How can we go about helping a drug addicted family member best help an alcoholic who is in a drug rehab treatment center?
There is a great feeling of relief that generally occurs within families once a drug addict gets into a drug and alcohol treatment center. I have had several family members say to me something to the effect of…
At least I can sleep well tonight because I know where he is and I don’t dread the phone ringing.
There is a feeling of relief that the drug addicted family members finally started getting clean, but there is also some concern and anxiety and how to support them while they are in treatment.
There is a line that most family members are aware of containing those dreaded words and a bore and codependent. They do not want to cross the line that they want to help their family member who is in treatment somehow.
What to do? Read on…
The First And Best Things You Can Do To Help A Drug Addicted Family Member
Without a doubt the first thing I would do is to encourage family members to seek help and get education for themselves. Especially on relapse and relapse prevention.
As a clinician there is a group I occasionally do in treatment centers which involves asking the clients the question “Have you ever tried to explain drug addiction or what it’s like to somebody who has no experience with it, your family or friends for example?” Almost everybody says yes they have.
I rapidly follow up their agreement with the question “do they get it?” Almost universally the answer is no.
Family members who have not educated themselves on the disease of addiction don’t have the foggiest idea of what it’s really like. Even with drug addiction education they cannot viscerally know the torment of drug addiction. But, at least they are armed with some facts. They are not buying into myths.
How Do I Get Drug Addiction Family Support Information?
The first way to do this is to attend the family program offered by the treatment center. More often than not family programs are designed to be a benefit to the family member. There is a side benefit of getting to see her family member. I was constantly amazed at how few families took advantage of this.
You can also arrange go see a family counselor or in addiction counselor for yourself. There are many in private practice that specialize in helping families reunite and reconcile.
Try going to Al-Anon and Coda meetings. Al-Anon is the sister organization of alcoholics anonymous the 12 step program. CODA is for co-dependents. It was originally started for wives of alcoholics for their support and education. It is now broadened into a support group for friends and family members. The meetings are free and wildly available – just Google it. They some very good pamphlets that are specifically designed for family members such as “A Guide for the Family of the Alcoholic” or “So You Love An Alcoholic”.
A word of caution about relying strictly on information you get on the internet. Be aware of the credibility od the source you are reading. When I research, I pretty much stick to government websites.
These Books And The DVD Are Personally Selected To Provide Great Addiction Recovery Info For Family Members
Video Clip on 4 Ways To Support Those In Recovery
What About Your Responsibility For Their Drug Addiction?
Many family members believe in some way that they are somehow responsible for their family member’s drug addiction. Ideas such as if only I had been a better father or mother this wouldn’t have happened or if I provided better home or gotten the more things this never would’ve happened. That is simply misdirected self blame.
You should be aware of is that a family member or friend actually has virtually no control over whether their loved one will maintain abstinence or not. The decision to enter recovery and get sober is an internal one for the patient that is the prime determining factor.
Most family programs along with Al-Anon will touch on something called the $ C’s. These are truths about family members and their relationship to the drug addict.
- Cause – you did not cause their drug addiction. There is nothing that you did that “made them” become a drug addict. On the flip side there is really nothing you can do to cause them to get sober. They have to make that internal decision for themselves when they are ready.
- Control – you cannot control their drug addiction. Sometimes family members will knock themselves out trying to monitor the drug addicts behavior after treatment. It’s almost a guarantee that the tighter you haul in the leash the more resentment will build up.
- Cure – you, or anyone, cannot cure drug addiction. It is now commonly held belief that once a person has crossed the line into addiction certain physical, psychological, and neurological changes have taken place that can’t be reversed. Can there be improvement? Certainly. But the saying once an addict always an addict rings true.
- Contribute – you can however contribute to a person’s drug addiction.This contribution alludes to enablers and co-dependents. For example when an active addiction if you give your family member money you have just paid for their next high. No matter how dramatic the story behind it is, you just paid for their next high. Codependency and enabling our complex topics that will be discussed in other posts.
Family members should be aware that their loved one is going to go through a lot of ups and downs in treatment, physically, emotionally, and mentally. For instance, mood swings are the norm rather than the exception. As patient’s learn more about their addiction and their consequences, emotions will be triggered. This may lead to calls home expressing exaggerated feelings or a desire to leave treatment early.
People in treatment are often ambivalent about being there. Sometimes it seems like a great idea, and other times it seems like a waste of time. Expect calls home to reflect this. It is an excellent idea to maintain good communication with the staff of the treatment center, particularly counselor.
Help The Staff At The Drug And Alcohol Treatment Facility Out
One way that you can help their loved one during treatment is to provide honest and specific collateral information to staff rather than engaging in secrets with the patient.
Quite often the patient will minimize or under the estimate the extent of problems created more of their alcohol use. The counselor can work more effectively with accurate information.
As a clinician I was often amazed to hear the family side of the story and compare it to what the client has related. Accurate knowledge is fertile ground for therapy.
Do not support any plan to leave treatment early. Period. Finishing treatment does not guarantee success, but leaving early is almost always stacks the odds against them. Your expectation should be that the person stays for the duration. That is nonnegotiable.
I occasionally would “prep” family members to expect a call from their family member in treatment with a long litany of complaints. The food is bad, the staff is mean,etc what they are really looking for is any family member to agree with them as an excuse to leave treatment against medical advice.
When The Addicted Family Member Leaves Drug Treatment
It is a good idea to avoid providing any situations that may remind the patient of drugging or drinking. For example, it is a good idea to remove alcohol and drugs from the house, and not to drink or use drugs in front of them.
I had one client return to treatment shortly after completion for his heroin addiction. When we talked about his relapse he said his family took him out to a nice resraurant to celebrate him being home and suggested a glass of wine with dinner because ‘it couldn’t hurt.’
The idea is to remove temptation and ease of access, but that being said, ultimately they must make that decision for themselves. You can make it just a little bit harder and give them a little more time to say no should an urge or cravings strike.
It truly is a bit of a balancing act, on the one hand you want to remain supportive and positive, but on the other hand you cannot do their recovery for them. Be supportive, but keep healthy boundaries. It’s important to keep healthy boundaries when dealing with the recovering alcoholic; otherwise you could enable them to relapse when you thought you were actually helping them.
Treatment centers will recommend continuing care plan for when the alcoholic leaves treatment. Depending on the situation, this plan might include group therapy, or meetings, or even long term treatment. Whatever the recommendation is, encourage the recovering alcoholic to follow through with it. Do not support, under any circumstances them not following their recommended aftercare plan.
Every family member that I have spoken to deep down inside wants one thing, a guarantee that their loved one will not return to using drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, there is no such thing. There are certain things they can be done to maximize a person’s chances for success and avoid a drug or alcohol relapse.
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Some Really Good Free Resources
- Impact of Substance Abuse on Families (NCBI) – When a family member abuses substances, the effect on the family may differ according to family structure.
- Addiction Is A Family Disease (NCADD) Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point. Living with addiction can put family members under unusual stress.