When a loved one seeks treatment for a substance use disorder, it can be just the beginning of a lifelong journey. While you may witness a beautiful transformation as they become alive again after shedding addictive behaviors, their struggles will not cease completely when treatment ends. This is where your support is needed more than ever.
Getting Sober Is Just the First Step
Sober living is — in some ways — harder than going through treatment. Living substance-free comes with a whole host of challenges to face: family dynamics, cleaning up the mess caused in addiction (debt, dishonesty, betrayal or broken relationships) and many demands on time and resources. I’d liken it to bracing the ice-cold winter elements with no clothes on.
While it is important to note that as a family member, you cannot control your loved one’s ability to stay sober. But there are a number of ways you can be supportive to them.
Recovery Involves the Whole Family
There is a reason why addiction is referred to as a family disease — it affects parents, siblings and relatives alike. Substance use disorder can stress a family unit to a breaking point as it impacts a number of areas: the stability and calmness within the home, financial issues, mental and physical wellness, and how family members interact with one another. If you live with someone engaging in addictive behaviors, it is likely to be an unhappy home. Relationships will be strained, family members may feel frightened, intimidated, distrustful, manipulated and abused.
When your family member leaves treatment, the family unit will begin to find recovery too. Substance use disorder has little to do with the substance; It is rooted in behavioral patterns, unresolved trauma, mental illness and an inability to cope with life stressors. Recovery can be strengthened, when the family unit is open to improving the relationship through emotional intimacy, trust, firm boundaries and getting external support.
Patience is key: It will take time, effort, and commitment to repair the dysfunctional family unit. It is important to note that it may take months and years for the family to heal and function in a healthy manner.
How to Support a Newly Sober Family Member
While you cannot convince your family member to stay sober, you can be supportive through the following ways:
- Encourage them to attend medical and mental health appointments.
- If they are a member of a support group, encourage them to go to meetings.
- Uphold boundaries and have clear lines of communication.
- Be patient with your family member in all situations.
- Attend family therapy if necessary to help rebuild the family unit and provide a safe space to talk openly.
- Learn about substance use disorder, the process of recovery, and available resources.
- Try to find new sober activities together.
- Create a safe home environment by removing all substances (including alcohol).
- Try and help reduce stress in the home environment.
- Find support for yourself. Family and friends resources include: SMART Friends and Family (a science-based, secular alternative to Al-Anon); Al-Anon.org; Nar-anon; Gam-anon; Coda.org; and Adultchildren.org.
One more important note: Be conscious that relapse is a real possibility. Substance use disorder is a relapsing condition. Signs to be aware of include: sudden changes in behavior and attitudes, withdrawal symptoms, and disappearing for long periods of time. It’s especially important you don’t watch over them though, because you’re trying to rebuild trust. Try to foster an environment of non-judgement and openness. If you become concerned, you could suggest they reach out to a professional counselor, or a member of their support network.
Always treat a loved one who is newly sober with the same love and compassion we would show any other person, healthy or recovering. Everyone finding sobriety deserves support and understanding. If you’re concerned you may have a substance use disorder, or if your mental struggles have gotten too heavy to bear, call 844.833.4643 The Recovery Village. A caring intake coordinator is waiting to listen to you, and guide you toward the help and healing you need.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.