Family is not defined as strictly as it was half a century ago. Although the traditional “nuclear family” is not necessarily the norm today, that does not mean that families themselves are any less important, regardless of how they are constructed. In addiction recovery, the family has a crucial role to play.
The early stages of addiction recovery, in particular, can be fraught, and it is 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 key commonalities 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 the Addiction and Treatment Options
Step one is to be informed about your family member’s addiction. While addictions have different characteristics and risks, there are symptoms and behaviors that are associated with addiction in general, and you are wise to try to understand them. Understanding treatment options is essential too. For example, if someone you love has an opioid abuse disorder, you should understand the differences between medication-assisted treatment and non-medication-assisted treatment.
2. Understand Codependency and Seek Help if Indicated
Codependency is a risk for family members of people in addiction recovery. You may be pumped and ready to help them in their recovery any way you can, but you must understand what codependency is, and how it is counterproductive. However well you have your own life together, and however willing you are to help, your own resources and personal momentum 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 own health as well.
3. Offer Practical Help, Within Limits
Offering practical help is not the same thing as trying to solve the addict’s problems for them. It can be a fine line between genuinely helping and engaging in codependent behaviors. Offering to help the person in addiction recovery with laundry or by bringing in a meal on occasion is helpful. Taking over 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 become entrenched over time, and it is important to know when it is right to take a different path with communicating. 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 disengage 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 longstanding addictions. While you do not have to accept behavior that is clearly unacceptable, neither should you expect that the person you love is “cured” because they completed addiction 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 is harrowing for the person who has it, and 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 the one you love who is in recovery. You are not expected to completely upend your life. Make sure to the best of your ability that you eat properly, get physical activity, and get enough sleep. Remind yourself that you are not much help if you are drained of energy and not caring for yourself properly.
Addiction recovery takes time and involves many more people than just the addict. If someone in your family (whether that is by blood or chosen family) is in recovery, you can play an important role in helping them sustain their good work. But you must make sure to care for yourself as well. If you have questions about addiction recovery, we urge you to contact us at any time.