Addiction recovery is a lifelong journey and the time after rehab therapy is when your recovering addict friend, family member or partner needs your unfailing support. The recovery period outside of the rehab center is especially hard for an addict, as now they are on their own and must use the strategies learned at the clinic to build a new, sober life.
Recovery is a slow process and may not bring immediate relief to the caregiver or loved one living with a recovering addict. In fact, this critical period can lead people to reflect on their social and personal relationships and can sometimes drive them apart instead of bringing them together.
If you’re helping a past addict through recovery, here are eight coping strategies that will help you avoid losing patience and getting resentful, thus enabling to offer real support to the other person.
Learn more about addiction, its effects and the challenges to recovery
If you truly want to help a friend or family member struggling with addiction, educate yourself about how addiction works, why relapse is a real threat after rehab is over and how you can support a recovering addict.
Addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling or prescription drugs is very difficult to conquer and people spend years before they can even think of going into rehab. If someone you care for has successfully completed rehab therapy, the best way you can help them is by understanding addiction and the obstacles to recovery, by learning to identify and avoid potential triggers, and by helping the person heal psychologically.
Understanding the different aspects of addiction and its aftermath will make it easier for you to offer genuine support and help your loved one avoid relapse.
Be realistic in your expectations
Just because a person has decided to go into deaddiction therapy or has completed a rehab program doesn’t mean they are mentally and physically ready for a 360-degree turnaround. In fact, the time period after rehab is when an addict needs maximum support from friends and family.
Indeed, if you live with an addict, your greatest desire is to see them be strong and stay sober, particularly after they’ve attended a recovery program. Unfortunately, having such high expectations is only going to bring you disappointment and heartache.
When supporting someone on the path to recovery, understand that progress will be slow and despite good progress, a relapse may occur. The best way to prepare yourself mentally is to not expect any magical changes and show the other person acceptance and empathy so that they feel truly supported.
Don’t exhaust yourself to the point of giving up
In the line of duty, loved ones caring for an addicted person often end up investing too much emotionally and physically, which inevitably blows up as anger and resentment toward the other person.
If you have been with an addict for too long, you would have compromised extensively in terms of day-to-day responsibilities, chores and the financial burden of not having an earning partner.
When you’ve already exhausted yourself at all levels, it can be difficult to continue to be patient and giving while a loved one tries to build a new life. The best way to avoid draining yourself is to take good care of your mental and physical wellbeing while you help someone fighting drug or alcohol addiction. This is especially important during the recovery phase, as sensing disappointment or bitterness can lead your loved one to relapse.
Prepare yourself and other family members for a possible relapse
Even when you’re doing everything right and a recovering addict seems like they’re making good progress, relapse can occur as a result of an unexpected situation or trigger that you could not help avoid.
For instance, while going to work, an alcoholic person in recovery may pass a bar where they used to hang out often. One weak moment can cause them to lose self-control and go inside for just “one little drink” while you wait at home oblivious to the incident.
Relapse can come knocking when you least expect it, and the best way to get through recovery is by remembering that life after rehab may not get as hunky-dory as you had expected.
Create an environment that supports abstinence
Helping a recovering addict stay sober during the recovery period is one of the greatest challenges for caregivers and enablers. The unflinching support of family is crucial for an addict to continue on the path of complete deaddiction. To help them stay sober, you need to build and maintain an environment that minimizes the risk of a relapse.
You can take the following measures to support abstinence.
- Empty your home of alcohol, cigarettes, and other addictive substances.
- Avoid going to parties and family/social celebrations and events where alcohol or drugs may be used.
- Find solo and group activities and events that your partner would enjoy and that would keep their mind off addictive substances.
- Help them focus on building a new healthy and happy life.
- Help them develop meaningful connections with sober family members and friends.
- Let them know from time to time how much their abstinence means to you and your family.
- Avoid passing by or visiting places that could remind a recovering addict of their past and trigger a relapse.
- Avoid personal and social situations that could act as a trigger.
- Suggest enrolling in an aftercare program at a trusted addiction rehab facility, such as canadiancentreforaddictions.org—Ontario’s leading addiction and alcoholism recovery clinic offering both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation therapies as well as extended aftercare programs.
Help them find a local support group of people going through rehab or recovery.
Expect other problems to surface as sobriety replaces stupor
Addiction affects all aspects of a person’s life, including their physical health, mental wellbeing, finances, employment readiness and interpersonal relationships. Even if someone is coping well during the abstinence phase right after rehab, other problems may still exist. For instance, they may not be fully recovered from an illness, such as HIV, or may have significant debt in the form of medical and rehab care.
Additionally, once a person stays sober longer and longer, they may start questioning the state of things, and the primary caregiver may also want to break free and make themselves a priority after years of caring for someone else. This could bring life changes that neither of you expected. To cope with a new relationship dynamic, know that change is good and while it may bring pain now, it will bring peace and simplicity later.
Some of the problems associated with addiction may never go away, and the best way to deal with them is to prepare for them and brace everyone involved for the impact.
Watch out for red flags signaling a potential relapse
Relapse is common, although it may not occur for years in some people who successfully embraced sobriety after completing rehab. When living with a recovering addict, it is important for family members to always be on the lookout for warning signs of a potential relapse.
Again, educating yourself is the best way to spot the red flags and help your loved one avoid a relapse. Warning signs differ for each individual and sometimes, even when you’re paying close attention, you may not be able to intervene in time. You can prevent a relapse or diminish its severity by taking the following measures.
- Know and understand the early signs of a relapse specific to your loved one.
- Make the time and effort to notice any behavioral changes or physical signs of substance/alcohol abuse.
- Don’t avoid discussing the possibility of a relapse and together devise a plan to cope and help your partner if it does happen.
- Take the help of a professional to create a relapse prevention strategy taking into account triggers that are specific to your partner.
Encourage and appreciate responsible behavior
An individual trying to wean themselves off an addictive substance or behavior needs all the support they can get from the people around. While they take tiny steps to abstinence, your encouragement, reassurance and guidance will help them realize the value of living responsibly and owning up to their past mistakes.
At the same time, remember to enforce responsibility and discipline and be firm in conveying that the ultimate responsibility to recover successfully lies with them, not you. Build an environment where a recovering addict knows that they have your full support as long as they make genuine efforts to follow the aftercare plan, stay sober and avoid relapse.
Appreciate accomplishments, no matter how small. For instance, you could have a quiet and personal celebration of a fortnight of no substance use. Or you could plan a weekend getaway with sober friends to show your partner the positive impact of changing their peer group and their lifestyle. The key lies in finding the right balance between enabling self-sufficiency and offering a helping hand for someone to begin a new chapter of their life.