Helping an addict after addiction treatment

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 | By JP Emerald Coast

If you’ve lived with an addict who was actively using, you know only too well that their habit affects not only them but the entire family. When your loved one comes home from a treatment facility, they’re not cured of their addiction, nor will it have gone into remission. It still exists, and your loved one has to deal with it on a daily basis. Their recovery is a lifelong journey, not a destination that they reach where they can relax and say that they don’t have to be concerned about it anymore.

Recovering Addict Defined

What do we mean by “recovering addict”? Someone is in recovery once they’ve gone through a drug and alcohol treatment program and they display the following characteristics:

  • Have developed personal boundaries and understand the difference between their problems and someone else’s
  • Deals with their own problems without using chemicals (drugs and alcohol)
  • Takes time out to restore themselves physically and emotionally when they feel fatigued
  • Have at least one person in their life that they can be honest with

How to Help a Loved One Coming Home From Rehab

The transition to coming home after spending time at a treatment facility is going to take some adjustment for everyone in the family. No one can pretend that you are welcoming someone home who has been away on vacation or working out of town for a time, and it would be a mistake to try to pretend that nothing of significance happened.

Both the person arriving home and the family members awaiting their arrival will likely be experiencing a variety of emotions. Each wants everything to go well but may be feeling nervous, awkward and happy all at the same time. There may also be guilt or regret on the part of the addict for past events or that they didn’t get clean sooner. The person may be anxious to make amends to those they care about (and hoping their efforts will be enough).

To get the homecoming off to a good start, here are some things that you can do to help someone coming home after spending time in a drug or alcohol treatment facility:

  • Make sure they have a space to call their own. If you are awaiting the arrival of your spouse or partner, this isn’t as much of an issue. If you are waiting for a son, daughter, brother, sister or other family members, prepare a room for them or set aside a space in your home that they can call their own.
  • Set clear boundaries from the beginning. It’s a good idea to sit down to discuss everyone’s understanding of expectations shortly after your loved one arrives. Write down a list of what you expect from each other, along with the consequences if they fail to follow through. The expectations and consequences will differ with each situation, but some of them might include keeping one’s bedroom tidy, helping with chores (these can be itemized), volunteering or looking for paid work for a set number of hours each week, attending 12-step meetings regularly, etc.

Add to the contract that if your family member is struggling with some aspect of the expectations that they can ask for help and that the family is available to provide support. Put a date on the contract when it will be reviewed and updated, since circumstances and needs change. You might want to try the initial one for a month or two and see if it is working for everyone concerned. At that point, you can make changes or leave it as is.

  • Create a welcoming environment. Once your family member arrives home, treat it like the homecoming it is. Make the person feel welcome and treat them like a valued member of the family. They’ve been getting help for an illness that is difficult to treat. Let them know that you’re proud of them and happy to have them back at home. These positive words will be very meaningful to someone who has recently become sober, possibly after a number of years of drinking or using drugs. They are embarking on a new phase in their life, and the encouragement they receive from people whose opinions they respect is important to them.
  •  Include them in the family’s social plans. Embracing a new lifestyle is challenging, and learning to socialize is one of the things that a newly sober person needs to get the hang of after leaving treatment. As appropriate, include the new arrival in your social plans. Make a point of spending time with them too. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy time together. This can be a time to research free and low-cost activities available in the community, such as going to museums and movies on discount days, checking out community festivals or going for a walk or a drive (and stopping for coffee or hot chocolate afterward).
  • Encourage them to take up new hobbies. There are a number of ways to make new friends through activities. Some recovery groups schedule sober activities so that people can meet. Check the local newspaper or online for information. Suggest that your family member sign up for an adult education class in a subject that interests them. There are many subjects offered, from academics to cooking, painting, martial arts, soap making, knitting, and various sports.
  • Be supportive as they continue treatment. For someone in recovery, treatment doesn’t stop when they leave the treatment facility. They need to continue seeing a counselor on an outpatient basis and attend 12-step meetings to get support as they transition to a “regular” life with its stresses and strains.

How to Help a Loved One in Recovery

There are specific things you can do to help someone you love who is in recovery. If before they sought help, the words “addiction” and “recovery” were never mentioned, they should be a part of the normal conversation now. Some families find it difficult to put a name to what is going on in front of them, and it’s important to call the addiction what it is and refer to it as a disease that someone can get treatment for and move into recovery from.

  • Allow your family member to talk about their addiction. This includes their experiences at the treatment facility and what they’ve learned. More than likely, they will find a sponsor, counselor or mentor who can provide guidance in their recovery. If your loved one is part of a 12-step program, they may have things they need to say to you as part of working their “steps,” or they may want to try to reach out to you to improve their relationship with you on their own. You are not obligated to agree with everything they say, but do give them the courtesy of listening.
  • Be careful not to start enabling. If the recovering addict in your life asks you to do something for them, ask whether this is something they can do for themselves. If the answer is “Yes,” then you should let them look after it. Let them be responsible for getting to their 12-step meetings, job interviews, etc. If they’re living with you, have clear expectations for going to school (providing proof of attendance and marks) or doing a job search (records of positions applied for) and consequences if these conditions are not met.
  • Seek help for yourself. Don’t neglect yourself when trying to help a family member in recovery. You can seek support from people in similar situations by contacting Al-Anon Family Groups or Nar-Anon Family Groups. It can be helpful to know that you aren’t alone and that other people are dealing with similar situations.

Living with a Recovering Addict

As someone who cares for a recovering addict, you are an important part of their recovery plan. They need the support of family members and friends as they learn to live a lifestyle that doesn’t include drugs or alcohol.

Going to a treatment facility addressed the problem of the drug or alcohol use, but there are other issues that need to be dealt with once your family member leaves the facility:

Relationship Issues

You may have found that you have been so busy getting your loved one into treatment that you haven’t had a chance to deal with how their addiction has impacted your relationship with each other. It’s common for people to do well at being strong for others and be able to “hold it together” in a crisis. Once the crisis has passed, they find that they break down.

Some drug treatment facilities offer counseling programs for clients’ families while their family members are getting help. Typically, the facilities tailor the programs to suit the needs of each family, and the goal is to identify the issues that each family may be struggling with and to offer support.

It can be very challenging learning new ways of interacting with each other. Trust is something that will take time and effort to rebuild, especially if it has been broken time and again. Now is the time for clear communication about expectations and avoiding bringing up past events when frustrated or disappointed. (There is nothing either of you can do to change them, and continuing to hold them over the other person’s head is unfair.)

Health Issues

Living with an addiction and having a healthy lifestyle don’t usually go hand in hand. It’s common for someone with addiction challenges to neglect their diet, disrupt their sleep cycle and not getting enough physical activity.

You can encourage your family member to keep their follow-up medical appointments, eat well and get enough rest and exercise. The person in recovery needs to take responsibility for these parts of their life, you don’t want to turn into a babysitter.


Your loved one may be looking for volunteer work, considering job training or returning to school after completing their stay at the treatment facility. Their addiction may have affected the family finances, even before they sought help. Seek professional advice from a financial planner about the options available to you in the early days of your family member’s recovery.

Support an Addict in Recovery

You may not immediately realize it, but when your loved one comes home, you will need to make some changes to your lifestyle as well. Some of them may be things you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of prior to their seeking help.

Dispose of Any Alcohol or Intoxicants in the House

If your family member is an alcoholic, you are going to have to get rid of any alcohol in the house. Even if you only have a bottle of brandy you use to make the family Christmas cake every year, it has to go.

You’ll also need to remove household products that can be used to get high:

  1. Mouthwash and breath fresheners contain alcohol. One brand of mouthwash allegedly has over 26 percent alcohol by volume. A recovering addict could drink these in an attempt to get drunk, even though they don’t taste very good.
  2. Hand sanitizers contain a large amount of alcohol. Some varieties are over half alcohol content by volume. Internet videos share information on how people can distill and ingest these products. Drinking the liquid derived from hand sanitizers is very dangerous, and can lead to kidney and liver damage.
  3. Vanilla extract contains 35 percent ethanol per volume. This is approximately the same amount by volume as brandy or rum. It’s an FDA requirement for pure vanilla extract. If the label doesn’t say that the product contains this level of alcohol, then it is likely an imitation extract.
  4. Over-the-Counter (OTC) cough and cold remedies that contain codeine or Dextromethorphan (DXM), an ingredient that suppresses coughing and helps to loosen mucus from the respiratory tract. When these products are taken in high doses, they can produce a sensation that is similar to alcohol or marijuana-like intoxication.

Stop Seeing Friends Who are Still Using Drugs and Alcohol

Your family member has to make some changes to their social life after leaving rehab. If members of the “old crowd” they were used to spending time with are still drinking or using drugs, they no longer have a place in your family member’s new lease on life.

It’s too tempting to be around people who are still using in the early days of recovery. The best option is to stay away from them entirely. If you decide that you can’t or don’t want to cut ties with these friends, you will need to find a way to spend time with them on your own, away from your loved one.

Avoid Places that May be a Trigger for Your Family Member

Certain places will likely bring back memories of times when your loved one was drinking or using. This could be a particular bar or a liquor store located on the way to where they used to work or on the way home. You may need to get used to having to take a longer or roundabout way through your town to avoid going near certain places so that the addict you’re living with doesn’t have to see, hear or smell anything connected with that location.

They will have received tips and learned strategies for coping with cravings while in treatment. When these cravings come up, you can encourage them to use the strategies they’ve learned, while carefully watching for signs of a relapse.

Signs of a Relapse

A relapse usually doesn’t occur without signs that someone in recovery is starting to slide in that direction. Here are some signs that a person may be starting to head in that direction.

  • They start talking about the days when they were drinking or using as “the good old days” or something similar.
  • They are reconnecting with old friends they knew when they were drinking or using.
  • Their behavior or attitude changes suddenly, and not for the better.
  • They lose interest in activities and hobbies they were enjoying since coming home.

If You’re Concerned a Relapse is Imminent or May Have Happened….

  • Talk about your concerns in a calm manner. Becoming accusatory or judgmental won’t help the situation.
  • Suggest that they contact their 12-step program sponsor to talk about how they are feeling and get some support.
  • Tell them that thoughts of using, a slip, or even a relapse doesn’t mean that they can’t get back on track. Explain that they can go to their 12-step meeting, continue their follow-up program and get support, but that it’s important to be honest about recent events to get the right kind of help.
  • Encourage your family member to contact their outpatient addictions counselor or consider returning to the treatment facility if a relapse has occurred.

How to Help Someone Stay Sober

If your goal is to help a family member after rehab, here are some tips that can help.

Be Accepting

Many people who have recently left a treatment facility feel as though everyone they know is judging them. They are also busy judging themselves. Try to keep criticism to a minimum, and look for things they are “doing right” as much as you can.

Learn How to Actively Listen

When most people listen to someone else, they don’t give the other person their full attention. Part of their time is spent thinking about their response. Be available to the recovering addict in your family so that they know they can talk to you if they need to, but practice listening without judgment and without planning what you are going to say. Instead, repeat back what the other person has just said to you in your own words to make sure you understood. Then, you can respond to what they’ve shared with you.

This strategy will cut down on miscommunication and help ensure that the person in recovery feels they are understood when they share their thoughts and feelings. It’s important to them that they feel they have at least one person they can be completely honest with.

Be Patient

Addiction is an illness that your family member will be living with for life. Being a recovering addict doesn’t transform someone’s personality. They are still human, and will have good days and bad days. There may be times when they make mistakes in their dealings with family members, but don’t allow them to use their addiction and recovery as an excuse for poor behavior with others.

Set a Good Example

Model a healthy lifestyle that everyone in the family can emulate. Serve healthy meals, and get your family member to help with the cooking! If it has been some time since you exercised regularly, find something that the two of you can enjoy together. It can be as simple as starting with getting a sturdy pair of shoes and going for a walk. Once both of your fitness levels improve, you can look at signing up for an exercise class, joining a gym or participating in a team sport.

If you are concerned about a family member’s drug or alcohol use, contact us today to find out about our recovery programs.

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