When Parents Relapse: Why Whole-Family Recovery Is Crucial

Dear Friend,

You may have heard that relapse is part of the recovery process. In our last newsletter, we explored how relapse may be part of someone’s recovery journey and also why relapse doesn’t have to be a given, especially when the right support system and structure is in place, like we provide here at Next Step Recovery.

But did you know that parents and family members can relapse too?

Relapse doesn’t necessarily involve substance misuse, although it can. Parents and family members relapse when they slide back into unhelpful coping responses, most often one of more of the behaviors associated with codependency: fixing, rescuing, controlling, blaming, shaming.

Recovery Doesn’t Come Overnight

The greatest risk for relapse is soon after discharge from treatment. During this early recovery period, parents can become so focused on their child’s need to change and unrealistic ideas about when this change should occur that they fail to focus on their own responsibility to change and grow.

Parents are better served when they explore the underlying causes of addiction and identify what each family member can do to facilitate healing. Without this work, even a sober child can be an ongoing source of worry and concern. The entire family system has to change; not just the person who went into treatment.

Let’s face it. Most people do not make significant changes in 30, 60, or 90 days (the typical length of treatment programs). Research strongly suggests that most of us need 6 months to a year of structured support to successfully change addictive behaviors. Change takes time, patience, and lots of compassion for everyone involved—family members included.

Getting Started

So where do we start?

The same place our family member does. We take the first step. We admit we have a problem with addiction—the whole family has a problem—and that we are powerless over it. We admit we can’t fix it. We recognize that a treatment program, alone, won’t fix it either. It took longer than 30, 60, or 90 days for our lives to become unmanageable, and it’s going to take longer than that to change our unhealthy strategies, whether those include substances or overworking, overeating, compulsive shopping, rescuing, fixing… or anything we give our power to.

Along the way, we also need to get familiar with failure. BIG and little failures. Our own and others. We need to not only get familiar with it, we need to understand that we all have a right to experience it. Failure is one of life’s greatest teachers. It gives us clear feedback about what doesn’t work and insight into what might work better. It teaches us humility. It also teaches us courage. And helps us practice taking healthy risks. When we deny our children and family members the right to fail, we deny them the opportunity to learn and grow and truly understand what it takes to be successful.

Taking Realistic Next Steps

Our recovery will progress as we learn to accept we are powerless and we’re going to fail—a lot. Paradoxically, we will discover this feels pretty empowering. When our child or relative stumbles in recovery, we are better able to maintain our perspective. When we stumble, we can offer ourselves some compassion. As each of us works our own program of recovery, we discover healthier coping strategies that help us meet life on life’s terms and meet each other with more respect and kindness.

Just as we are all at risk for relapse, we all can reduce our risk by reaching out for extra support. This is especially important during the first year of recovery. Perhaps the most readily available support for parents and family members are 12 step groups like Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and Codependents Anonymous. In most communities, these groups meet one or more times a week. Individual and family counseling may also be helpful for exploring underlying causes of addiction and dysfunctional family patterns. Faith communities can be wonderful sources of support. Some even have recovery- focused fellowships.

Know someone who might benefit from this post? Please like and share this post with them. Or, if you have questions or comments, please leave them below!  We’re always looking for ways to keep the conversation about recovery going.  Education is one the most powerful tools we have combat addiction.

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