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He’s Relapsing Right Now, Should he Leave Home?

boy leaving mom in shadow
This Allies mom is confused and discouraged, and wary of being manipulated by her son. He is relapsing while still at home.

*This post originally appeared on our Member Site blog, where experts respond to members’ questions and concerns. To sign up for our special offer and benefit from the Allies in Recovery eLearning program, click here.

“Dear Allies Team, My adult son has SUD. He has been abusing opiates for many years and now lives at home, with the understanding that he must stay in some sort of treatment program and not use. Six months ago he relapsed. At that time, he willingly gave up his keys and took his car off the road. For months we drove him to work, appointments with his counselor, and to the suboxone clinic, as he is on a MAT plan. Per our request, he reached out to a recovery coach as well. He seemed to be doing quite well, and we were so hopeful that he had turned a corner.

During this time he saved up enough money to purchase a used truck for work. We felt that he was ready to start driving again. I guess we were wrong, because he has used again, at least three times in a three-week period. My husband is fed up and thinks it’s time to ask him to leave, but I’m not so sure. My son is going back to counseling tomorrow, and says he is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. He says he doesn’t want to go backwards and doesn’t want to let us down.

Are we being manipulated? Are we enabling him by letting him stay? I’m not sure that he is willing to do the hard work necessary for long-term recovery.”

Dominique Simon-Levine reassures this mother that the recovery process is full of ambiguity

Your son is living at home and has relapsed. You and your husband are divided on whether to ask him to leave.

Thank you for writing in. This is a core issue for families, one that we have written about several times before (see other posts on this topic = home as a reward).

Your son used opiates several times after months of being abstinent. He says he will do everything to succeed but you have your doubts. What you may be feeling is his ambiguity: I want to use, I did use, but I don’t want to use, I want to succeed. Ambiguity resides in all of us when faced with change. It is part of the change process. If, as family members, we wait around for a 100% commitment from our loved one, we will almost certainly be waiting a long time. Family members must make decisions and take actions in an environment of probabilities.

David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy, put it like this: “A world of contradictions, wherein everything is gray and almost nothing is black and white.”

Your son is on MAT, is still talking to a recovery coach (?), sees a therapist, and says he wants to try again.

The truck was purchased with money he earned, I assume, so maybe he has a job. He knew that driving was a trigger and asked you to take his keys. After months of being ferried around, he thought he could drive again and this freedom—to some degree—caused a relapse.

Relapsing is the trial and error of recovery. Patience is needed

A structured, safe environment such as you provide your son, with taxi service to appointments, has no doubt helped him get some footing. Stepping out of that closed, protective space may have caused the problem. But he has to step out at some point, and there are all sorts of perilous things in the greater world. It is a learning process with feedback for him.

He’s back on his feet and promising to do better. Go back in time in your son’s life and you will probably see a series of trials and errors, promises to stop (either to you or to himself), followed by starting to use again. See this post for a graphic representation of the elliptical process of recovery. It is less the turning of a corner than a slow, curvy road that eventually straightens out.

I see a lot of willingness on the part of your son. He is doing more than most to fight a crushing addiction. Look at his actions: MAT, giving up his keys, recovery coach, therapist.

What can you both tolerate?

Now what about you and your husband? Can you agree to having him stay in your home if you make things a little more temporary? We’ve written about a bed in some common space with a foot locker for his things. Alternatively, is there a safe place he can go live? Maybe this is just too hard on you both and your son needs a sober house. This is also about what you can both accept going forward.

Along with the restricted space in your home, can your son agree to add more into his recovery plan? Seems like self-help is a hole. We provide a list of options in the Resource Supplement (available on our member site). What will it take for him to get into that truck and drive to a self-help meeting rather than to the dealer?

Finding the right level of consequence

CRAFT suggests small steps, and this applies to both you and your son. Your son has relapsed. There must be natural consequences… His living situation just got a little tenuous. He is now in the den and is asked not to come home when he is high, being welcomed back when he is not. He now has to check out various self-help options in the area.

If you and your husband can do this, it may be the right level of consequence. The aim is of course to let him feel the discomfort of the natural consequence, while being careful not to squash his motivation to jump back into recovery.

Yes, the family DOES have a role to play. Your stance, behavior, and choices DO make a difference. At Allies in Recovery we are absolutely convinced of this. “Tough love” is not a successful technique. Our learning platform is set up to help family members learn the techniques that will reduce conflict, build that bridge of communication, and be effective in guiding your loved one into treatment. Together we will move your loved one towards recovery. Learn more here.

Illustration © Eleanor Davis


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