry. Always remember  you are not responsible for your loved ones using. Remember the 7 C’s: You did not Cause, You cannot Control , You Cannot Cure your loved one, yet You can help Take Care of Yourself, You can Communicate your feelings , You can Celebrate Yourself and have confidence in your own recovery process.

There are of course ways to enhance the scaffolding that is around a loved one. An Intervention might be appropriate as might recovery coaching or having a live-in counselor. It’s important to consult a professional who is an expert in Care management .

As we all navigate these strange times of Covid 19 with our loved ones who are in Recovery, let me remind all of us: There is always hope ! There is always a solution.

Dr. Louise Stanger, Ed.D, LCSW, CIP, CDWF

Author-Educator-Speaker and Interventionist

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