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Is Letting Him Relapse at Home Preventing Natural Consequences?

Man relapse

ccomtl2014’s Loved One has now relapsed after leaving treatment on a very hopeful note. She’s been CRAFTy through and through and yet she’s not seeing any improvements on his part. She is wondering if she should let him fully experience the consequences of his relapse and show him the door.

© Ayo Ogunseinde via Unsplash

So as it has been looking like for a while, my partner did relapse. Not sure how long but going by his behavioral signs I would say at least a month but probably more. My reactions in turn when I saw behavioral signs of use/coming down was as if he was using, so neutrally withdrawing, and then rewarding experiences with each other when I was sure he was sober. I tried to make coming to bed a nice experience to disrupt his pattern of staying up all night to use or watch TV, but that didn't work. Honestly it was really hard to tell when he was or wasn't high, and even to be sure if he was using at all or just self-neglecting and being depressed. I've long suspected the depressive symptoms are pretty much always linked to him using though, so for me it's more of a sign of use than anything, but who can be sure.

He would not take his nights medications that help him sleep, and do his using at night, then sleep all day, so not a whole lot of room for reinforcing activities there because during the day he is always coming down. Whenever he seems chipper, he is generally high on stimulants or planning on using. I wasn't surprised to realize he had indeed relapsed, but it is also hard to pinpoint when he is using/coming down, also hard to find a time to reward non-use. The pattern has been: stays awake literally from Saturday through Monday and then sleeps during the day the rest of the week.

Read Ccomtl2014’s full comment here.

Your partner did well in treatment. Now he has relapsed.

After doing very well in treatment, and finding some online help, he has given up. He’s on a waitlist for outpatient treatment. COVID is indeed making things even harder than they normally are, with fewer options for immediate treatment.

You are juggling your own 13-hour days as an essential worker, and life with a chronic illness, while your partner bangs around the house drinking, misusing his learning disorder medication, and obsessively gaming. The difference you describe in your partner’s behavior from when he first left treatment until now is dramatic and worrying.

You describe well your efforts to be neutral, and to avoid confrontation. Your partner is defensive and isn't interested in seeking help to turn the relapse around. But he did go to treatment, and he made the most of it. He is insightful and managed early recovery well, until the lack of recovery input got him off track.

Is it time to ask him to leave?

I don’t think you are at the point of needing to ask your partner to leave the apartment. His actions prior to the relapse are so hopeful and so positive. They are such a testament to the impact treatment had on him. He knows that spending days gaming, drinking, and playing with his learning disorder medication — a stimulant — is not a long-term plan.

Your Loved One is right in the middle of this new using episode and as you are aware, there is little you can do to prevent it. Can you still consider letting him have his relapse in your home? Can you back away even more? Do you have a spare room? Can you go about your life in parallel, continuing to be neutral, as you've been doing? Even better, could you leave for a while?

Make sure you have a detoxification unit on the list of treatment options you created. The alcohol is dangerous to withdraw from, so when he does decide to stop, it’s important that you both know where to turn for help.

Am I making relapse too comfortable for him?

I realize it feels like your Loved One isn’t experiencing the natural (negative) consequences that would normally arise. There are, however, consequences for your Loved One right now: the ones you listed in your comment and some that are less obvious. He is certainly not happy with himself. Being high doesn’t correlate with being happy. Remember that your presence is deeply rewarding to him and leaving him to himself may be one of the most impactful natural setbacks you could impose on him.

This is simply a question of continuing to disengage but doing so in a less confrontational way (you step away, vs. asking him to leave). This may work better in his head than anything you could say right now.

You are reacting well to your partner in his relapse. Your comment tells us that your instincts are good and that you are recognizing when to step in closer or disengage. He is binging, which does make it hard to practice CRAFT in the day. There is little non-using time. So, for now:

  • keep doing what you have been doing, and

  • step further back and away — as far as you can manage.

Not forever, but for today.

The anger, the blame, the frustration: You don’t own any of it

Daily interactions with your Loved One have become increasingly difficult. You describe how defensive and angry he generally is, and you don’t know what to say anymore. He is not happy with himself and you are in the way of his anger, acting as a magnet for all the frustration he is experiencing. When you are in an intimate relationship with someone who is misusing drugs or alcohol, you will be to blame. Your partner will point the finger at you as both the irritant and the person who should save him. Keep up what you’ve been doing and get out of the way as much as possible.

It is crucial that you not let yourself absorb his anger, and that you realize you don’t own any of this. I have said this before and I want to emphasize it again: “His frustration is aimed at you, but his argument is with himself.”

Take this time to place the focus on your Self

Working long hours, taking care of the house, watching your communication and your reactions, worrying about your Loved One and dedicating yourself solely to his wellbeing can only get you so far.

Your partner is hitting a rough patch and doesn’t seem quite ready to get back on track. If this is an invitation to create space between the two of you, could you also see it as an invitation to find time to tend to your own needs and reflect on what makes you feel good?

Can you see yourself adding some small self-care rituals to your daily routine? Could you call a friend and get out of the house to meet for a socially distanced coffee? Can you find a few hours this weekend to take a walk in nature? If you're out of ideas or energy the Sanctuary is always here for you — from guided meditations to funny or touching videos to reflections on what it's like to be the care-taker.

I’m sorry this is falling so much on you. Don’t give up on your partner. That keen sense of desired wellness and the learnings from treatment aren’t gone. He must be very uncomfortable, sitting between a set of new, healthy principles he learned in treatment and the old patterns he knows do not work for him but which are oh-so-temptingly familiar.

Don’t forget that every step of this process is an opportunity for him to learn and build strength. I know the situation doesn’t seem hopeful, but what your Loved One is going through today is part of what can guide him towards long-term recovery.

He's still resistant to treatment. What will he accept help with?

As you consider what's on your list for the "planned conversation" we lay out in Module 8, perhaps you could consider adding in therapy together. I know that he's in relapse mode right now. But when change talk starts coming to the surface, or you see an opening in a calm, friendly moment, perhaps you bring this up.

Having an experienced, neutral professional help you with the recurring arguments over housework could be a real boon.

You could use your private journal, or Key Observations #21, to help you plan out your request. Focus on your goal of getting along better and finding more peace together. Your gentle request could be a response (in the moment or later, once things have calmed down a bit) when he gets worked up about the housework.

Here's an example of what it might sound like:

"I hear what you're saying. You're upset because you feel I'm not giving you a chance to help out.

I really appreciate your desire to pitch in and look out for me. I know you care about me and my health.

I feel tired by the arguing though, and I would so love for us to be able to live together more peacefully.

I have the name of a counselor (or several choices) who works with couples. Would you consider coming with me so we can benefit from the perspective of a seasoned professional/neutral third-party/someone outside of our sphere?"

Remember, when the appropriate treatment for the specific substance disorder is not an option, we recommend that families circumvent that problem by focusing on whatever the Loved One is willing to look at. Perhaps it's his depression. Or maybe the ongoing conflict between you two.

ccomtl2014, you are doing so much right. We commend you for how dedicated you are. Know that we are here to support you. Please reach out again whenever you feel you need guidance.




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. First off, I have to say the free group and this whole website, I can’t say how lost I would be without this site. I had read Beyond Addiction by Foote and the gang, and Get Your Loved One Sober by Meyers in 2016 or so, but the exercises on the website and the chance to have personalized feedback brought my understanding to a whole new level.

    So the situation continues to spiral out of control, and it almost seems to me like this is what he wants? Re: strange being awake from Friday to Monday (without any stimulant use that I can see, he simply does not take his night meds and rides the ADHD hyper focus)… he just plays video games and needs “alone time”…I suspect this is also when he uses, since all he has 7 days a week during the day is alone time. I have no proof though, just my instinct, and I think what little money he can scrounge up maybe he has marijuana for weekends only. Anyway, some natural consequences of this habit finally happened.

    His close friend (who is a good influence and part of the sober circle) offered him a chance to have employment with him and his family, doing maintenance and stuff together in the apartments the friends family owns. This was a great opportunity to work with his close friend, and to have a very very minimal risk job COVID wise (his expressed rationale for staying home for so long). He continued to do his “weekend binge” we’ll call it, whether just obsessional gaming or maybe more, and quite soon he was making excuses to his friend and eventually just stopped messaging him. It only lasted 2 weeks, wasn’t able to be there for a full week. There was a day when he asked me if I thought it was OK for him to skip work on Monday after having taken Thursday Friday off, and was awake Thurs-Sun because he needed rest…I gently said “well, if you’re asking my opinion, not really”. He later cites this as his reason for throwing in the towel and he finds the big chill as the ultimate lack of support for a depressed person.

    He had one session with his counselor from rehab, but the counselor said part of the therapy is showing initiative and taking responsibility, so they will not have another session until my LO emails to book it.

    In rehab they mentioned addictive thinking can be very hard to treat when the person is very intelligent, and I can see that with my LO. I find sometimes manoeuvring my sentences with him to make it CRAFT-y can be extremely difficult. Especially when trying to sidestep a conflict or power struggle, because he kind of needs to project and turn it around on me. I have been doing the ultimate big chill most of the time because I still can’t really find appropriate moments of reward.

    On weekends, he is chirpy and nice, but he is binging, and during the weekdays, he sleeps all day. We don’t eat dinners together anymore, I cook in big batches since it is easier for me, and he can go get some if he is interested, but I say I am in my room working and eating at my desk. I mentioned once too I am trying to make sure he has enough space and alone time during the day, since at one point he said this was a need and his rationale for staying up. I never am able to link it to behavior I do and don’t want to be around, because anything that implies anything on his part, he loses his temper in a scary way (just verbally).

    I got really, really ill myself autoimmune wise and infection wise, so I actually had no energy to really cook anymore and I have a stomach condition now where for a while I’m on liquid diet. He literally just stopped eating, there is lots of food to cook, and I also always have easy things on hand to heat up when I am having bad symptom days. He eats dry pasta, cereal if it is there, or ice cream or anything you don’t have to do anything to (even microwave). It is bad enough to the point he had a real faecal impaction (VERY uncomfortable) from eating only dry pasta, and he understands the link… He sleeps on the couch because he doesn’t make it to bed (it wasn’t a boundary I set or anything).

    Last 2 weeks he was feeling down because the things he has been ignoring piled up enough to become uncomfortable, his friend and his wife are pregnant and my LO was not there to hear the news, he is getting letters from court about bills he has been ignoring, he no longer has this job and I have said some time ago we are getting to the point where he needs to pay his part.

    So, he started really abusing the Vyvanse big time (like long acting Adderall, if you take enough, it brings a similar high), and also I just realized he just stopped taking his antidepressants x 1 week? Weird because he has no problem with the antidepressants, never stated that he wants off them or feeling frustrated about being on them. He used to like helping me with my daily injections since coming home from rehab, because he is so good at it and he feels like it’s part of showing up for the relationship, but I started doing them by myself again since his sleep schedule is so erratic. I did not explain my rationale, just started doing them quietly and he got the message.

    I’ve been letting him suffer on the couch and fend for himself for weeks and I see things really getting quite horrible. He is not interested in couples therapy again, and it was kind of a waste of money because he just pins everything on me. He lies about having emailed his counselor so no movement there. His only interactions now are to state in essence his depression is acting up on it’s own and he did everything he could, so now he cannot be expected to do anything, he is too depressed. I say nothing really, I just non-violently communicate my way out, but he kind of sees that as permission giving… will talk about the depression but no interest in calling psychiatrist or counselor for the depressive side of things.

    Even before he started working with his friend, and before consequences added up, he says things like he hates weekdays because of responsibilities (which he kind of has none really…), and also that he is tired of groups and wants to go back to normal (he hasn’t been to any groups?!).

    The only other natural consequence I can think of is that I am technically paying his portion for the rent/utilities… but I can’t not pay that as it would affect my credit. He doesn’t have a phone, likes it that way. I’ve not bailed him out on any bills he racked up (old phone internet overuse)… upon coming home from rehab, since he had put in such incredible work, was that I’d pay for cigarettes and his consumer proposal payments until he got back on his feet, with the understanding I am willing to financially support recovery. With COVID I am a bit afraid to come in with a consequence like that without my usual safety plan. He’s never been physical, he punches walls though and will yell and follow me around to yell no matter how I try to manoeuvre out of it.

    For the depression the situation isn’t grave enough that a hospital or anything would admit him either, not voluntarily or against his will. I work in the local public mental health system, so I have a good idea who gets discharged home and who doesn’t.

    I don’t know what the next best step is… I thought I had managed to get some good reinforcement there every so little often… and the relationship was neutral or at least no feeding of conflict from my part. Family and friends can’t even express concern or anything because he purposefully has no way of being contacted.

    Do I continue doing the same? If so, how much longer should I give it? I wish I could find a way to even be less stressed about it, because I know it is affecting my autoimmune condition. I am militant level with self-care, exercise every day and eat well, try to get outside and have contacts with friends.

    Sorry for the very, very long message (seems to be my MO by now haha).
    Thanks for your time, it is appreciated more than words can express…

    1. Oops something else to add to my last post yesterday, I realized he just started using my card to buy beer now, so essentially stealing… it always starts little and gets big fast.

      1. … I should have posted all of this today instead of yesterday. I am so sorry to keep going on like this.

        It all kind of came to a head when I came home and he was about to start drinking openly. He said that my withdrawal (he knows a bit about CRAFT) is punishment and makes him worse and he needs to hear it is going to be OK And feels that he is only accepted when he is doing the what we all want (ie recovery oriented stuff) but he cannot do anything until he feels more support when he is doing the wrong stuff… that he is only accepted when he is following what everyone wants. He says he needs to hear he is loved and that it will be OK when he is in the spiral and to stop punishing him. I try to make my withdrawal neutral but he perceives this as punishment too because I am not warm. He knows the concepts of removal of reward because we both work with behavioral issues and so most of the concept of CRAFT is already familiar to both of us. He says he has been going through hell and I am not there because I only love when he is perfect. He is also doing the thing where he relates this to depression not addictive cycle and says my approach doesn’t take into thought the nuances of the situation. He is not interestd in depression help.

        In terms of my side of the street, I came in during a dip or two offering why not lets check in with the counselor. So I said I hear he sees the solution seeking as trying to fix without accepting him.

        I dont know how to respond to this in a way that fits the program. I know I am a bit burnt out and my brain is essentially mush lately but how do I respond?

        1. oh and an important piece: that his brain is telling him this is his fault he f***ked up on nonstop loop makes any solution talk feel like he is being told it is indeed your fault.

        2. Dear ccomtl2014, your comments paint a detailed, and worrying picture. Your “whole new level” of CRAFT (thanks so much for the kudos!) is inspiring to the entire team. We are deeply moved by your steadfast efforts to help your Loved One. You have been applying CRAFT to a T (or as best as any of us could), yet you are not seeing signs of improvement in your Loved One. It feels like he’s been spiraling downward, rather consistently.

          CRAFT can work miracles, yet has its own weak spots
          We have given your situation careful consideration and it has taken us some time to put this post together. We also wanted to speak with an experienced psychologist to get a view of what may be going on with your partner. We asked Dr. John Fitzgerald, who regularly intervenes as a guest expert for us, to weigh in.

          Dr. Fitzgerald emphasizes the need for a good psychiatric evaluation

          “My summary answer is that he needs a good psychiatric evaluation, because it seems like he may have a spectrum mood disorder (Bipolar II). If he can go for four days without sleep (off drugs), that suggests hypomania.

          See Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to cccomtl2014 here: