Catching early signs is best way to prevent a relapse

Q: I hate to be cynical but it is like here we go again with our son-on-law. He has vowed to quit using whatever it is that gives him a lift, has spent a few sessions with an addictions counsellor and is attending NA (narcotics anonymous) meetings in our church basement.

The problem for us is that we have been here before. He promises to quit using and does pretty good for a while and then just when we and our daughter start to believe in him, he suddenly relapses and we are back to where we started.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could do something that would help our son-in-law get through it this time? Can you think of anything that we might do to give him a hand? We really do want to make this work.

A: Obviously, I cannot do much to help your son-in-law recover from his addiction but I have some thoughts about relapse that might help both you and him better understand what is going on when a person jumps off the wagon.

If you know what you are watching for, you might be able to catch him before he falls into another disappointing relapse.

Relapse is a process that takes a long time. It seldom just suddenly happens. The problem is that when relapse starts, neither you nor your son-in-law know what is going on. It kind of sneaks up on you.

The first stage of relapse is called the emotional relapse. If your son starts bottling up his emotions, isolating himself, missing some of his NA meetings and not really participating when he does attend, if he talks about other people rather than himself and if he is eating poorly and sleeping even less, you can bet that his relapse has started.

He may not even know himself that he is heading down a slippery slope, but he is on his way and it is only a matter of time until he falls back into his addictive habits.

But before he does that, before he makes the final fall back into his addictions, he is going to have a mental relapse. He will start craving his drugs, reminiscing past times when he was with his narcotic friends, downplaying the severe consequences that you and your daughter suffered when he was using, bargaining and lying, planning a time to use, just this once, and looking for excuses to relapse.

Then comes the big fall, the final push, the physical relapse and he is into using, just this once — again and again and again.

You can best help your son-in-law by challenging him when you see the signs and symptoms identified in the above. Don’t be afraid of hurting his feelings, or letting him think that you don’t trust him, because you don’t. Why would you trust him? He has disappointed you in the past. You have to trust yourself and you have to believe that you want what is best for him and your daughter.

Then let him know that you have seen the signs and symptoms of another possible relapse. Let’s get on this thing before it again spirals out of control.

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