Advice for Families of Addicts: Life After Rehab
Families of addicts suffer a great deal, and their challenges can be not only overwhelmingly stressful but also unrelenting for long periods of time. Some families live for years with the pain and chaos of a loved one’s addiction. Of course, everyone’s hope is that the addict gets to treatment and it will finally all be over. However, the reality of addiction is that even the best addiction treatment centers can’t help someone who doesnt want to help themselves. Life after rehab for the newly sober and his or her loved ones can be very challenging.
Tragically, many families have gone through an emotional revolving door–a vicious cycle of active addiction, chaos, pain, periods of abstinence and eventual relapse. It is the reality of addiction for far too many, and one can become resentful, angry and hopeless after relapses occur. It can be hard as a family member to muster up hope that a rehab stay will help. The families of addicts can eventually need as much help and support to heal as the addicted person does. And, getting that help is one of the best ways family members can support a loved one who is newly sober.
Burnout and Compassion Fatigue in a Family with Addiction
The stress overload for families of addicts is chronic and often chronically severe. And, since addiction is a progressively worsening illness, the chronic stress load for loved ones will worsen over time, too. Consequently, the entire family’s suffering compromises the physical and mental health of all members in a compounding and escalating way as the addiction continues. By the time the addicted family member gets to treatment, family members are often exhausted physically and emotionally, and near collapse in a stress-induced burnout. To further complicate a family member’s burden, compassion fatigue is common as well. Long-term accommodation, coping and caregiving take its toll, depleting empathy and the drive to help an addicted loved one.
This is, unfortunately, all ‘normal’ in an abnormal situation such as living with an addicted loved one. Coping with a chronic illness of a loved one can be devastating, and even on a good day, never easy. It is important for families to understand the realities of addiction and to take steps to ensure their own individual needs are met. To that end, there are many resources for family members that can help, such as educational materials, self-help groups and their own counseling.
When an Addicted Family Member Comes Home from Rehab
Transitioning back home after rehab can be difficult. Maintaining abstinence at home is different than doing so within the supportive and therapeutic environment of rehab. Back at home, one must deal with many triggers—reminders of substance use, using associates, and the stressors that were dealt with by using. Additionally, fresh out of rehab, one can still be vulnerable and raw, with new insights, awareness of losses, and often, a great deal of embarrassment, anxiety, fear, guilt, and shame.
Families of addicts will find themselves in various dilemmas themselves. They may feel they are ‘walking on eggshells’—not wanting to upset what seems to be a delicate new balance. They may also still feel depleted from the turmoil that occurred prior to this new phase, and frankly, be ‘done’ with it all. And, they may have an overwhelming mix of emotions that haven’t been sorted out yet, such as resentment and anger that their own lives were put on hold by the addicted loved one’s needs. Along with all this, there is the challenge of adjusting to the loved one’s new recovery efforts, and seemingly new ‘personality’ and new role in family life.
What Can Families of Addicts Do?
There are many things a family member can do to heal, stay healthy and support a recovering loved one. Not all of these will be right for you in your situation. For example, some family members may choose not to participate in a loved one’s recovery efforts. However, some healthy things you can do after an addicted loved one’s rehab are:
Focus on your own needs and life goals in daily life. Decide to have a healthy life whether your loved one stays in recovery or not.
Leave the responsibility for your loved one’s recovery to him or her.
Keep communication open, honest, kind and assertive.
Find your personal limits and boundaries and maintain them.
Express love and concern as you feel them. Talk specifically about concerns in a calm way.
Learn the difference between enabling and support.
Make sure you are educated about the nature and dynamics of addiction and recovery in a family.
Establish your own healthy support system and tend to it regularly.
Attend self-help groups such as Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, or Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families.
Seek individual or group counseling for your own healing.
Remember you cannot control other people or cure their substance problem.
Remember you are responsible for your own behavior, not that of another person.
Participate in recovery efforts with your loved one as you see fit—attend family sessions, for example.
Keep an open-door policy if your loved one needs recovery support.