How to Respond When Your Child Relapses

When our children go to treatment, we might expect that they will return home cured of their addiction or mental health issue. Unfortunately, a stay in a treatment facility will not fix any person forever. Recovery is a lifelong journey. For some kids, a stay in a treatment facility might have been the first step in an on-going process. For others, treatment was the best option after a series of interventions yielding no results. 

Regardless of where your child is in their recovery, a relapse might occur throughout recovery. When relapse occurs, we might feel like treatment failed or that our situation is hopeless. Relapse is just a sign that something is going wrong and your kid is defaulting to their prior maladaptive behavioral strategies. Breaking bad habits takes time. If your child is facing new challenges or stressors in life, they might resort to older behaviors that come out during times of distress.

What is Relapse?

Relapse means that something is going wrong that needs additional work. Many believe that relapse only applies to a resurgence of former behaviors. For example, when a child struggles with alcohol addiction, they can only relapse with alcohol. Relapse can take many forms and exist on a spectrum of behaviors. People in relapse have not necessarily hit rock bottom again. They have had a slight slip-up that has very few negative consequences.

With a broader definition of relapse, you can see that there may be many avenues of finding help. Relapse does not always mean that your kid needs to go back into treatment. Depending upon the nature and severity of the relapse, other options can help get your kid back on the right track.

Plan for Relapse

The best way to manage a relapse is to take proactive measures for prevention. Everyone wants their kids to get better quickly. Always hope for the best! However, planning for what to do in the event of a relapse can give you peace of mind. 

Kids need support persons to help them identify early warning signs of relapse. People rarely hit rock bottom overnight. Usually, warning signs and red flags appear beforehand. To some extent, these warning signs can also be considered relapse, as they will require some type of intervention before getting worse.

For example, a child recovering from depression might start sleeping in a bit on school days. They start rushing to get to class, showing up late, skipping breakfast, etc., once or twice a week. As they skip meals and deal with the consequences of being late, the behavior might snowball into more days of sleeping in. Though the relapse began with sleeping in once or twice a week, the longer this pattern continues, the more likely the child will experience more depressive symptoms. They might fall back into a full-blown state of depression.

Know Your Child’s Warning Signs

Treatment facilities, like Fire Mountain of Estes Park, Colorado, invite parents and families into the treatment process. While in treatment, you and your child can develop strategies for returning home successfully after active treatment. Parents and kids can sit down to work on contracts for returning home. In these contracts, parents and kids can lay out some potential warning signs that things are going wrong and what to do to intervene.

When kids and parents work through these contracts while in a healthy mental space, they can have a clear strategy for remaining healthy at home. A written plan that both you and your kid agree to can alleviate some worry about relapse. 

Open and Honest Communication

Sitting down to write contracts helps establish open and honest communication among your child and their support team. By doing these things while your kid is in a good space, they will have some clarity on what might signal a relapse. When kids feel comfortable being honest, they might come to you about any struggles they have. Always keep the communication going both ways. Let your child know that you are here to help them without judgment.

Always keep the bigger picture in mind. Remember to give feedback when your kid does something right. Frequently, parents might not speak up until they see something going wrong. Remind your kid of the significant progress they are making—like helping with chores or coming in at curfew. These small steps lead to substantial changes in recovery. Each small step in the right direction can help to prevent relapse from occurring in the first place.

If your child relapses after active treatment, you might consider options for what to do depending upon the circumstances. Not all relapses mean that a child has hit rock bottom. Sometimes, a relapse can be a warning sign that things will continue to get worse. Plan for these warning signs before your kid hits rock bottom. You might need varying types of interventions for each warning sign, like increased therapy, support groups, more structure, a routine, or other ways to manage the current situation. Hope for the best, and plan for the worst. Planning for relapse does not mean that you do not believe in your child’s chances of recovery. By having a strategy in place, you and your child will have peace of mind knowing that all the details have been worked out before a crisis. If your child experiences a relapse and you are unsure of what to do, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here to help. We can offer advice and options for what to do next. Call us at (303) 443-3343.

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