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What Should I Do If My Son Relapses?

Your son has been making excellent progress on his recovery journey, attending therapy and sticking to a routine of nutritious eating, regular exercise and consistent sleep. What should you do if he suddenly starts drinking or using again after a prolonged period of sobriety?

Watching a loved one relapse back into substance use can be heartbreaking and frightening, but there’s no need to panic or lose hope. Here are some action steps you can take to respond to a relapse and prevent future relapses from occurring.

1. Understand Relapse Doesn’t Mean Failure

The chronic nature of addiction means relapse is part of the continuum of recovery for many people. Because of the way long-term substance abuse rewires the brain’s reward center, staying sober isn’t necessarily a matter of willpower for recovering addicts. People living with all kinds of diseases experience occasional flare-ups of their symptoms, and addiction is no different. Relapsing does not indicate your son has stopped caring about his health or hasn’t been trying hard enough.  

2. Recognize the Warning Signs of Relapse

A return to drug or alcohol abuse doesn’t happen all by itself. To a close observer, several noticeable red flags could indicate that your son is on the verge of relapsing. For example, he may be experiencing mood swings or insomnia. He might stop attending his recovery group meetings in favor of hanging out with former drinking or drug buddies. Perhaps you’ll even hear him talking nostalgically about his active addiction, romanticizing the perceived good times he had and glossing over all the adverse effects drugs and alcohol had on his life. These are all warning signs of an imminent relapse.

3. Offer Your Understanding

Your son needs support and empathy during this difficult time. It’s not constructive to react with blame or to say things like, “How could you do this?” Remember, your son is probably already wrestling with a massive burden of guilt and shame for the pain he has caused you and others. The last thing he needs is an overly judgmental parent piling on top of the harsh words of his inner critic. While relapse is a significant stumbling block to your loved one’s progress, it is only a temporary obstacle. Reinforce that your son’s efforts have not been in vain, and remind him of the reasons to keep trying. 

4. Research Treatment Options

Relapsing back into drug or alcohol use doesn’t put sobriety out of reach for your son – but it can indicate a need to return to long-term residential rehab. Everyone responds to treatment differently, which is why recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Perhaps your son struggled to connect with the therapeutic approaches provided in the initial substance abuse program. Maybe it was too short to be effective, or didn’t provide the life skills necessary to lead a rewarding, joyful sober lifestyle. Research various treatment options, so you can have a reputable program lined up and ready to accept him. That way, he can get the help he needs with no delay.

Helping Young Men in Addiction Recovery

The road to recovery is not always a straight path. However, at Spearhead Lodge, we believe the journey is worth pursuing, especially for young men who have bright futures ahead of them. We offer relapse prevention as part of our curriculum, providing our clients with improved self-esteem and lasting recovery. Contact us today to learn more about our single-gender environment and long-term treatment.