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Carole Bennett, MA

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The 4 Most Common Causes of Addiction Relapse (Part 2)

Posted: 10/17/11 09:55 AM ET

Last blog we explored two out of four main dispositions of relapse. This blog will explore expectations and resentments.

Expectations

Falling short of expectations or the feeling that the alcoholic/addict is unable to fulfill what is expected can open the floodgates to relapse. Whether it is your expectations as a friend or family member or the expectations of the alcoholic/addict, expectations can become unrealistic. After all, your loved one can get swept up with that initial fast or easy recovery.

An early sense of comfort can be a honeymoon period that often falsely revolves around a happy work environment or a fairy-tale relationship. Expectations seem fulfilled at this stage, yet when the initial glow of that honeymoon subsides and reality's imperfections set in, your loved one might not know how to deal with the frustration or disappointment; hence, they may turn back to the only way they know to ensure comfort: getting high or intoxicated. It is crucial for the alcoholic/addict to keep a watchful eye on their expectations as well as the family.

Remember that the alcoholic/addict may take on Herculean tasks in an effort to prove to themselves and others how smart, strong or good they are -- or in an attempt to make up lost time due to their addiction. Hence, they might not be able to help themselves, but to over- extend in unrealistic expectations.

If the expectation falls short, the alcoholic/addict may have trouble taking this failure in stride. Therefore, they may revert to the opposite end of the spectrum and find themselves saying, "Screw it, I can't do anything right, so why not have a couple of snorts or belts." Falling short of expectations is a very prevalent and strong disposition for relapse.

Resentment

When the alcoholic/addict has pent up resentment toward a person or place (whether due to a current situation or one from 20 years ago) it can be so overwhelming that in order to quiet the churning of resentment and anger they feel the need to self-medicate to turn off the noise.

For one's recovery to be strong and potential relapse to become a non-issue, there are several roads for the person in recovery to consider in dealing with resentment. Twelve-Step meetings, sponsorship, counseling and religious or spiritual engagement are all valid support systems to help a person in recovery to stay true to the desired course.

Each of these options can also provide ample opportunities for venting resentments. If not resolved, resentments fester amidst the person's inner turmoil until they take the form of relapse or reckless actions.

When I was working as an evening treatment counselor in rehabilitation recovery program, I heard my clients say all too often that they were resentful toward a partner, family member or institution. They got into the mind set of, "I'll show them" or "They'll be sorry," and they went out and used or drank.

Keep in mind that if people with addictions have transferred old resentments that were spawned from family members or friends years ago, and they have done nothing to deal with those resentments, then they might consequently place those resentments onto an unsuspecting and innocent victim with whom they are in a current relationship.

To you, the "normie" or "healthy one," resentments may cause a pimple or two, but usually our actions and emotions stay in check, we work through them, and we move on. The residual effect of resentment may produce some discomfort or even anger, but the outcome is rarely as detrimental as it can be for the alcoholic/addict.

The pity-pot to the alcoholic/addict is a handy way of keeping resentments alive. "Oh, woe is me, no one understands me; I was really dealt a bad hand, and nothing goes my way." Or they might think, "I'm doing the best I can, but I guess it's just not good enough." These are common monologues of self-pitying.

People with addictions can find great comfort on their pity-pots, and if enough pity is allocated to them, then lo and behold, they have convinced themselves they have earned the right to drink or use.

Anger fuels resentment, and resentment fuels anger. This is a vicious circle without an exit gate, and the alcoholic/addict may always find this as a strong reason to justify their relapse.

Alcoholic/addicts may tend to believe their own press that tells them they are no good or are failures. They may think that life has amounted to nothing and that they have accomplished little. Dreams and goals that they hoped for in younger days have taken a back seat due to addiction.

Often they actually resent themselves more than others for allowing this to happen. This resentment could be ongoing and perpetuate a steady buzz in the person's head; therefore, resentment presents fertile ground for relapse.

Other than being open to communicating, there is nothing you can do as a family member or friend to help them deal with their resentment. Remember that some of that resentment might be about you for something you did or did not do -- yesterday or even years earlier. It might be very hard for you to be impartial and difficult for your loved one to come forth with their issues, so it might not be a good idea to offer an empathetic ear.

I have had many clients report that their spouses, family members or friends were growing more resentful toward them because they were striving and persevering in reaching their own personal goals as well as strengthening their boundaries and communication with their loved one.

Please don't allow the alcoholic/addict to clip your wings of growth, confidence and dreams just because they are stuck on square one and, therefore, resent your determination to meet life's challenges head on. This can perpetuate the resentments that you both harbor toward each other.

This does not make for an honest partnership or lend itself toward achieving the common goal of support that healthy partners should have for each other.

Relapse can take on many shapes and forms. The important thing is not what form the relapse takes, or even why one relapses, but rather deciding how one will change and therefore commit to a stronger more formidable recovery program in the future.

What can one learn from a misstep? Relapse doesn't have to be a hanging offense as you want to keep in mind all the previous clean and sober days.

The route of recovery can be a very circuitous path. Be mindful that at the end of the day, only the person recovering from addiction knows how strong their commitment to their recovery program is, and only they know whether they are practicing recovery or relapse.

Please explore my new book "Reclaim Your Life - You and the Alcoholic/Addict" on my website www.familyrecoverysolutions.com and contact me if I can be of service. Check out my holiday counseling special on my website.