Determining how to support someone in addiction treatment can seem difficult. Should you call or visit a family member or friend who recently started an inpatient addiction treatment program? Should you send them a gift? What are you supposed to say? Showing your support is a great first step. Developing an understanding of addiction and what treatment entails is an even bigger step towards helping someone in treatment for a drug or alcohol use disorder.
What You Can Do for Someone in Drug Rehab
Recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD) is not an easy road, and it’s even more difficult and lonely without a strong network of people ready and willing to help you along the way. While they are learning coping skills, gaining confidence and going through self analysis, you can prepare for their return. Educating yourself on the disease of addiction and understanding your role in their recovery journey is the best thing you can do for them.
Trust They Are In Good Hands
Supporting someone in rehab begins with stepping back and trusting the treatment program they’ve entered. Remember that they will be isolated, in a setting designed to help them develop the skills needed to return to the community and feel normal function without substance use.
Contact with your loved one will be limited, so it’s important you find peace with this and let them get the professional support, therapy and attention they need in the beginning stages of recovery. At many addiction treatment centers new patients go through a five- to 10-day period of no contact with the outside world. This includes family members, even spouses.
“It seems kind of rough to not be able to talk to family members, but they can be detoxing and be in a rough place, and also family members need a break too,” said Steven Henderson, assistant clinical director at Landmark Recovery of Las Vegas. “It can be tough living with or loving an addict, and as much as you love them, family members need some time to recover as well.”
Most addiction treatment centers will not allow unmonitored use of phones or other communication devices. There are several reasons for this.
Why You Can’t Have Your Phone in Rehab
- Setting and maintaining boundaries with loved ones
- Removing yourself from those who may have enabled your addiction
- Allowing yourself to focus completely on your recovery with no distractions
- Avoiding potential temptations and triggers from music, social media, etc.
One of the best things you can do to support someone in recovery treatment is remain compassionate. “Sit with them, tell them that you love them, but that you’re concerned and want to help them. Help is like, ‘I’m willing to sit with you and talk and hear you without judgment until you’re ready to receive treatment. And when youre ready for it, I’m by your side,” said Henderson.
Offering grace, forgiveness, and understanding to your addicted loved one can drastically improve their recovery journey and your relationship with them. Those who suffer from addiction are not bad people, and like those with any other disease, they need a strong support system who can listen without judgment.
“It’s uncomfortable for them so remember to have grace and understand that what has happened in the past is not them, it is the disease of addiction,” said Dustin Wasson, assistant executive director at Praxis of Fort Wayne by Landmark Recovery .
Recovery from a SUD is not a perfectly linear path. It’s not uncommon for people in residential treatment to want to give up and leave. Overcoming addiction is hard. Whether it’s leaving treatment early, skipping a meeting with a support group, or feeling the urge to use drugs again, you need to provide firm encouragement even when it may feel harsh.
“If they’re struggling and want to leave, are you going to be someone who is like, ‘okay, I’m on my way to pick you up.’ That’s really not the best option,” Henderson said. “Or are you going to be like, ‘look, I’m proud of you for being there and you need to stick through this for you and for your family.”
While setting boundaries is beneficial, it’s best to avoid cutting off contact or having too much of a “tough love” attitude. Henderson said these methods are proven to make things worse, causing them to spiral deeper into their addiction in order to escape the feeling of isolation. Rather than cut them off, respect that recovery is a long process, and they are bound to have some low points. Give your loved one the space to feel their emotions without judgment, and avoid bringing up things from the past until they are ready.
“You’ve both been hurt through the process of addiction, and there is going to be a point when you want to discuss things from the past, but the individual in recovery may not be at that point yet because they’re too fragile,” said Henderson. “So respect the fact that it may not be the time to address it. You need to be respectful of the fact that they’re still healing emotionally as well, and that at some point it does need to be discussed, but it doesn’t have to happen right away.”
When it comes to boundaries, Wasson encourages loved ones to be aware of any behaviors that might be enabling on your part or manipulative on their part, even if unintentionally. “Don’t allow enabling behaviors to dictate your day or time,” he said. “Just know that most likely their needs are being met. Stand firm and trust the professionals.”
Visits, Letters and Care Packages
Landmark’s addiction treatment centers host regular family days, which are open to any “sober and supportive” individual, according to Henderson. “It could be a friend, a sponsor, we’ve had people’s pastors come in, just anyone who will be there to help with their recovery,” he said.
Family members and friends are also allowed to send letters and care packages to those in addiction treatment. Wasson and Henderson both stated that these signs of affection are incredibly uplifting to patients, and can help with feelings of loneliness or wanting to give up.
“Patients love getting letters of encouragement from family, especially because they’re not in regular contact with them,” Henderson said. “It can really help them when they’re feeling down to look at a letter and see ‘I love you and I support you. We’ve got your back.’”
Care packages containing things like clothes and snacks are also encouraged. Sugar cravings can be intense for those coming off of alcohol or opioids, as these substances break down into sugar in the body, and upon ceasing use, the body still craves that level of sugar. If you’re going to send your loved one some sweet treats, avoid perishables and items in glass containers. Your packages will be searched for contraband.
Care For Yourself
Friends, family, and significant others of those in treatment often require some form of treatment of their own, whether through individual therapy, family therapy or support groups. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are great resources for those who have a loved one with a substance use disorder.
“This will allow you to work through some of the past issues, and provide a support system for other people who are going through the same exact thing,” Wasson said. “Remember Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are focused on you but with them as a qualifier.”
If someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, Landmark Recovery is ready to help. Call (888) 448-0302 to speak with one of our recovery specialists about options for your loved one, or find a location near you.
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