Tips on how addiction & recovery works
Being there for a loved one with substance use issues can be extremely confusing. Whether or not they are still in active addiction, if you don’t understand addiction or how recovery works, it can be hard to know the best way to help without enabling the addiction. Those close to the addict may want to help during the recovery process, but sometimes they lack the knowledge, understanding of addiction and tools to truly be supportive.
Often, family and friends unintentionally engage in behaviors that may contribute to a person’s addiction continuing or that can hinder their recovery. Educating yourself about addiction and recovery can be extremely helpful and empowering. The more you understand about substance use disorders, the better you can be at responding in effective ways. The following 10 things are just a few important pieces of knowledge that loved ones of addicts and alcoholics should know.
1. Addiction is a disease can be managed, not cured
When you care for a person, it is extremely difficult to stand by and watch as their health, relationships and life prospects deteriorate as a result of their drug and alcohol abuse. Naturally, you want them to stop using the substances that cause so much damage in their lives. Unfortunately, substance use disorder is a complex, relapsing disorder, and it is not so easy to just simply quit. This is because drug addiction is both a mental illness and a complex brain disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking/drug use despite the harmful consequences. Like many other diseases, recovery from addiction requires comprehensive treatment that addresses the many emotional, behavioral and relational issues that are a part of the disorder. Recovery works, but it is important to understand that addiction treatment is the first step in a long process of healing.
Struggling with addiction? Call us for a free consultation & learn how recovery works
If you are considering addiction treatment for yourself or someone in your life, now is the time to take action. Addiction is a deadly disease that has taken too many lives, broken up families and destroyed futures. Recovery works for so many and it can for your family. Liberty Ranch offers free consultations. Call 888-387-1531 to talk to a specialist that can let you know about the treatment options available and help you select the right program.
One misconception that loved ones have is that following a treatment program, the individual should be cured of their addiction. However, thats not how addiction recovery works. Expectations of friends and family to simply “get better” can serve as an added weight, hindering a person’s recovery. Often family and friends have watched the person they care about struggle with substance abuse and have waited so long for them to get treatment. Once they enter treatment, the expectation is that they will be cured. Yes, treatment can save lives. However, it is equally important that those close to the addict understand that aftercare and learning to manage one’s addiction in the real world can be just as critical to their recovery.
Because addiction is a chronic disorder, it requires post-care following treatment as well as continued management. And like other chronic diseases, relapses are not uncommon and indicate the need for additional treatment.
A long-term stay in treatment can help those with substance use disorders successfully adjust to life without substances while providing proper support and guidance, whether they are early in the recovery journey, have relapsed or are simply struggling. Liberty Ranch offers an intensive outpatient treatment, which focuses on helping participants create a new, recovery-centered lifestyle and developing life skills. Following treatment, long-term sober living and continued participation in peer support groups are extremely valuable to the continued management of a person’s substance use disorder.
2. Your “help” may be hurting your loved one
It can be extremely painful to watch a person hurt themselves by abusing drugs and alcohol. You may have tried everything you can think of to help your loved one get clean only to be met with denial and defensiveness. Likely your countless attempts have had little effect on their substance abuse and sometimes, your help may actually enable their addiction.
When you love someone, you want to save them from pain and hurt. In the case of addiction, it is hard to sit by and watch a person destroy their lives without trying to protect them. For example, parents of addicts may bail their child out of difficult situations to prevent them from ruining their future. However, when you prevent a person with a substance use disorder from experiencing the negative consequences of their addiction, they have much less reason to stop using. Moreover, if your loved one doesn’t want to stop abusing substances, without feeling the negative consequences that result from their substance abuse, how realistic are these future prospects anyways? Other enabling behaviors include providing financial support, allowing drug use in your home, calling in sick to work for them, failing to follow through on stated consequences, trying to solve your loved ones problems for them, offering unsolicited solutions or advice and saving them from legal issues.
Instead of trying to fix your loved one’s problems, learn how recovery works, communicate with them about your concerns, let them know you care about them, and set boundaries around substance use in the household, financial support and your relationship with them. While you cannot force a person to get sober, communicating and setting clear boundaries for what you will and will not tolerate and allowing them to make their own decisions is often much more helpful for both parties. For more information on how to talk to your loved one about boundaries and consequences, check out our article on how to help a drug addict son.
3. Recovery works, but it takes time
It may seem logical to expect that if drugs or alcohol were creating problems in a person’s life, getting clean and sober would solve these issues. However, this is not the case for most as recovery works with time, commitment and consistency. Getting off of drugs and alcohol is a first step, but it doesn’t solve the underlying issues that caused the person to turn to substances in the first place. Because substance abuse is often a coping mechanism for deeper emotional difficulties, to truly heal, individuals must work to address their underlying problems and build healthier ways of coping that don’t involve substance use.
Treatment programs, like the Liberty Ranch Intensive Outpatient Program, help clients identify and address the core issues that contribute to their addiction. Addiction treatment programs can be life changing, sparking a person’s ability to see a new way forward, helping them address deep-seated issues, teaching healthier behaviors and beginning the healing process. Your loved one may return from treatment feeling positive about new prospects and looking forward to rebuilding their life.
This motivation can drive a great deal of change. However, it is important to consider what happens when life’s challenges and triggers return in full force. Though treatment often sparks a critical change in the addict’s life, for it to be sustainable, reinforcement and long-term programs can provide crucial support as a person learns to navigate life without substances. Research finds that patients who stay in long-term treatment are more likely to have better outcomes.
Learn more on helping a loved one with addictions and how recovery works
Check out our guides to learn more about dealing with substance use disorders:
- Guide for Teen Addiction
- Guide for Addiction in Adult Children
- Guide for Women and Addiction
- Guide for Dealing with an Addicted Spouse
- Guide for Adult Children of Addicts
- Guide to Parenting as an Addict
- How to Help a Drug Addict Son
- How to Let Go of a Drug Addict Son
- Sober living near me? Guide to choosing a sober living home
Your loved one may feel like they have healed from their addiction and don’t need additional support when things are good, but it is during the difficult times that person’s recovery is put to the test. The transition between treatment and the “real world” can be harder than expected. Once a person leaves the supportive treatment environment and reencounters life’s difficulties, they may become distressed and be tempted to return to old behaviors. Navigating work, responsibilities, and relationships with friends and family who only know them as an addict can be extremely overwhelming.
Though treatment helps equip individuals with many of the skills needed to address their issues, those who struggle with substance abuse have often spent a lifetime dealing with difficult emotions through unhealthy coping mechanisms. Unhealthy ways of coping can become a reflex response that one is unaware of and truly unlearning these behaviors takes time. Being able to effectively process feelings, pain and trauma in productive ways is a skill set that must be developed through practice and reinforcement.
Sober living can help participants build the life skills they need for a sustainable recovery from addiction. Spending 9 to 12 months in a program can help participants truly adapt to a new lifestyle and learn how recovery works. Residents are supported as they practice life skills, develop healthier habits and integrate functional behaviors. Programs prepare participants as they work towards building a healthier future without substances while providing support and guidance.
4. Emotions can be all over the place in early recovery
If your loved one has just begun their recovery journey, you may wonder what to expect. Recovery works for those who are committed, but it is a long road full of ups and downs. It’s important to educate yourself on the process of recovery to know what to anticipate and be able to respond in helpful ways.
Early recovery can be an especially challenging time. Your loved one is experiencing the world without drugs and alcohol. Substances may have helped them avoid their emotions and make it through difficult times. Once a person has detoxed and is no longer on any substances, these emotions that were once numbed can come flooding back. This can be an intense experience. Grief, guilt, anger, hurt, sadness and other emotions that have been buried can all rise to the surface. It can be scary and overwhelming to contend with the rush of emotions.
It can be difficult to watch as your loved one struggles with these painful feelings. It may feel like things are getting worse before they actually get better. You may even bear the brunt of these bubbling emotions at times. Your loved one may go from emotional highs to lows in short periods of time. Likely they don’t know how to deal with or regulate painful feelings, which may have led them to turn to substances in the first place.
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Learning how to process and regulate emotions is a critical part of the treatment process. When a person stops using substances without proper support, they may lack the emotional tools to sustain long-term sobriety. Developing this skill set is extremely important, as those who have difficulty with emotional regulation are more likely to relapse. This is where treatment comes in. During treatment your loved one will work on effective ways to manage their emotions and respond in healthy ways. Emotional regulation skills can be practiced and learned in therapy, group counseling, and through other activities. Treatment programs often employ behavioral therapies to help with this process.
You can support your loved one in this process by recognizing they are going through a lot of changes, anticipating a range of emotions, acknowledging their feelings, doing your best to be understanding and participating in treatment activities when asked. You may also benefit by attending your own therapy to cope with these changes. Moreover, once your loved one completes treatment, it may be valuable for them to attend a sober living program where they further work on developing these and other skills.
5. Expect your relationship with your loved one to change
Of course at face value, the idea that your relationship with your loved one will change once they are clean and sober makes logical sense. However, as recovery works, many fail to fully grasp what this really means for the relationship. Not having to deal with the consequences of their drug and alcohol use can feel liberating, but there are other changes that can be harder to accept. Often the personal growth made in treatment has sweeping impacts on many dimensions of that person’s life.
Part of healing from substance use disorders involves therapy, counseling and looking inward to address the issues that caused the addiction in the first place. Those in treatment may engage in therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to increase life skills and learn healthier ways of responding to stressful circumstances. Addressing core issues and making behavioral changes usually impacts how they choose to relate to others in their lives.For instance, you may find that your loved one no longer wants to do the same activities you once did together. They may also set new boundaries or want more independence in decision-making.
As a loved one, though you may see their overall growth as positive, it can also be stressful, because as that person changes, so will your relationship with them. They may be used to calling or leaning on you when something goes wrong. As they go through treatment, they may find their dependence on you prevents them from taking responsibility for themselves. These steps are positive, but it can also feel like a loss in some ways. Even though you didn’t want them to keep using substances, it may have felt good to be needed and to help them, which is one aspect of codependency. Loved ones may find it difficult to adapt to a new style of relationship with better boundaries. However, building a stronger and healthier relationship requires fundamental shifts in the way you interact and relate to one another. Individual and joint counseling may be helpful as you build this new relationship.
6. Recovery works best when the whole family participates
Another area that may change overall family dynamics. As the loved one of the addict or alcoholic, it is easy to blame them for many of the issues their behavior has caused. However, addiction doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Sometimes the substance use disorder is a symptom of other underlying issues in the family. Family systems is an approach to therapy that conceptualizes the family as an interconnected system in which individuals are often forced into rigid roles to maintain the status quo. The family is looked at as a unit, and each person’s behaviors and responses impact the overall system. In dysfunctional family systems, the problems of the individual, for example substance abuse, may reflect larger issues within the system (the family). Many family problems can be passed on through generations.
Interactions of family members in a dysfunctional family system often unintentionally support the stability of a person’s addiction. In families with addiction, it is common for each family member to take on a specific, inflexible role within the family system. For instance, if a parent abuses alcohol and is regularly too drunk to fulfill their care duties, one child may take on the role of being the responsible child. Parentified children are often relied upon to take care of themselves, their parents and their siblings. Designating a child as the responsible one not only supports the dysfunction in the family system, it also enables the alcoholic to continue drinking. Additionally, these rigid roles can have lasting effects on that person’s long-term wellbeing. For example, pressure and responsibility can hurt the parentified child in the long-term, as parentified children are more likely to experience higher levels of stress and anxiety. Rigid roles also make it challenging for family members to effectively communicate their needs and seek support from one another.
So what does this mean for you if your family member or spouse struggles with a substance disorder? Well, if you are a part of a family where addiction is an issue, when healing from addiction, dealing with dysfunction in the overall family system can be extremely helpful to the addict and the family as a whole To truly support your loved one’s recovery, the family will also have to adapt and create a healthier more flexible family system. Group counseling and family behavioral therapy can be an important part of the healing process for all family members. This requires commitment and a willingness to look at your own role in the family system, which can be challenging and painful. Strong treatment programs like the Liberty Ranch’s Intensvie Outpatient program offer family counseling to work through such issues, improve communication and support overall family health.
7. Recovery works best when you don’t try to control your loved one’s choices
As the loved one of an addict, once they are in recovery, you may feel a huge sense of relief. You no longer have to watch them hurt themselves by abusing drugs and alcohol. The weight of their addiction and wondering whether or not they will end up in jail, in the hospital or dead may feel as though it’s lifted. However, for some, following the completion of treatment, new fears set in.
Family members, significant others, and friends often take on the weight of their loved ones’ recovery, feeling responsible for their success. The fear of relapse can cause a great deal of anxiety for those who have experienced the negative consequences of a loved one’s addiction. For some, this can lead to extreme feelings of worry and preoccupation with knowing where the addict is and what they are doing at all times. It can be terrifying wondering why they haven’t answered their phone. Have they relapsed? Did an argument cause them to start using again? Are they lying about their substance use as they did in the past? These fears are real and founded, as rebuilding broken trust is a crucial part of the recovery process. However, when fears may become constant anxieties they can manifest in unproductive, harmful and controlling behaviors.
For instance, you may begin to believe that by keeping tabs, constantly monitoring your loved one and questioning them about their decisions, you are helping them remain on the straight and narrow. You have been burned many times, so by being suspicious and overly investing in their recovery, you can stop them from using again. But it can be easy to confuse support with control. Although both come from a place of love and concern, attempting to stop your loved one from using by controlling their behaviors usually backfires, because in the end, they must make the daily decision to stay clean. It is also important to be able to manage such fears productively to avoid negatively impacting their recovery. Instead, participate in treatment counseling activities when invited, work with a professional to learn how to communicate your concerns more effectively and get your own support for yourself.
8. There is such thing as too much support
If you were emotionally or even financially invested in helping your loved one seek treatment, once they get into recovery, you likely want to be there for them. Support from family and loved ones can be a critical part of a successful recovery. However, too much support can add unneeded pressure when a person’s recovery is still fragile. Being overly involved in every aspect of their recovery and not allowing your loved one space to make their own decisions can be detrimental to their journey as well as your relationship with them. Suddenly, they have to manage rebuilding their lives while bearing the weight of your expectations. It can feel as though you are waiting for them to fail. Of course, there is a great deal of trust that must be rebuilt through therapy and other avenues, but support through control tends to have the opposite effect than intended. It is important to recognize that you cannot prevent your loved one from using substances or control their decisions.
Don’t make everything about their recovery. Sometimes, when you don’t allow a loved one personal space to grow, it makes them feel incompetent and like they can’t truly turn to you or let you know when they are struggling. This adds barriers to communication, leading them to hide things from you and further increasing the distrust. Instead, find healthy ways to support their recovery without adding additional pressure. Remember, their recovery journey is their own and they have to choose it. Empower them by letting them know you believe in them and you are there for them. Offer positive affirmations, learn about recovery, work on healing individually, focus on rebuilding trust and take care of yourself.
9. Help your loved one focus on today rather than on the future
One day at a time is a well recognized mantra in the world of recovery. There is a reason it is so often repeated in 12-step groups. Many find their recovery works best when they keep this idea in mind. This phrase refers to the importance of focusing on what you can control and do to make today a good day. A reason for focusing on today rather than the future is that, for many, the idea of never drinking or using drugs again seems extremely overwhelming. Although most addicts have experienced many negative consequences as a result of their substance use, drugs and alcohol also provided some value to them. For example, substances may have helped them get through difficult emotions or repress trauma. The loss of substances, which to some felt like a best friend who helped them through bad times, can feel scary and even sad. The addict may have even liked who they were when they used substances. Maybe it helped them feel more comfortable in social situations or to connect with others. The idea of never being able to turn to substances again, can feel downright impossible.
For this reason, focusing on today’s decision not to use substances often leads to more positive results and removes some of the pressure. Each day, those in recovery can meet achievable goals, taking things step-by-step rather than feeling like they have to reach the summit of Mount Everest. You may be excited to see the positive changes your loved one is going through in their recovery journey. It can be tempting to want to make plans for the future. You may want to help them build their new life or attain educational goals. However, big future goals can feel overwhelming, unachieveable and lead to downward spirals. If a person you care about is in recovery, try not to place pressure on them by projecting to the far off future. Instead, let them focus on the progress they have made thus far and the good decisions they can make today.
10. Practice self care by getting support
In recent years the concept of “self care” has become increasingly prominent. However, caring for oneself can mean many different things depending on the context. Self care is individual and depends on a person’s particular needs. If someone close to you struggles with addiction, self care is especially important because, when you are constantly concerned for a loved one’s well being, it can be easy to neglect your own physical, emotional and financial needs and focus on their issues.
Dealing with addiction can feel isolating and lonely. It can be helpful to join a peer support group like Families Anonymous of Narc-anon. These groups are especially beneficial because they allow loved ones of addicts and alcoholics to connect with others going through similar experiences. Participants learn a great deal about how to effectively support their loved ones without enabling their addiction. Once the addict in your life is in recovery, new challenges emerge. If you are not familiar with the recovery process, it can get quite confusing and emotional. Family peer support groups provide guidance, connection and education as you navigate the process of recovery.
It’s also important to think about the ways in which you too have to heal from your loved one’s addiction. Though they may be in recovery, it is likely that you also have some recovering to do. Research shows that children of substance abusers often feel guilt, anger or a sense of responsibility for their parent’s addiction. Even as an adult, when one’s parent is in recovery, the feelings of pain, hurt or anger don’t simply disappear. Though you want to be supportive, you might feel a sense of anger or unfairness having to support the addict in your life or praise their progress when they hurt you or weren’t there for you. Rather than stuffing these feelings down, it is important to acknowledge and process them. In addition to attending counseling with your loved one, seeking individual therapy to work through the emotions that come up during (or prior to) recovery can be a great way to care for yourself. Other forms of self-care include taking a vacation, giving yourself a break when you need it and creating healthy boundaries with your loved one.