How to Support Someone Who’s Relapsed

John Mulaney Support Relapse

Trigger warning: This article talks about addiction and relapsing.

Yesterday, Page Six revealed that everyone’s favourite comedian, John Mulaney, checked into rehab for alcohol and cocaine addiction. Mulaney has been forthright with his struggles with sobriety, first becoming sober at 23, and using his experiences as fodder throughout his routines.

He isn’t the only celebrity to relapse during the pandemic. Dax Shepard – actor, podcast host and husband of Kristen Bell – revealed on his podcast Armchair Expert that he recently relapsed after being sober for 16 years.

In Australia, around one in 20 people has an addiction or substance abuse problem. It’s a complex disorder, and according to Australian Family Physician is “characterised by relapse.” Rehabilitation service, Odyssey House, says on average it takes nine attempts to achieve sustained recovery from drug dependence.

What we’re saying here is that lapsing is normal, and shouldn’t be viewed negatively. Faye Lawrence, Founder of Untoxicated, says “[It’s] a normal part of the journey, part of the process, and they are not a failure or a terrible human being because of it.” Approximately 58% of addicted individuals will eventually achieve lasting recovery.

The Latch spoke to Will*, who has been sober for five years, who said: “If they’re sober, they’ve been doing something to stay sober. It’s the act of getting them back on the treadmill”.

Will suggested offering to go with them to their support group (whether online or in-person) or encouraging them to reach out to their sponsor or counsellor. He emphasised that you can’t force them into it – to truly get better, they need to do it on their own. As Kristen Bell said to Shepard on his podcast, “Nobody saved you but you.”

Faye agrees, saying “It’s a case of linking back in with services, getting back up and doing whatever they were doing before to stay sober. And maybe adding some more support in the mix.”

The Recovery Village suggests asking your friend if they’d like to talk about it, asking what you can do to support them and repeating mantras like “You made it so far, and I know you can get there again,” and “Nobody is perfect, and we learn from our mistakes.”

“My most salient piece of advice would be not to shame or judge them,” emphasised Faye. “Most people will already be feeling a huge amount of shame, guilt and self disgust at having a ‘slip’ or a relapse.”

Some other essential steps to support someone who’s relapsed include identifying high-risk situations and strategising coping methods to avoid them – or how to deal with them when they’re unavoidable. The Department of Health also suggests setting up coping mechanisms for cravings, whether it’s through distraction or a calm place to retreat to.

Recognising and implementing lifestyle changes is another step you can take. Invite them to cook a healthy meal with you, join you for a bushwalk or to work out with you.

Will says, as a friend or loved one, to remember that “You can’t control it. And it’s not your fault.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit ReachOut or Counselling Online, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the National Alcohol and Other Drug hotline on 1800 250 015.

*Name has been changed to protect their identity.

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