February 21, 2017

What to Expect When Someone You Love Goes to Rehab

It is a hard truth that many people don’t want to face: recovery from addiction is a long series of “hard parts” that all get strung together and it is unlikely that things will go back to exactly how they were before. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a calm and happy life with this person. It just means that the “normal” you experience now will be a new kind of normal. Not just for you but for your loved one and everyone in your immediate family or community.

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We know that’s a little overwhelming, so we thought it would be a good idea to break things down into easier to manage chunks.

Admitting the Problem/Sending to Rehab

Hopefully, the person you love will have gone into rehab voluntarily. Studies have proven that people who willingly enter a recovery program have a greater chance of success than those who are forced there or ordered there by family or, in some cases, a judge.

That said, know that checking in to rehab is going to look and feel different than it does in the movies and on television. First, you have to choose a recovery program (1). Then you need to follow the induction instructions given to you by that program. Follow them to the letter. Do not try to sneak things past the staff, who will be registering your loved one and getting him/her set up.

The Detox Process

The first step of any recovery process is almost always the “detoxing” process. This is where the addict is set up with a bed or a room and is expected to stay there while the drugs leave his or her system. Depending on the drug of choice, detox can be incredibly painful and stressful. This is why it is recommended that your loved one wait until he or she is in the care of trained medical professionals to go through it. The symptoms of withdrawal usually only last a few days and medical professionals can help your loved one better manage them (2).

Recovery: The Addict

Unfortunately, detoxing does not cure an addict of his or her need for the drug he or she has been abusing. In fact, sometimes it can even intensify it. This has little to do with your loved one’s personality and much to do with how the brain deals with addiction and drugs (3). It takes time for the brain to readjust to the lack of drug “input” and regulate its hormone production accordingly. This is why so many recovery centers advocate for in-patient rehabilitation. It is easier to manage cravings and withdrawal in a controlled environment. The length of time your loved one spends in rehab will vary depending on his addiction and recovery process.

Recovery: The Community

It is just as important for the loved ones who surround an addict to acknowledge and work on their own feelings about the addict’s addiction and recovery. You won’t feel bright and shiny right away either. It will take time to heal from the damage that the addiction has done. You, too, will need to get some counseling and professional support (4). The recovery center your loved one is in will likely be able to recommend someone good for you. You should also expect to have at least a few joint sessions with your family and the person who is in recovery.

Once the recovery treatment program has been completed and your loved one has come home (many addicts are cautioned against living alone too soon after rehab) (5), you can expect things to be weird and awkward for a while. You will feel like you all have to tiptoe around each other. This is normal but it is also important to resist the urge to treat each other with kid gloves. Many families find that family therapy can help make this process easier and offers the best chance for a successful recovery for everyone involved.


  1. Dealing with Addiction: Finding the Best Treatments, Wellbeing-Support.com
  2. Heroin Detox, TheRecoveryVillage.com
  3. Alan Leshner, PhD. What Does it Mean That Addiction is a Brain Disease? American Psychology Association, June 2001, Vol. 32, No. 6
  4. Counseling and Addiction, WebMD.com
  5. After Rehab, Houses Help Addicts Learn to Live Sober, Nico Savidge, Gazettextra.com, November 3, 2013


  1. Meg Lund says:

    The last section where you talk about the recovery of the family and friends, I thought, was really helpful. You suggest that it will take time to heal from the damage that the addiction has done, and you, too, will need to get some counseling and professional support. I honestly have never thought of the family and friends needing help to recover too, but I can see why this is necessary because the pain from addiction doesn’t just apply to the one using the substance. Thanks for the great insight!

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