What is the right amount of communication for a patient during rehabilitation? Should they always be in contact with friends or family? This complex topic involves a variety of answers.

Undergoing drug and alcohol rehabilitation can be an extremely delicate time for people and their families. In many cases, those struggling with addiction have misused drugs and alcohol to a dangerous level and are seeking help to achieve a healthier future. In doing so, they are completely uprooted from their normal routines — including their place of employment and daily interactions with family and friends — and must put a lot of their energy toward healing and recovery.

Rehabilitation is likely to start with detoxification, which is when drugs are removed from a person’s system. During this stage, people often experience the most severe withdrawal symptoms, which, when not treated in a medical facility, can be overwhelming and cause a resumption of use. Inpatient rehabilitation often follows detoxification. This level of care involves the person residing at a facility for weeks or months.

Any level of seclusion can be difficult, yet a change of scenery is often necessary to properly focus on the main objective of rehab. In many cases, entering a facility for treatment not only brings positive influences and experiences into people’s lives but also removes negative ones, including harmful relationships with family members or friends. These types of people could provide temptations of misusing drugs or alcohol to someone suffering from a substance use disorder, or not show the emotional support that their loved one needs in a time of struggle.

During inpatient rehabilitation, patients and their families may inquire with the facility about the recommended communication level that the patients should have with friends or family outside of rehab. Answering this question is quite complex since each individual is different and requires a unique rehabilitation strategy, which could include more or less outside communication.

Outside Communication During Rehab: Good or Bad?

Staying in contact with family members and friends while they are in rehab can be helpful. Having emotional support from a parent, sibling, spouse or friend and hearing about any sort of changes can be a motivational tool. When people know they are valued, even during their struggles, that can help them continue their healing process and look toward the day when they are on their own with their healthier lifestyle.

However, some family situations and social networks can provide a possibility for setbacks. Continuing unhealthy relationships while in rehab can lead to inclinations to end treatment early This urge could occur from cravings for a substance brought on by communicating with someone who also misuses the substance, or from feeling like they don’t need rehab after a short time enduring withdrawal symptoms and attending the inpatient program sessions.

Steven Gifford, a licensed professional counselor in Ohio, explains the positives of a family taking a “step back” to “recognize negative behavior patterns” that might have led to their loved one’s addiction.

“For example, well-meaning family and friends often become trapped in a cycle of enabling and codependency with the patient prior to addiction therapy,” he writes. “They pretend like nothing is wrong and unintentionally assist the patient’s addiction by ignoring the problem.”

This type of relationship can persist even after rehabilitation has started, which is another example of when outside communication might need to be limited during inpatient treatment.

Determining whether communication with family and friends is helpful or harmful — and the desired level of communication — is often up to the rehab facility’s counselor. Fortunately, many centers such as The Recovery Village offer family counseling sessions. In these settings, family members and people suffering from a substance use disorder are given an opportunity work through any unsolved issues with the help of a professional, possibly preventing a future setback that could be caused by issues related to a flawed support system.

Encouraging Family Counseling

Family influences can play a major role in an individual’s chances of suffering from a substance use disorder. As an example, research from Columbia University shows that a child who grows up in a household where at least one adult misuses drugs or alcohol is significantly more likely to become addicted than a child brought up in a home free from substance misuse.

Relationships with family members can also help people who are struggling with an addiction, and sometimes these connections are best done under the supervision of a medical expert.

When undergoing substance misuse treatment, the patients receive most of the attention and resources from therapists, social workers and medical personnel. In some levels of care and at some facilities, all members of the family are included in therapy to uncover any lasting issues that could create problems for someone in recovery. The family therapy program is designed to break down the lingering feelings of distrust, guilt and stress.

However, not every facility offers this valuable service. According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the states with the highest percentage of facilities that do not provide family counseling are:

  • Nevada (32 percent)
  • California (27 percent)
  • Colorado (24 percent)
  • Washington (23 percent)
  • New York (21 percent)
  • New Hampshire (20 percent)
  • Illinois (20 percent)
  • Massachusetts (20 percent)
  • Illinois (20 percent)
  • North Carolina (19 percent)

A positive to take from these numbers is that even in the states with the largest percentages of facilities lacking this service, the majority of rehab centers in the United States do allow families a therapeutic setting to find healing. Many medical professionals see the value in ensuring that patients and their families have this clinical opportunity, which likely leads to stronger bonds among the family members going forward and an improved chance of a successful recovery.

How The Recovery Village Handles Family Communication During Rehab

The staff at The Recovery Village understands the importance of family, especially in times of hardship. Whenever a person enters into a drug rehabilitation program, having a support system in place can make the entire process a little easier.

“If it’s a healthy and supportive environment, we want to encourage (communication with family) as much as possible,” said Jodi Russo, director of operations at The Recovery Village Umatilla. However, Russo added that each family provides its own set of dynamics, some with potential pitfalls.

“Are they enablers?” she asked as an example of a situation where family contact might be discouraged.

Aside from providing family counseling services for its patients and families, The Recovery Village has a set of guidelines to help family members understand the importance of rehabilitation, signs to look for to avoid an early discharge and ways to create positive interactions between the patient and their loved ones:

  • The Recovery Village staff contacts the family of a patient within 48 hours of treatment beginning. This contact includes ways to set boundaries and what to look for when someone asks to leave the facility before a program ends, in order to identify potential issues.
  • Family weekends scheduled once a month to promote healthy interaction and communication.
  • For patients in less intensive levels of care, nearby families can schedule visits where they can take the patient offsite.

Family counseling is one of the reasons why The Recovery Village is a trusted resource for overcoming substance use disorders. Other ways the facilities and staff are an ally against addiction include the quality customer service and a full continuum of care provided for all types of addiction and needs.

If you are a family member to a loved one who is suffering from a substance use disorder, do not hesitate to seek help for them. The Recovery Village’s network of facilities, which include locations in five states, promotes a positive and supportive healing environment in which people of all ages and backgrounds can begin their own path to recovery. Additionally, family therapy sessions and visitation opportunities offered at The Recovery Village’s facilities allow for loved ones to become part of the process and make their own progress toward offering a more stable and supportive setting in which recovery can take place.

Devin Golden
By – Devin Golden
Devin Golden has worked for various print and digital news organizations. Devin's family has been affected by addiction and mental health disorders, which is a large part of why he wants to help others who have either directly or indirectly been affected by these diseases. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

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.