Getting your loved one into rehab can be a long and uphill battle, but once they go, the journey isn’t over. In rehab, your loved one will detox, receive therapy and counseling to help them tackle their addiction, learn new coping skills, and learn how to live without drugs or alcohol. However, they won’t be cured, they won’t be the person they used to be, and they’ll still be facing a complex range of problems and symptoms which could result in difficult and hurtful behavior, trauma, and relapse.
It’s natural that you want to help your loved one. While it’s important to keep in mind this is their journey and your helping may be more harmful than helpful, you can take steps to be there, and to offer emotional support they need to stay in recovery.
Understand What to Expect When Your Loved One Gets Out of Rehab
Learning more about addiction, how people behave, and their problems is one of the most supportive things you can do for your loved one. For example, if you expect them to have magically recovered, to no longer have problems, or to be the person they used to be, you will be pushing harmful expectations at them which will create a negative cycle of disappointment. These negative cycles can actually push your loved one towards relapse. Your loved one is suffering from a mental disorder, classified as a behavioral disorder, where not only have their behaviors changed, the chemical makeup of their brain has changed as well. Recovering can take years or even a lifetime and someone in recovery is always in recovery.
Your loved one will continue to suffer cravings, may experience health problems from substance abuse, may experience depression and anxiety, and may experience a range of other symptoms. They may relapse. It’s important that you expect a person who is in recovery and not a person who is completely cured.
You can look for resources including books, attend sessions at Al-Anon, and work to continue to educate yourself through their rehab center depending on the steps you’ve already taken or participate in.
What Helps Someone in Recovery?
While “what helps” can vary a great deal depending on an individual’s living condition, life, and relationships, SAMSHA defines several points which can help an individual to recover.
Health – Making informed choices that support physical and emotional well-being to overcome or manage addiction and its side-effects
Home – A stable and safe place to live
Purpose – The ability to live a meaningful, independent life with the resources to participate in society
Community – Having support, love, friendship, and family through relationships and social networks
In short, the best way to support someone in recovery is to love them, respect them, and remain part of their lives.
Creating and Respecting Boundaries
Setting boundaries is an important step for both their recovery and your mental health. Chances are that you have had a turbulent relationship with your loved one throughout their addiction. They may not have been there. You likely developed negative patterns of behavior that damage your relationship. You may have formed expectations of bad behavior, may be bitter or angry, and may expect your loved one to respond in a certain way to you, to treatment, or to any help that you get.
In any case where you have expectations or problems, it’s important to set boundaries. For example, you can set boundaries surrounding personal space, time alone, things you can and cannot do, lending money, and so on. Here, it’s important to consider your personal relationship and specific past and recent habits before moving forward.
Some ideas of healthy boundaries would be:
You have a personal space and no one will go into it or search it without your consent
If I am angry with you for whatever reason I will discuss it with you and try to solve the problem
If we start fighting, we will stop and review why separately
We will try to recognize and break existing negative patterns of behavior
We will each share what makes us uncomfortable and talk about it to reach a compromise
Boundaries should define aspects of your relationship in a way that allow both of you space to recover from trauma and hurt. This should include expectations, information about how you feel and how you may react as a result, and your hopes for the future.
Boundaries can also help you to avoid stepping into an enabling or codependent role. People can become as addicted to taking care of someone in need as they can of any other reward-inducing behavior. For this reason, some people find themselves acting irrationally, pushing their loved ones, and possibly even engaging in behavior that encourages substance abuse. If you find yourself in this position, it’s important to seek help.
However, boundaries can prevent simple enabling behaviors like paying your loved one’s rent, handling all their responsibilities, and otherwise preventing them from taking on meaningful aspects of life or responsibilities.
Create a Safe and Welcoming Environment
If someone is living with you, it’s important that they be able to feel at home, as though they are safe, and as though they are welcome. Making someone part of the family, accepting them, and making them part of things is one of the easiest ways to do so. This means involving your loved one in family plans, taking them to events, asking their opinion, planning for and around 12-step, having alcohol-free parties, and otherwise including them in everything.
This is often a big step for families with a long history of addiction, because that history often builds mistrust, dislike, tension, and avoidance. Your loved one isn’t cured, but they are trying to be better and your being there for them in this way will help.
Communicate About Them
It’s easy to base most or all communication around addiction, how someone is feeling, about cravings, about 12-step or another group therapy, and about therapy. This shouldn’t be the case. Your loved one is putting a great deal of effort into developing and changing as a person. They’re likely picking up new hobbies, eating healthy foods, and exercising as part of their recovery. Talking about life changes, development, how people feel, their plans, what they're working towards, and life in general is a lot more important than discussing substance use and cravings. You want to show that you care about them, not just whether they’re clean or not, and that means being emotionally supportive in every way.
You might also want to consider showing actionable support in this way by joining them for runs, taking classes with them, listening to them play a music instrument, or otherwise engaging with the changes they are making in their life. This sort of active communication of support is important and it will make a difference.
Seek Out Family Therapy
Addiction changes people. It changes how they act, how they think, and how they feel about friends and loved ones. This will create negative behavior patterns and a cycle of mistrust and avoidance. Breaking those patterns is key to rebuilding your relationship or to building a new one. No matter what your relationship with your loved one, family therapy can help you to move on, make positive changes, and to build a new relationship based on positive behaviors. Here, you can work to recognize negative cycles of behavior, work through problems together, and come to terms with how each of you feel about behavior. Importantly, this may not be one-sided. Your loved one may be equally as hurt about decisions you made while they were addicted as you are about decisions they made during the same period.
Be Honest Moving Forward
It’s important that you create a relationship based on mutual trust and caring. This means being honest, sharing concerns, discussing problems, and staying open with each other. This may sometimes entail asking questions that you don’t want to, but it will sometimes entail reminding yourself that you trust your loved one and their journey. For example, rather than constantly being suspicious of your loved one and potentially getting rid of things like mouthwash that might contain alcohol, you could discuss your loved one’s intentions and tell them you trust them with those statements. You could then follow up to discuss concerns when their behavior changes, if they stop going to group therapy, or otherwise raise red flags.
If your loved one has gone to rehab, they’ve taken the first of many steps on the journey to recovery. You cannot help them as they progress, but you can be there for them along the way. The most important thing you can do is simply caring, engaging, and making them feel like part of the family.