Family is not defined as strictly as it was half a century ago. The traditional nuclear family has expanded to include more groups of loved ones, whether they are blood-related or not. Regardless of the members’ relationships to each other, the family has a crucial role to play in addiction recovery.
The early stages of addiction recovery, in particular, can be a challenge. It’s best if family plays a role in recovery from the beginning. If you are the family member of someone with an addiction, what is your role? What should you do? There is no prescribed protocol, but there are several guidelines to approaching addiction recovery as a family member.
Here are six tips for handling the early stages of addiction recovery as a family.
1. Learn About Addiction and Treatment Options
Step one is to be informed about your family member’s addiction. While addictions have different characteristics and risks, some symptoms and behaviors are associated with addiction in general. Understanding treatment options is essential, too.
2. Understand Codependency and Seek Help if You See Signs
Codependency is a risk for family members of people in addiction recovery. You may be ready to help them in their recovery any way you can, but you must understand what codependency is and how it is counterproductive. Your own mental resources and energy do not carry over to the person in addiction recovery.
If you believe yourself to be engaging in codependent behaviors, consider seeking help, or it could damage your health as well.
3. Offer Practical Help, Within Limits
Offering practical support is not the same thing as trying to solve the addict’s problems for them. There is a fine line between genuinely helping and engaging in codependent behaviors. Offering to help the person in addiction recovery with laundry or a meal on occasion is helpful. Taking over the care of their home or their meal prep altogether is not, nor is buying them a car so they can drive to work or bailing them out of jail.
4. Pay Attention to Communication Styles
Communication styles within families can get stuck in a loop over time. It is important to know when to take a different path with your interactions. Perhaps addictive behavior was previously met with shouting or shutting down altogether. Communication styles often need to evolve to healthier ways of interacting. Likewise, if the person in addiction recovery is using unhealthy communication styles, you are not obligated to just “take it.”
Learning how to ease away constructively can lead to healthier communication for both parties.
5. Have Patience
Addiction recovery is a long process. While progress may appear rapid at first, there is still a lot going on internally for the person in recovery. Physical recovery can take longer than most people realize, particularly for long-standing addictions. You do not have to accept addictive behaviors, but you shouldn’t expect your loved one to be “cured” after completing treatment. The addict and those they consider family have to establish new ways of communicating and caring and that does not happen overnight.
6. Care for Yourself Too
Addiction can be harrowing for the person who has it. It is also extremely hard for that person’s loved ones. Do not forget to care for yourself as you are trying to be there for them. You are not expected to upend your life completely. Make sure that you eat properly, get physical activity and get enough sleep. Remind yourself that you are not much help if you are physically or emotionally drained.
Addiction recovery takes time and involves many more people than just the addict. If someone in your family (blood-related or chosen) is in recovery, you can play a valuable role in helping them sustain the progress they’ve made. But you need to take care of yourself first.