Nearly 1 in 7 Americans will eventually struggle with a substance abuse problem, meaning that more than a quarter of all Americans have an addict in their close friends or family group. While addiction obviously hits those with the disorder the hardest, an addicts’ loved ones suffer too. Most of us would like to think that journey ends when our loved ones go to rehab and get treatment, but it’s not always that easy. People go to rehab and come back with many of the same problems as before, alongside damaged relationships, an inability to return to former social circles, and often a sense of shame and guilt.
Individuals often move out of rehab desperately wanting to try hard and to improve their lives, but obviously face difficulties along the way. As someone who has lived with an addict and likely been hurt by them, making the shift to seeing them as a new and recovering person is not easy, but it is a step that will help them to recover. At the same time, living with an addict presents its own challenges in other ways, in that you too need time to heal. A recovering addict is just that, recovering. They will still make mistakes, may still hurt you, and will need space to change and to improve their behavior. Managing this will require work on both sides.
Living with an addict means living with someone who has taken up a great deal of your time, energy, emotional energy, and likely money. Setting boundaries as part of your new relationship is a healthy and useful thing to do. Even if you’re partners, it’s important to be able to step back and say, “Not right now”, or “I need some space” and to set very specific ground rules. These could be “no money”, they could be, “None of your old friends”, or a series of rules that mean something to you based on your relationship, past, and preferences. You, like them, are healing and need time for yourself, space to process, and time to work on yourself, rather than dedicating all of your energy to someone in recovery.
It may be difficult to support a recovering addict, especially if they’ve come out of recovery with no warning, you aren’t ready to face that change, or you’re upset or have been hurt by them. However, it is important to be support of them and their new lifestyle if you are planning to continue living with them. It’s also important to keep in mind that not being supportive may be destructive to habits and choices preventing relapse.
Here, individuals in recovery should typically be kept away from drugs and alcohol, should exercise regularly, should eat healthy meals, should continue to attend therapy, and should participate in healthy and loving relationships with family and friends. You can be supportive by joining in on those activities, by encouraging going to treatment or group, and by avoiding judgement or stigma in regard to your loved one’s past life choices.
Supporting yourself is an important part of maintaining your mental and emotional health. Just like the people in your life, you have needs and they should be met if you are going to be happy and continue to be happy. This might mean seeking out therapy to get help and learn how to deal with trauma and emotional stress inflicted by an addiction. It may also mean simply taking care of your physical and emotional health, which align well with building good habits for a recovering addict. For example, going or daily walks or runs, taking time out to meditate or do a relaxing sport such as yoga, taking time for your own hobbies and interests, and otherwise making more time for yourself are all important.
Here, it’s important to see a therapist, talk about your problems, and possibly attend a self-help group such as Al-Anon, where you can share your experiences, interact with peers, and get the support you need.
Continuing Education and Learning
Addiction is a disease or a disorder and it impacts the individuals afflicted with it in numerous ways that extend well beyond simple substance dependence. Someone in recovery will have to deal with lingering effects for years and possibly even the rest of their life. Learning more about addiction and its long-term effects will help you to be a better family member for your loved one. For example, most addicts suffer from nutritional deficiencies, which can cause depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Many also suffer from lingering impacts on neurotransmitters in the brain, where they have trouble processing and feeling emotions, suffer from depression, and otherwise struggle to process emotions. Learning about these impacts will help you to manage other people’s reactions yourself, to understand their behavior and decisions, and to navigate their changing behavior and attitudes.
Groups such as Al-Anon and Alateen specialize in helping the family and loved ones of addicts to get information needed to navigate recovery with your loved one.
Family therapy is about going to a therapist together, getting treatment together, and learning to rebuild your relationships so that you can move on from trauma, built-up negative behavior patterns, and feelings of mistrust or anger. Many rehabilitation centers offer family therapy as part of treatment, and if you have the opportunity to take one of these, it is very often a good idea.
If you did not, there are many opportunities to seek out addiction-related family therapy with your loved one. Family therapy often includes behavioral therapy, which means that both you and your loved one will be expected to recognize problematic behavior and the emotions behind it and to fix it, so that you can build a new relationship and move on.
Living with an addict isn’t easy but it is often a choice that we want to make. Your loved one is in recovery, they are trying to get better, and navigating that can be difficult, painful, and often overwhelming. Making space for yourself, for their changes, and for getting help together as part of an ongoing process of recovery is important for supporting this.
If your loved one has not yet gone to therapy, getting them into treatment as part of their recovery is an important step to ensuring they have the tools to move on. Contact South Coast Counselling at 1-844-330-0096 and find the help you need or help someone who is addicted to finding the help they need. As Jamie Lee Curtis said, “The greatest gift to give to the people you love the most is your recovery.”