When a family member goes through rehab it’s hard on everyone. Whether for drugs or alcohol, coming out of a rehab program is only one step at the start of a long journey. The addict will need support from you and the rest of the family to have the best chance of a successful recovery.
However, feelings of guilt and shame can make it difficult for the addict to open up about his or her feelings, creating a barrier to communication between you. Here are some practical tips for overcoming the initial awkwardness of coming home and taking those early steps towards healing.
Empathy is Important
When your loved one returns from rehab, have empathy for his struggles and offer a kind welcoming hand. Addicts often feel alone and overwhelmed. They may not have mastered the coping skills learned in rehab, so your emotional support is very important at this stage. Addiction is a disease, born of anxiety and emotional pain. Give the addict the same kindness you would to someone coming home from surgery or a long stay in the hospital after a physical illness.
Listen and Offer Alternatives
The best thing you can do for an addict is to listen. Try not to say you know how he or she feels unless you have been through addiction recovery yourself. Simply being there to allow the addict to talk and release negative feelings can be enormously helpful to recovery. Once your loved one has had a chance to vent his feelings, offer healthy strategies for coping. Help him formulate a plan with reasonable steps and goals. Check in on his progress every now and again to let him know that he is not alone in his struggle and that you are there to help.
Find Strength in Numbers
When helping an addict through recovery, strength can come from numbers. Low self-esteem is common among addicts and the outpouring of love and support from the entire family can be a great help. It may be just what the addict needs to feel comfortable at home again and open up about his or her experiences, pain and frustrations. An ongoing weekly gathering centered around a meal can be an excellent strategy for helping these connections to remain strong and for ensuring the addict has ongoing access to the support of the entire family.
Relapse is common and its important to be aware of the signs that might signal the need for intervention. Unfortunately, relapses are insidious events that are not always obvious. The initial signs may include negative attitudes and behaviors indicative of stress. The addict will deny the stress is getting to him and may begin to feel anxiety and restlessness, just as he did immediately following withdrawal from the substance. Daily routines will change. Avoidance and defensiveness will become common reactions to social difficulties. The addict will begin to withdraw from others and abandon routines altogether.
At this point, relapse is not inevitable, but it is quite likely on the way. The final symptoms include poor decision making, impulsiveness and a feeling of hopelessness…that the treatment is not working or not a viable option. This is when relapse typically occurs. Be on the lookout for this downward spiral of behaviors and be ready to intervene.
Intervene if Necessary
The sooner you intervene in a relapse, the sooner your loved one can get well again. If an intervention was necessary to get the addict into treatment the first time, you already know the skills needed. Otherwise, understand that intervention is a difficult process. Those most affected by the addict’s behavior need to meet without the addict and discuss the issues. They must find a counselor or therapist to help the group plan, rehearse and initiate the intervention. The may be one of the most difficult things you ever do, but also one of the most important. Family interventions are often the only thing that saves addicts from eventual overdose and death.
Jessica Bosari writes for TherapistSchools.com, a site that helps students find information on addiction therapy schools, addiction therapist salaries and other therapy career issues.