Helping Your Loved One Recover
A Guide for Families with a Loved One in Recovery
When a family member is in the process of recovering from a substance abuse problem they need their family more than ever. A supportive family who understands both the disease of addiction and the recovery process can be the difference between recovery and relapse.
The family needs to recover as well. The pain, broken promises and mistrust require healing. An addicts family has gone through an enormous struggle. Often for many years. It is not an easy process and it won’t get better overnight, however, there are clear steps to take to get down the road of healing for both addict and family. This guide will give you may tips and ideas. Also be sure to get your loved one involved in our alumni program and support groups at home.
Part One: Helping an Addict Before Treatment
Addiction is often called a family disease because it so completely impacts family and loved ones. Many feel anger and resentment for the way they have been treated by the addict or the way the addiction impacts the family’s life. Children and spouses often develop their own problems with relationships; either co-dependency, insecurity, or the inability to trust in a relationship because of what addiction has done to their family dynamics. Most loved ones are concerned about the addict’s behavior, health, and safety.
Getting a Loved One into Treatment
Many loved ones feel the burden of finding help resting on their shoulders. The addict is often uninterested in treatment or feels they can quit on their own and don’t need help. However, when it becomes apparent the individual does need professional help yet are not willing to accept help, family members need to be the ones to step in and ask for help.
There are countless excuses loved ones will make before actually confronting their family member or friend:
When the excuses run out, and the person is still being controlled by addiction, it is time to get help. Families who take the first step and ask for help usually wish they would have taken action sooner. The best way to get a loved one to accept help is to consult a professional. A professional interventionist will help loved ones prepare to confront their loved one, be there when they talk to the person and then follow up with admissions so that the family doesn’t have to worry about anything along the way.
Enlisting the Help of an Interventionist
Interventions differ depending on the individual, family dynamics, and the history of addiction. Some families can talk to an interventionist or admissions staff and after hearing their advice, confront their loved one on their own and convince the person to get help. Other situations are trickier. For loved ones who have already talked to their family member and been rejected, or addicts who are adamant about not going to rehab, a more formal intervention might be necessary.
Before confronting the addict, some groundwork must first be laid. Family or friends should meet with the interventionist to talk about the person’s addiction history, current substance use, underlying issues, and family dynamics. As the professional gains an understanding of the individual and their family, they can come up with a plan of action that will be the most successful. During the initial meeting with family members, the interventionist will talk with loved ones about how the addiction has impacted them and coach them on how to convey those thoughts and feelings to the addict when the time is right. Sometimes, professionals encourage the family to write their feelings down in a letter, so that they can succinctly make their point during what is often a stressful intervention process.
Confronting the Addict
Once the interventionist feels the family is ready, they will set up the intervention. This should be done in a non-threatening location, at a time when the addict is sober (or as sober as they can be) so they can have a productive conversation. During the intervention, loved ones should remain positive, loving, and compassionate, and not accuse or demean the person. It is understandable to be angry and show emotion, but emotions should remain controlled to the point that a civil conversation is still possible. Most importantly, the addict needs to hear from loved ones that their addiction is harming not only themselves but others around them, and that family and friends do care and want what’s best for the person. If the family enlists the help of an interventionist, they can expect the professional to be present either in person or by phone or live video feed to moderate the conversation and keep things on the right track.
The goal of an intervention is to get the addict to see the problem and agree to get help. In the case that the person relents and accepts help, it is important to have a treatment program already lined up. As soon as the addict agrees, they can be taken to the rehab facility — before they change their mind. Too often an addict is willing to accept help one day but decides the next day they don’t really need help. If the person is already enrolled in a treatment program or the family has at least decided ahead of time to get that person into the program, they are much more likely to enter treatment.
Supporting the Person, not the Addiction
Families can provide encouragement and support even with loved ones who will not agree to get help. If the addict is not in a place mentally or emotionally where they will accept help, it can be heart-wrenching for loved ones who are so concerned about the person. This is not the end of the world, however, but it does mean family members will need to work harder or make changes in their life to continue to reach out to the addict.
One problem loved ones of addicts often have is enabling the individual. Family members who make excuses for, pick up the slack for and financially support the person making it easier for the addict to continue using. On the other hand, loved ones who set limits and show tough love actually make the addict reconsider and think about their actions and how they affect others.
Family and loved ones who do not succeed in getting the addict into treatment should get involved with support groups for themselves, such as Al-Anon and Alateen. These groups help families understand addiction better and develop positive skills for dealing with the addict in their life. They also help loved ones focus on their own needs and how they can improve their own emotional and physical health, despite living with an addict.
Part Two: How Family can Help During Treatment
When an individual is addicted to drugs or alcohol, all those around them suffer, especially family and close friends. Not only do family members of addicts have to watch the individual deteriorate and worry about their health, but drugs and alcohol often lead people to become argumentative, violent, selfish, inconsistent, demanding, and moody.
Families who struggle with addiction often suffer from strained relationships, as loved ones try to figure out how to interact with the addict. Many loved ones develop co-dependency when they struggle with relationships that are one-sided, abusive, and destructive. Other family members learn how to enable the addict in order to keep peace in the household. Loved ones don’t mean to harm their addicted family member, but without knowing it, many end up encouraging the person to stay in their addiction and make it very difficult for them to ask for help.
Families Contribute to Recovery
Addiction rehab is the best way for someone addicted to drugs or alcohol to take control of their life and learn how to overcome addiction. When family members are allowed and encouraged to participate in therapy, the family structure is strengthened, and the individual is able to recover more fully. Family involvement in therapy provides many benefits because loved ones can be one of the greatest sources of support for someone in rehab. Family involvement also means loved ones are getting help and therapy for their own issues, leading to repaired relationships and long-term relapse prevention.
There are many ways family members can get involved and contribute to recovery. First of all, concerned family and friends are often responsible for getting the individual into treatment in the first place. Secondly, they can be supportive by encouraging the addict to participate wholeheartedly in their treatment plan. Whenever possible, loved ones should make sure the family member is attending therapy sessions and support group meetings, even driving them to and from appointments when necessary.
Family Therapy for Long Term Success
A good option for loved ones is family therapy, which is intended to educate families, rebuild relationships, and facilitate sobriety. Family therapy sessions are so important because they help all those involved work through past conflict, receive and give forgiveness, develop positive communication skills, and work to form better relationships. During family therapy, loved ones learn about the disease of addiction and develop effective ways to deal with the addict without enabling or demeaning them.
Just as addiction is a disease that takes time to heal, broken or strained relationships take time and effort to heal. With professional help during the rehab process, families are able to move forward in a positive manner toward a healthy life of sobriety. This helps lay a good foundation for long-term success, as the addict and their loved ones learn how to reduce stress, communicate effectively, and interact in positive ways.
Benefits of Family Involvement in Therapy:
Learning about Addiction and Communication
Addiction rehab can be a difficult and confusing time, especially for family members who want to help out but don’t know how. Family therapy helps family members understand the loved one’s addiction and how their own actions impact that person. Because addiction is such a complex disease, impacted by loved ones and past experiences, it is important for families to participate in therapy together so they can learn about addiction. Loved ones who participate in family therapy are better equipped to deal with their family member during and after rehab when they will need to provide ongoing support and help with relapse prevention.
Family support during treatment helps counselors understand past conflict with the addict and see firsthand the family dynamics. It allows loved ones to learn how to communicate, with the help and guidance of a treatment professional. Most importantly, it brings the issue of addiction into the open, so loved ones feel comfortable talking about the subject, knowing they are working together toward a solution. Loved ones who participate in family therapy show the recovering addict they are supportive and want to help them succeed.
Part Three: How Family Can Help After Treatment
When treatment is over, loved ones are often anxious to get their family member home and for things to get back to normal. After rehab, however, there will still be work to do, and loved ones can play a major role in helping their family member get back to real life and watching for and preventing relapse. Loved ones should learn about addiction and know what to expect when their family member returns home, make the home a safe place for the person to remain sober, encourage the person to participate in support groups, and watch for the signs of relapse and report it if necessary.
What to Expect When Your Loved One Comes Home
Family members who expect everything to be easy and normal after rehab will be sadly mistaken. The days, weeks, and even months after rehab are full of fear and uncertainty, but with the help of a treatment program and a relapse prevention program, loved ones will know what to expect and will be prepared to help their newly sober family member.
When a loved one comes home from rehab, family members can expect them to act differently. When the person was using, their personality changed, and now that they are sober, they might be quieter, less outgoing and boisterous, and more reserved. They are likely seeing life differently, as they continue to process what they learned in rehab about relationships, stress, triggers, and ways they deal with conflict. Families should give their loved one time to process things and not rush him or her. They shouldn’t be surprised if the person reacts differently to things now than they used to, and they shouldn’t pressure the person to do anything they don’t feel ready to do.
The biggest change families usually notice in their sober loved one is the person’s focus in life, habits, and activities. At one time they probably spent much time with problematic friends, in questionable locations, doing drugs or drinking. In sobriety, this all needs to change. In order to preserve their recovery, the individual will need to focus on positive people, places, and activities. Families should be prepared to help the recovering addict implement these new changes.
Making the Home a Haven for Sobriety
When families live with a drug addict or alcoholic, they are surrounded by an endless supply of substances. Once the individual is sober, there should be no drugs or alcohol in the house, and even drug paraphernalia and clothing, posters, music, and movies that glamorize substance abuse should be thrown out. Family members can help by cleaning out all the alcohol, drugs, and drug-themed apparel and gear, and encourage their loved one to do the same. This will remove unnecessary triggers and will help minimize cravings.
Family members can also help the individual return to regular life by reducing conflict and stress in the person’s life at first. Returning home is a big step, and the person should not be expected to work full time, deal with relationship conflicts, take care of the kids, and maintain the house all at one time. Loved ones should help the person ease into life so that they can learn how to use their coping skills slowly. Eventually, the individual will need to know how to handle all of life’s challenges without turning to drugs or alcohol, but it is beneficial at first to keep stress to a minimum.
Support Group Participation
One of the best ways to prevent relapse is to participate in support groups and peer mentoring groups, and families should encourage this participation. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, church-based support groups, alternatives to 12 Steps, and alumni groups are all ways a newly sober individual can gain encouragement and motivation to stay sober. Families can help their loved one by making sure they attend support group meetings, get out and interact with other sober-minded individuals, and stay connected to the rehab facility’s alumni group. Sometimes the individual just needs to be reminded to go to meetings, other times they need a ride. Family members should do what it takes to help their loved one stay involved with the recovery community.
Relapse prevention is perhaps the most important thing families can help their loved one focus on after recovery. This is done through reducing triggers, dealing with stress, building positive relationships, and associating with other sober individuals during and after treatment. Those who have been through rehab need to know their loved ones will stand by them and stay sober with them. They need to see family members as part of their team that they can confide in.
Loved ones often feel the weight of their family member’s recovery on their own shoulders. They feel that if the person relapses it is somehow the family’s fault. Families need to remember that their loved one is able to make his or her own choices, and all loved ones can do is encourage the person, set a good example, watch for relapse, and ask for help when necessary. Check out our guide to staying sober for tips on maintaining sobriety.
Relapse is a real risk for those who have been through addiction recovery. Loved ones should be aware of the signs of relapse:
Families that believe their loved one is showing any of the signs above should consult a professional. No one can keep anyone from relapsing, but they can get help for the person quickly, lessening the damage done by relapse.
Part Four: What if Your Loved One Does Not Want Help?
Excuses addicts make:
Some people say addicts need to hit rock bottom before they can accept help, but this is not necessarily true. True recovery can start at any time during addiction, but the individual must want to get sober and be committed to recovery in order for it to be successful.
Keep Encouraging Them
If your addicted loved one is not receptive to recovery, for whatever reason, don’t give up. You might need to take a step back and stop bugging them to get help, but don’t give up. Whenever possible, work in encouraging conversations that let him or her know you still think they should get help, and that you would still be willing to help them get into a good rehab program. Always make sure the person knows you love them and are concerned about their wellbeing. It is OK to let them also know how their actions are affecting the family and that you are hurt by their addiction.
Talk to a Professional Interventionist
If you haven’t done so yet, consult a professional to help get your loved one into treatment. Families are often amazed at how a professional can get an addict to accept help. Sometimes it just takes hearing from an outside source that the person needs help. Usually, though, it is the advice and guidance of a professional interventionist that helps families convey exactly what they are feeling in a calm and loving manner that allows them to really get through to the addict. Families who utilize intervention services have a higher success rate for getting their loved one into treatment.
Don’t Enable the Addict
Sometimes the addict just won’t agree to get help, even after an intervention or conversations with loved ones. If this is the case, there are still things loved ones can and should do. First of all, family members should take a close look at their own actions and attitudes and look for places to make improvements. Often, the actions of loved ones contribute to addiction and families don’t even know it.
Enabling is often done out of concern for the addict but ends up making the situation worse. Loved ones feel compelled to make excuses for the addict, to downplay their actions, and to cover for the person. However, when they do this, families actually help solidify the addiction because they take away the natural consequences of the person’s actions. Calling in sick to work for the person, making up excuses for their absence, taking over their household tasks, lying for them, and giving them money are acts of enabling and should be avoided.
Instead, set clear limits and stick to those limits. If you tell the addict you will not cover for them anymore, help them financially, or do things the addict is capable of doing themselves, you must follow through and keep your word. Over time, the addicted loved one will realize their family is not going to make things easy for them to use anymore.
Work on Yourself
We all have our own issues and struggles, and no one is perfect. If your addicted loved one is unwilling to seek help, stop worrying so much about that person and instead look at your own problems. Families of addicts have plenty of dysfunction of their own, including co-dependence, excessive drama, violence, grudge-holding, and anger. Many of these conditions are best treated by a professional, whether or not the addict receives help also.
If when you look at your own life you see emotional or psychological struggles that are going untreated, consider talking to a counselor or therapist. Loved ones of addicts find that they are more energized and emotionally able to deal with the addict in their life after working through their own problems. Support groups for loved ones, such as Al-anon and Alateen are also helpful for families of addicts who won’t get help.
What if Family is Part of the Problem?
Too often, family members try to overlook their past and forget about conflict and hurtful words and actions that took place. Loved ones are often part of the problem of addiction, however, and when a person tries to get clean they need to address negative events in their past as well. When family members’ actions contribute to a person’s addiction, the individual needs to work with professionals to heal these old wounds. In cases where loved ones are unable to support the addict in recovery, it is best for family to step back and let their loved one go through treatment alone. Family therapy, while an important part of the healing process, is beneficial only when loved ones are committed to recovery and will follow therapists’ help and advice.