Living With a Recovering Drug Addict or Alcoholic

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How to Help Your Loved One Post-Rehab

By understanding what is involved in living with a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, you can be better prepared to assist with recovery and offer support to decrease the chance of relapse.

If you’ve lived with a drug addict or alcoholic, you know that addiction doesn’t just affect the addict – it affects friends and family as well. The same goes for recovery. Because recovery is a lifelong process, your loved one won’t be “cured” once he or she comes back from treatment.

You play an important role in supporting the life changes required for long-term recovery. Continue reading for some tips to living with a recovering alcoholic or drug addict.


Importance of the Family in Recovery

Alcohol abuse and substance abuse not only affects the individual with the problem but also the entire family. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that an important part of a customized substance abuse treatment regimen is to address all of the person’s needs—not just their drug use.1

This includes:

  • The provision of mental health and medical services.

AND

  • The development of recovery support systems that are family-based.

Such systems can be critical to success in achieving and continuing a sober lifestyle.


Tips for Living With a Recovering Addict

Here are 5 ways family members can support their loved one in drug or alcohol recovery. They include common problems family members encounter while living with a recovering addict and what actions you can take to address them.


Understand Extended Problems

The consequences of an addiction can affect your family for a long time.


Even though your family member may have successfully completed treatment, the consequences of addiction could continue to affect the rest of the family for a long time.

Typical Challenges After Rehab

As a result of the addiction, you may face ongoing hardships, such as:

  • Financial difficulties.
  • Health problems.
  • Relationship issues.

How to Address These Challenges

You can take some steps to help alleviate some of the stress of different hardships.

  • Meet with a financial advisor. They can help you based on your financial needs, as well as help you plan your short-term and long-term needs. If necessary, you can also take out a loan until you feel that your finances are more secured.
  • Encourage regular doctor visits for your family member. Just because he or she has completed rehabilitation doesn’t mean health problems aren’t lingering.
  • Attend family-based therapy. You can learn to practice honest and open communication within relationships.


Become Educated and Stay Involved

In most cases, drug use significantly changes the lives of all those close to the addict – none more so than the immediately family. For this reason, the family often needs help, too.

woman researching ways to help a recovering addict on her laptopMany drug and alcohol treatment facilities provide education for family members on topics such as how addiction works and how to handle stress. These programs are key to restoring the health of the family unit after addiction.

The entire family needs to be involved in the treatment as well as the recovery process. To do this, the family will need to learn the best ways to support the recovering addict. Agreeing to participate in family education is a great way to support the addict’s recovery.

Many outpatient family therapy programs are available for you and your loved ones. You meet with a certified therapist who teaches you intervention skills you can use at home during stressful and trigger situations. You learn healthy communication skills and ways to express feelings and needs without projecting blame.


Support Sobriety

One of the most important things that a family needs to be aware of when living with a recovering alcoholic or drug addict is the importance of family members maintaining an alcohol- or drug-free and sober lifestyle.

Keeping someone in recovery away from the temptation of using is essential, especially in the first year of recovery. This is why many people prefer inpatient rehab programs; they get the addict away from the environment in which they were using.

Get Rid of Substances in the Home

Ideally, a home should be completely emptied of any substances that could be intoxicating. If your family has always kept alcohol or other substances on hand for social events or special occasions, it may be necessary for everyone to make a lifestyle change to support a loved one during recovery.

Find New Activities

The family can participate in activities and hobbies consistent with a substance-free lifestyle.

Fun Sober Activities
  • Play a sport together.
  • Ride bikes.
  • Go to the movies or a play.
  • Work on a garden.
  • Host a potluck.
  • Make crafts.
  • Play card or board games.
  • Go kayaking or rock-climbing.
  • Plan a family vacation.
  • Go for a hike or camping.
  • Go to an amusement park.
  • Make a bonfire.
  • Try out a new restaurant.
  • Visit a museum.


Obtain Support for Yourself

Just as the individual in recovery will require support from family and friends, it will also be important for family members to have support.

Many family support groups can provide encouragement to help people cope with the emotional and physical stress that can accompany supporting an individual in recovery. Counseling can also be helpful as you adjust to your loved one’s sobriety. Online forums, such as the one on this site, can be an additional form of support. You can meet people who understand what you are going through and can offer advice based on similar experiences.

Seeking support for yourself can also have an additional benefit. When your recovering family member sees you asking for support, they may be more likely to seek out support on their own in the form of recovery and aftercare support services.

Support Groups for Friends and Family

Below are a few different support groups designed for the friends and family members of recovering addicts:

  • Nar-Anon. 12-step program for family and friends of drug addicts.
  • Al-Anon. 12-step program for family and friends of alcoholics.
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics. A group for adults who grew up in an alcoholic household and display characteristics associated with trauma and abuse.
  • Families Anonymous. All-encompassing 12-step program for family and friends of those afflicted by substance abuse or behavioral addictions.
  • SMART Recovery Family and Friends. A science-based support program for family and friends of alcoholics, drug addicts and other related addictions.
What Is Al-Anon?

family members of a recovering alcoholic at an Al-Anon meeting
Al-Anon is a 12-step support group for those who have a loved one with alcohol abuse. You work through 12 steps with a sponsor, which help you to focus on yourself and your personal growth. Al-Anon meetings are held in many cities across America.


Reduce Stress

girl listening to her roommate in recovery

Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts may be more susceptible to stress and, in turn, to relapse. Some of the most common sources for stress among individuals in recovery include:

  • Family conflicts.
  • Relationships.
  • Work.
  • School.
  • Health concerns.
  • Finances.

Understanding what to expect and how to help a recovering alcoholic or drug addict proceed with recovery can prove to be beneficial. You can offer them resources that can help with stress, such as relationship counseling, adult education, therapy and support groups. In addition, it’s important to focus on yourself and manage your own stress.

Ways to Deal With Stress

Other proven sources of stress relief for you and your loved one include:

  • Journaling.
  • Meditating.
  • Exercising.
  • Breathing steadily.

Don’t merely suggest stress-relieving activities. Offer to do the activities with them. Encourage open and honest communication, free of blaming language.

Emphasize that recovery takes teamwork and that he or she doesn’t need to do it alone. Keep in mind that you should not expect recovering drug addicts or alcoholics to behave perfectly when they first leave rehab. They will often need time to adjust to life outside of treatment. Your job is to foster and promote a supportive and comfortable environment for he or she to adapt.


Avoiding Relapse

Finally, it is imperative that you take action if you believe that your loved one may be at risk of a relapse. You don’t need to wait until the relapse has already occurred. If you believe your family member is in danger of drinking or using again, immediately take steps to provide a safe environment.

Warning Signs of Relapse

Below are a few relapse warning signs that your loved one may be at risk:

  • Romanticizing past drug use.
  • Starting to reconnect with old friends from drug-using days.
  • Sudden changes in attitude or behavior.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities.
  • Appearance of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Going to fewer self-help meetings.
  • Spending less time on self-care.

What to Do if You Spot Relapse Warning Signs

If you are concerned your loved one may relapse, you can:

  • Approach your family member in a kind and caring manner. Avoid judgment and blame and express your concern.
  • Have them contact their sponsor. If your loved one has a sponsor from a 12-step program, suggest he or she meet with the sponsor or call them.
  • Suggest they attend a 12-step meeting. Encourage your loved one to attend a 12-step meeting or recovery support group.
  • Encourage your family member to talk with his or her therapist. Or recommend that they enter an intensive outpatient program to get back on track.

How to Handle a Relapse

A relapse does not mean that treatment failed or that the person is a failure. It just means that the person needs to readjust their treatment plan or try another form of treatment. Relapse rates for addiction are similar to rates for other chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma.2

Going back to rehab should not be considered a failure, but rather an act of courage. The person realized the dangers of falling back into addiction and valued their life enough to make a positive change. Though it may seem difficult, the relapse can be seen as a learning opportunity that can strengthen recovery. The person needs to understand what triggered the relapse and develop a plan for preventing another one.

A person entering rehab after a relapse may have more guilt or shame because they may feel like they “messed up.” But they may also have less anxiety because they know more what to expect from treatment. They may even be more determined because they now understand that staying in recovery is hard work.

By understanding what is involved in living with a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, you can be better prepared to assist with recovery and offer support to decrease the chance of relapse.

Sources

[1]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.

[2]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Treatment and Recovery.

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