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I’m Worried He’s Relapsing

Sunset Silhouette on Cliffs

tlrunning suspects her Loved One is heading towards another relapse. He struggles with severe alcoholism as well as clinical depression and anxiety. But her contact with him is limited and she isn’t sure whether or not to bring up these concerns.

My 33 year old son is showing signs of another relapse. Over the last 8 months he has completed three 28 day treatment programs for his alcohol addiction. His counselors wanted to see him move on to a step down situation but he was unwilling. He told me he was going to do an IOP where he lives. I don't know if he followed through. He is in the advanced stages of the disease. His most recent BAC was .460. He requires medically supported detox because among other things, he has seizures. He suffers with clinical depression and severe anxiety. He has talked of suicide in the past and has made one attempt. Last year he moved to a new town 250 miles from me. He has been able to keep his job because he works from home and is not really accountable to anyone on a regular basis. However he has no insurance. He is extremely isolated. I have had little communication with him since he returned to his home, mostly text messages. I'm not sure how to address my recent concerns about his relapse with him or if I even should. His sobriety coach has encouraged me to "just be his mom showing love and patience," and "trust the process." It seems weird to me not to say anything about my concern. Kinda like ignoring the elephant in the room, so I have been avoiding calling him.

Your son may have relapsed. What is sad about this situation is that your son asked for more residential and was told he needed to step down. You describe a young man with severe alcoholism. Alcohol withdrawal causes seizures and is why withdrawal in a medical unit is critical. The depression, anxiety, and even suicidal behaviors can be the result, rather than the cause, of his drinking. It’s hard to know until he is abstinent for a long while whether these mental health conditions would improve or if they are organic, separate from the results of drinking.

I think talking to his recovery coach is fair game. Just tell him your fears about the possible relapse. Ask him to reach out to you if there is trouble. You can follow his lead with this right now. He is in the closest contact with your son for the time being.

Perhaps you can also reach out to your son by text, saying something like: “Whatever is happening with you, I am here should you need more help.”

Love and patience is good advice. Bringing up other concerns about his recent relapse, etc. may be too much. These are hard conversations and they have the potential at this time to bring up even harder feelings. There is healing to be done, and at this stage, love and patience certainly won’t hurt.

You don’t need to know exactly what is going on to be supportive. Your son is in early early recovery. It’s a bumpy time. I am glad to hear he has a recovery coach and is willing to attend an IOP. Can you imagine gliding over the specifics of your son’s use during this stage?

Can you live with not knowing for the time being? Your son is being followed by a coach and hopefully professionals at the IOP. This is probably as good as it is going to get for now.

The family “stance” as per CRAFT is to partner with your LO. You let them know: I am here, let me know if you need help and I will move heaven and earth to get you help. I love you. I am not going anywhere. You can also offer encouragement and praise of what you see them doing that is positive. Since you are operating at a distance from your Loved One, it’s harder to assess this, but we’d say it’s best to stick with the neutral and/or positive statements, and steer clear from directly addressing the use in general.

The Learning Modules on communicating with our Loved Ones recommend keeping conversations light, but being open to the heavier topics arising if the Loved One brings them up. To facilitate this, we counsel the family member to remain open and loving, practice empathetic listening, and build compassion so that the Loved One is more likely to confide in you. When we bring up the heavy topics, even when it’s out of concern and love, it can be hard for the Loved One not to feel defensive, and shut down communications. We want the opposite – to keep the communications open.

The rest of it is up to you in terms of how to manage your side of things from one day to the next: what you do to support yourself. In order to be at your best when those opportunities to communicate do arise, self-care is an absolute necessity. Even if you aren’t talking about the heavy things with your son, you can talk to therapists, support groups, members in this community, etc. Even writing about this in your journal can be relieving. It’s so much to shoulder and you can’t do it alone. This is why we are all here.

Tending to yourself as you practice patience and “trust in the process” as his coach recommended may mean different things on different days. You may need to work on managing your own anxiety and stress in the meantime. Not easy… But absolutely worth it. We talk about how to recenter when negative emotions have taken hold in Learning Module 7. Every day is an opportunity to practice with these skills. We can learn so much by staying in the present and cultivating more awareness on a moment to moment basis. And practicing with this is something positive that we can do as we face situations in which we may otherwise feel unable to make a difference.

Being a loving parent, offering simple messages of support and a compassionate, listening ear does make a difference too. Connecting yourself to supportive environments like this, listening to podcasts, reading others’ stories, finding the community wherever you can to help with your day to day well-being – these things make a difference as well.

We are here for you. We believe in the power of these communities, and we believe in your son. And we know that there is hope. No matter how bleak things may have gotten in the past, there is always the possibility for something new around the corner. With each moment there is this possibility. Your son is working with a coach, and although you know he could use a lot more connection and support, at least he has this guidance right now.

Please keep in touch with us about your situation. We wish you peace and strength.



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. This is my second time writing here. My son is an alcoholic and the past year has been very difficult for him. I live at a distance so I don’t often see him, but he calls me nearly every day. He has sounded much better the past few months and said he had stopped drinking. He even got a job, but quit after a few weeks. Today I talked to him and he sounded terrible, hungover and depressed. He can’t seem to get over his breakup with a girl after 4 years of living together. It’s been about 6 months and he’s still very very sad. I encourage him to get help but he doesn’t reach out. Should I fly down to him and try to help? I have recently had breast cancer surgery and radiation and I need to take care of myself too. I believe he’s worried about me too. Any suggestions would be appreciated.


    1. Your son is struggling with a serious breakup. He sounds depressed and is drinking.

      You can help without flying down there and exhausting yourself. Your health is very important. I suggest a list of treatment options for him. You can help him find the treatment, pay for it, if that’s an option, and figure out transportation. Perhaps you say something along these lines:

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to katie1chad here:—should-i-fly-down

  2. GM Tlrunning, thank you for sharing your story. I have LO’s who are also ‘doing their own thing’ and I’m worried! I’ve carried the pain of worry and shame for far too long…it has affected my health, my life. It’s also difficult for me not to inquire about use…This “AIR” method has assisted me in changing my language, persuaded me to take and or create a space I have control over ….a positive thing… my day starts w/a walk in nature, a coffee, listening to radio personalities….all things I can control. I think about my LO’s all the time, I have a deep love and I miss them too…I think I’ll send them a short hello, I know they’re comfortable with short responses…I’ll have to wait for the opportunity to say more…and I pray all is well. Sending you positive vibes