5 Things NOT To Do When a Friend Relapses
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5 Things NOT To Do When a Friend Relapses


This post was originally published on May 12, 2014.

If there’s one thing that can suck about getting sober, it’s the pain of watching a friend or loved one relapse. Whether it’s a “planned” escape from their 12-step program or a momentary dive-bar slip-up from someone who’s navigating abstinence on their own, relapsing just all-around bites (even when it happens to someone else!). On that note, here are a few things we suggest you don’t do when someone you care about “goes out.”

1) Don’t Internalize Their Lapse in Judgment

Your friend’s inability to stay clean has absolutely nothing to do with you. I repeat: Your friend’s inability to stay clean has absolutely nothing to do with you. If there’s one idea to hammer home for yourself, it’s this one. I know you feel guilty and pissed that you weren’t able to help—or even “save”—your buddy. But reality check: no one can “save” someone else. It’s white-knight savior fantasy talk—delusional, even. Leave the fantasy in the bedroom and embrace the truth: This simply isn’t your cross to bear.

2) Don’t Let it Impact Your Resolve

No matter how painful and shitty it is to watch someone else lose their serenity, try really, really hard not to let it affect you and yours. Maybe your friend “went out” but seems to be managing their drinking just fine. Maybe your partner is still free from alcohol but decided to try smoking pot again, and it surprisingly seems to help him relax. Whatever the circumstance, keep in mind that this is their path, not yours. No addict is totally alike; what works for them truly might not work for you. Don’t blindly follow anyone’s lead with something as important as sobriety.

3) Don’t Preach at Them

As mentioned above, your friend’s lapse isn’t your cross to bear. In that vein, don’t make it your mission to proselytize, judge or get otherwise sanctimonious and preachy about what your friend should do next. It’s your job to support them, not save them, and preaching at them will only serve to annoy them and possibly even distance themselves from you more.

4) Don’t Disappear

I know it’s hard to stand idly by and watch someone self-destruct. I know some people feel that others’ relapses can threaten their own sobriety, not to mention their well-being. I get that, and yes, you should take care of yourself—take some space if you need it. That said, I’d also urge you not to pull a vanishing act a time when your friend is most vulnerable and, possibly, lonely and scared. Making your friendship conditional on your pal’s sobriety can be incredibly scary and painful for  them.

5) Don’t Get Totally Discourage

The thing about sobriety and addiction is that they can shift, fluctuate, and evolve over time. Someone who’s sober now might not be sober in 10 years, and someone who’s not sober today might be a bastion of abstinent serenity down the line. Don’t assume the worst about your friend’s chances at returning to a clean lifestyle—plenty of people leave and come back. Of course there are people who don’t, too, but for your own sanity, it’s helpful to think optimistically.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and CNN.com. Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.