When someone in recovery "slips," who should know?



My husband’s last slip from heroin use was small. He used, told me, and was back at recovery right away. We didn’t tell his family (parents and sibling) because it we didn’t think it necessary to involve them. They found out months later and were angry. They felt lied to and questioned my husband’s treatment plan. After a family meeting, they discussed their boundaries and concerns. We agreed that in the interest of building back trust through full transparency, my husband would let the whole family know whenever there was a slip.

Well, there was another slip. And while I insisted that we had to tell his family to stay true to our word, my husband was overwhelmed with anxiety. The fear of facing his family’s anger and disappointment again seemed more harmful to his recovery than telling his family would be helpful. They don’t see the progress or celebrate the honesty and communication. They just see the slip as a failure. After talking to his individual therapist and our couples therapist, we decided not to tell them. We don’t see it as hiding anything from them, but rather, putting his recovery first.

My husband’s family is not really on the same page as us when it comes to recovery. They refuse any kind of support network because they “don’t have time” or “don’t want to talk about it with strangers.” They also refuse any kind of therapy. I think they are of the mindset that they don’t have the problem, so why do they need help. I understand I can’t make them do anything - their recovery is their own. And they are extremely supportive in other ways - helping with childcare when my husband was in rehab, when we have therapy appointments, etc. But if they can’t provide the emotional support that my husband needs should he slip, then should they know about it? And how do we tell them that we changed our minds - that going forward, we’re not going to let them know every time there is a slip?


I completely understand this as I caught my boyfriend (long term recovering heroin addict) smoking opiates in the bathroom just a couple months ago. I responded in a lot of anger but we sat down and talked through a plan calmly. He has been back on track since then and doing well so far. There were some ups and downs with that conversation alone as there were some disagreements but ultimately, I told him I am going to trust that he knows what is best for him. I have been incredibly patient with him and have been doing nothing but speak from a loving place. I think he has appreciated that trust and patience from me. From what it looks like, his mental health seems to be in a better place because of it.

My initial reaction was that I wanted to tell his close friends, family, and friends from rehab. I thought maybe this would help him and let him know how many people love him and support him. However, I realized it was just adding to the shame and guilt he was already feeling from a relapse. He felt that announcing it to everyone felt like we were all talking about how much of a failure he is and he didn’t want that. He told just a few people that he trusts and moved on. He felt that if he kept dwelling on it by telling other people, it would just bring him right back to another relapse. I respected and trusted what he wanted and so far he is doing great.

It doesn’t help that his family seems to have their own opinion about addiction and recovery. They see everything as black and white or that only one thing works (which is absolutely not true, every journey is different). They are stubborn and won’t listen to anyone else because they are so confident they are right. They will be persistent with what they think is right and I think that can be extremely harmful to his recovery.

My thoughts are a bit scattered today so I hope I made sense. I wanted to at least share the circumstances I went through so you know you are not alone! I think it is amazing that you and your husband can communicate the way you do.


Thank you for sharing! It definitely helps to know I’m not alone. Your boyfriend’s family sounds a lot like my in-laws. I just wish everyone saw recovery the way we do - with empathy and open minds. It takes a lot of work in everyone’s part - work that not everyone is willing to put in.


Really good question @momentsandlight. It’s hard to give a concrete answer!

I think what comes up for me is communication - clearly communicating to your husband’s family about what kind of response/support is wanted/needed if you tell them when there’s a slip-up. What language, advice, body language, etc. is helpful and wanted and what is making recovery more difficult? And/or maybe it would be helpful to have an agreement about how you tell them? Only in text or email so their response(s) can be better monitored?

This is probably not my most eloquent response - just some thoughts!


Thank you, Katie! It always comes back to clear communication, right?! :slight_smile:


Such a good question and it must put your brain in a blender and heighten tension - everyone has family! Maybe revisit the question or expectation with hubby’s family. I would work on first what do you and hubby want to do? How would you really would like to handle. What is the need to “know” or “what support” can be given during good times versus times of struggle? There is nothing wrong with changing the “guidelines” with a conversation and understand the reasoning or benefit to “knowing”. Maybe a family member will have a “light bulb moment” that while may be nice to know, some folks don’t do anything knowing or not knowing.

I do not share with my sibling any information about my son’s recovery. They had a fall out and sibling is not open. I typically don’t offer any information about my son’s recover, unless asked and if it is a person I can trust, then I will share information. If I wasn’t living with my mom, I probably wouldn’t tell her. Mom is 82 and if I could save her the worry I would- yet she is a strong lil’ gal! I hear from many and my own experience family is tough to please! Do what is right for you in your heart!


It certainly does! But wouldn’t it be nice if there were a magic button so we didn’t have to have hard conversations?! :wink:


Thank you for your response! Helps me not feel so bad putting his recovery and our family’s needs first. I guess I just want everyone to be happy! But I can’t control their feelings, and if our decisions make them angry, that’s not our problem. That is something they have to work on. Just having that conversation is the hard part because I really hate confrontation!