It’s tough to be away from a loved one who’s getting help to overcome drug addiction or alcohol abuse, possibly combined with a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression. You want to be supportive without being intrusive.
Figuring out the right balance between too much and not enough contact can be tricky, yet it’s vitally important. Here are 10 ways for families to stay involved during treatment:
1. Keep Communications Regular
Work with your loved one’s therapists and care coordinators so you know the days and times when you can communicate without interrupting schedules for treatment and therapies. Sometimes, especially during the first few days after entering treatment, there’s so much going on that your loved one needs to adjust to their new routine.
But once you know the schedule, make sure to communicate regularly. Your loved one, who wants reassurance and encouragement from you while they’re getting the help they need, will value this consistency.
2. Participate in Family Therapy
One of the best ways families can stay involved during treatment is to participate in family therapy. And fortunately, there are many options available.
Individual and group therapy sessions, as well as two-day intensive family programs, help family members learn about and face the disease of addiction. These programs might involve experiential activities, psychodrama, and an introduction to various self-help or support groups.
3. Join a Recovery Support Group for Families
A lot will change as your loved one completes rehabilitation and returns home. This can be an exciting — but stressful — time, and you’ll want to do all you can to prepare for it.
One way to prepare is to join a recovery support group for families, such as Al-Anon and Alateen. It’s important to know that other families are going through similar experiences and to have a safe, supportive environment in which you can share your challenges and learn from what’s worked for others.
4. Stay in Touch With Your Loved One’s Primary Therapist
Part of staying informed is knowing who to ask. The person who knows the most about the challenges and progress your loved one is making during treatment is their primary therapist.
You’ll want to stay in regular contact with this individual at the rehab facility so you’re up-to-date on what you need to know about your loved one and how you can help. The primary therapist can tell you what you can do now and when your loved one returns home.
5. Be Ready for Changes
It’s critically important to understand that there’ll be many ups and downs in your loved one’s recovery — not the least of which might be relapse. Relapse is a risk especially in the first 90 days of recovery from drug and alcohol abuse, and it’s nothing to be frightened about or ashamed of.
Relapse only means your loved one might need more time learning and practicing coping strategies and getting used to living a healthier lifestyle, as well as working on underlying issues that might continue to cause problems. They could require additional counseling, such as for addiction or depression. By recognizing that there’ll be challenges, you’ll help your loved one — and yourself — immensely.
6. Keep Expectations Reasonable
You and your loved one want as speedy a return to normal as possible. But it’s not wise to encourage or bring up goals that might for now be out of reach.
Granted, you want your loved one to remain clean and sober and to put substance-related issues behind the family. But this desire isn’t always the reality, and you need to be aware that recovery takes time, hard work and determination — on the part of the person in recovery and of everyone else in the family.
Take it slowly. Praise your loved one’s progress. Hold off on criticism, and be upbeat, supportive and loving.
7. Create a Nurturing Home Environment
It’s wonderful be home, but for the returning loved one, coming home might also mean coming back to some of the stresses and triggers in place before they went into treatment. To best help your loved one upon their return, make it a point to rid the home of whatever stresses and triggers you can. If your loved one struggles with alcohol, clear the house of anything alcoholic. If drugs were the problem, put prescription medications under lock and key. Scour the house for any drug paraphernalia and dispose of any illicit drugs you might find.
Creating a nurturing home environment for your returning loved one also means attending to schedules and conflicts within the family that might have been a sore point before. Try to get help to make everyday scheduling easier. This help will be important when your loved one attends 12-step or support groups following rehab.
8. Visit Whenever Possible — and Be Upbeat
The circumstances under which your family member went into treatment aren’t as important as the fact that they’re working on overcoming addiction, addressing their problems, discovering underlying issues, learning coping mechanisms and figuring out how to live in sobriety. But beginning recovery can be a time of great loneliness, confusion, anxiety and doubt as your loved one tries to come to grips with this change in their body, perceptions, emotions and outlook on life.
When you visit — and do visit whenever you can — be supportive, loving and optimistic. Your loved one desperately needs this attitude while undergoing treatment. They need to know you’ll always be there for them and that you love them unconditionally. You demonstrate that support with frequent visits.
9. Educate Yourself About Addiction and Recovery
Many family members are mystified about addiction and what goes on during treatment. To be involved in your loved one’s recovery, learn as much as you can about the particular addiction or addictions they have, what the recovery process entails, what you can expect, and how you can help. Much of this information is available online, and your loved one’s care team can let you know where to find additional resources.
You can also participate in family education sessions at the facility. This resource is an excellent place to gain knowledge about addiction and recovery and about how to be a strong part of your loved one’s support system.
10. Expect Progress – and Take Things One Day at a Time
Instead of worrying about the worst that could happen, a better way to stay involved during treatment is to expect progress. Then take everything one day at a time.
Your loved one didn’t become addicted to drugs or alcohol all at once. It took time. Likewise, learning how to overcome addiction or dependence to substances or process addictions will also take time. In the self-help groups, the mantra is “one day at a time.” This advice holds true for the family members of those in recovery as well.
By Suzanne Kane