In late July, news circulated all over the internet regarding Demi Lovato being hospitalized due to a drug overdose. The singer who had been sober for the past six years had released a song weeks earlier called “Sober” about a recent relapse. Fans and friends sent her lots of love and support and recent reports claim that Lovato is stable and undergoing “extensive” treatment and will be recovering at a rehab facility for “several months.” She even shared a recent Instagram post on August 5th letting everyone know that she needs “time to focus on [her] sobriety” and “road to recovery.” But what a lot of people don’t realize is that relapse is actually quite common in addiction recovery and the process looks different for everyone.
When Demi’s story hit the news, while there were a lot of encouraging and supporting comments being made, there was also a ton of confusion. The comments—that I read at least—weren’t necessarily mean or malicious. Demi for the most part received a ton of love from friends, fans—even the media. But misconceptions and myths surrounding addiction and relapses practically flooded the internet in both articles and on social media.. Assumptions about her mental disorder—Demi has opened up about suffering from bipolar disorder and depression—and rumors about her romantic relationships and lifestyle were being made out to look like the reasons behind her relapse. Folks were also confused as to how she even had a relapse after six years being sober. But the reality is that relapse doesn’t look the same for everyone. Its a complicated process and long and hard journey.
“Everyone’s addiction is different. Everyone’s recovery is different and everyone’s goals for recovery is different,” says Dan Sevigny, Entrepreneur, addiction recovery coach and Co-Founder of Recovery X. “A relapse is basically going back on whatever goals you’ve set towards recovery. Some people will view it as a failure but I would view it as a learning experience and if you view it as part of a learning experience, it’s not as devastating when it happens. It’s also easier on the person because if they view it as a failure, that will always bring up feelings of shame for them.”
Sevigny claims that relapses are actually a very common part of the addiction recovery process. “Given that 40-60 percent of recovery addicts relapse (according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse), I think it’s fair to say that relapse is definitely common and happens a lot,” he says. Relapses are normal but they don’t have to be. The key is to help people find a good treatment that works for them and encouraging them to stick with it.”
We don’t know what lead Demi to relapse but honestly, the details of what specific drug she overdosed on and what lead to that doesn’t even necessarily matter. What matters is understanding addiction, understanding relapse, and understanding how to help and support love ones who might be struggling with substance abuse. It’s also important to understand not just how overdose or relapse impacts that individual physically and health wise, but how it often times effects them emotionally. Their mental and emotional state is often fragile. The first rule of thumb is not to shame them. Shame is something most addicts struggle with after a relapse. It’s something they certainly don’t need to be shamed by those around them—especially loved ones.
“Family and friends want to make sure they are helping them but not enabling them. So basically what that means is if they aren’t ready to get help, don’t give them money, or a place to stay, or a car. Because you’re actually endangering them and enabling them to continue harming themselves,” says Sevigny. “As far as helping goes, give them food if they don’t have money for food. Be somebody who is just there for them. Leave that line of communication open. A lot of people are going to misunderstand the situation and so they’ll shame the person for relapsing or make them feel bad about it. Or make them feel like they have to hide something and that’s so detrimental and harmful to the person that’s going through an addiction problem. What they really need is connection and people to support them and be there for them.”
Sevigny explains that relapses and overdoses are symptoms that the individual needs help and should seek treatment, which was clearly the case for Demi who is currently undergoing treatment. The issue is, unlike Demi, a lot of folks don’t know where or how to get help. The information out there isn’t always clear and help isn’t always affordable. Sure, there are substance abuse hotlines like SAMHSA National Helpline which is helpful but often times not enough, which is what inspired Sevigny to start Recovery X, a growing movement of experts, thought leaders and people in recovery who are committed to providing high quality recovery resources in need.
“We help people find addiction treatments for any type of budget, any city, and any type of problem. There’s not a lot of good information out there and that’s what we’re trying to change,” he says. “Recovery X can help people struggling with addiction and we really take the time to listen to people, hear what their problems are, hear what they’re going through and understand the situation so we can pair them with the right treatment option.”
Sevigny also often does Facebook Lives and shares videos on Recovery X’s Facebook page that show him interviewing mental health and addiction recovery experts, leaders, and rehab facility owners as an extra resource for recovery addicts and their families. It’s just another way he tries to bring the information to the people.
The road to addiction recovery isn’t an easy one, but resources like Sevigny’s Recovery X is certainly a step in the right direction. Let’s do our part as friends and relatives of struggling addicts—even just as a community—to support and help folks get the help, treatment, support, lack of judgement and love they desperately need during this difficult time. Because with all that, recovery is definitely possible.