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Her Relapse Felt Like a Slap in the Face

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AiR member Millicent wrote in to share news of her daughter's recent relapse. She is concerned about her daughter being unable to stay away from her heroin-using boyfriend. Meanwhile, Dad is planning to visit their daughter at the inpatient facility where she just began treatment. Dominique Simon-Levine provides some guidelines for the talk he is planning to have.

Hello again– Thanks for your response, Dominique. My daughter, in fact, did relapse, as you suggested in your answer to my recent post. Last week, she went to her therapist, who realized what was happening and in the midst of their session, brought my daughter back to the rehab. I had to empty out her possessions from the sober house and dropped them off to her there. The rehab took her phone away. I asked that they not allow the heroin-using boyfriend to visit and they complied with my request. She is (of course) upset that she can't see him, but believes it's the rehab who is not allowing him to the visit. Part of me believes that she is going to find a way to see him one way or another. Meanwhile, my husband is planning to visit over the weekend. He has a very strong relationship with her and believes she may be more open to talk if he is alone (I agree). He wants to be tough with her for the first time. Her relapse occurred a few days after he suffered a mild heart attack (now he is recovered) and right after her birthday. He has done everything possible to help her and plans to say that he views her relapse as a "slap in his face." I'm scared that will put a huge wedge between her and us–I know that part of her is humiliated etc., about failing to stay sober. At the same time, I feel like she has really crossed a line and is heading for a continued downward spiral. This relapse was in connection with much heavier drugs than in the past (snorted heroin for the first time and smoked crack cocaine.) Any observations, suggestions would be so welcome. Thank you.

I am sorry your daughter relapsed. It sounds like her therapist did an excellent job of moving her quickly to inpatient.

Being in touch with bad-news people, trying harder drugs ….. unfortunately, these can be part of testing the limits of sobriety/relapse. Hopefully the feedback she will get back from these actions will echo what folks in AA are fond of saying:

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

We are glad your husband is okay. Here is the stance I might suggest your husband take when he sees her.  What follows are some generic guidelines, which he will want to personalize. There are several key areas to touch on:

Thanks and pride that Loved One is trying & Recognition that it's hard

  • I appreciate your efforts at sobriety and the difficulty of staying sober.
  • Thank you for making these efforts.
  • I feel proud that you keep trying and are making a serious effort.

What your continued use is doing to me: health, feelings, "I" statements

(Perhaps it's not so much a "slap in the face" as it is a deeper concern and a huge amount of fear that her relapse caused him….)

  • I feel deeply concerned about your situation.
  • I've been experiencing a huge amount of fear and upset around your relapse.
  • I need to think of myself. My health is fragile. Your choices are causing me consternation.
  • I feel hurt by your inability to focus on much else. It feels selfish and unloving.

What you are going to do in the future that is different if this continues

  • I will continue to do everything I can to help you get the treatment you need.
  • I will need to distance myself from you when/if you begin to use drugs again.
  • I love you very much but your drug use comes at a high price for everyone in the family.
  • Our family is at a crossroads. We love you but cannot continue to support your drug use in any way. Please think of your future and ours while you are here in rehab. Please listen to what is said and consider a gentler, more loving life for yourself and us as you move through these next couple weeks.


In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Hello- I haven’t written in a while, but have so appreciated your perspective in responding to myself and others, so here goes: My daughter, 22, left rehab three weeks ago. She was there for 3 and a half months, in part, because the facility offers an extended stay to those who seem extremely motivated, as she was. In exchange for working at the facility, they offer cost-free treatment. She was very popular there, and everyone commented on how motivated she was and how she inspired others.. She is now living in a highly structured sober house and is about to begin a year-long program at a beauty academy. Returning to college is out of the question for now, since she would be at high risk for using/relapsing on campus. My question: her last two relapses came about in connection with a particular boyfriend (heroin addict), and she began smoking crack and twice snorted heroin. While she was in rehab,the guy was arrested. He spent two months in jail, awaiting placement into drug treatment program. She remains close to his father and his toddler, where, since leaving the rehab, she has visited a few times. After she left rehab, she told me that she also visited the guy while he was still in jail. As of a few days ago, he was placed through the court into a drug treatment program. I don’t think he can receive visitors nor receive phone calls; he can call out occasionally. Everyone has cautioned her about this relationship. The good news is that she didn’t lie to me about visiting him in jail, realizing I would not be happy about it. However, I told her that I would appreciate knowing the truth, rather than being lied to. As much as I wanted to tell her to stay away from him, I refrained. I understand I have no control over this part of her life; nothing I can say will deter her from maintaining this unhealthy relationship. I can only hope that once she begins her new course of study, while also living in the sober house and attending AA/NA meetings, the relationship will naturally slow down. Meanwhile, can you make any other suggestions that I might not have though of? Thank you.

    1. I am in a similar situation with a 22 year old with a BF in jail that I and her dad strongly do not approve of and she knows it. She is using but not “yet” in rehab, as it seems as if she has not hit bottom or near bottom. Nothing bad has happened that I know of but she is super secretive. She has a good job and seems to do OK there but I fear it is a matter of time. She is secretive so I don’t know what she is using or when or how much but it’s easy to see she’s high sometimes.

      So for you, I say, that in moments of clarity I say to myself all I can do is try and show her what a loving family is (rare opportunities that I can) and text her positive reinforcements about herself. I only hope that she decides to go the right way and not the wrong way but it’s terrible feeling so powerless..

      1. DEAR Cokeeke– Yes, I agree–we are powerless to change the behavior of a 22 year old determined to engage in behavior we don’t like and with people we fear may bring her down. Like you, I try to emphasize the positive influences in her life (family), and all we can do is hope that ultimately she will see the light! I believe it’s important to stay connected so I try to keep my anxiety private. She appreciates that and sometimes opens up, which I attribute to my holding back judgement. However, they know how we feel about their ‘silly’ choices of guys. Sometimes I say off-offhandedly, every woman has at least one bad boy in her background. You deserve only the best. Maybe she’ll hear that!! Good luck.

  2. Love these suggestions. I have finally been able to see that a subtle shift in wording away from ways that cause my daughter to feel even more shame, and towards ways that express my need for self care, have had a powerful effect. It is empowering for both of us, and so much healthier. Thank you for reminding me to continue with this approach regardless of where she is in her recovery. (I think she would thank you too!)