While it’s true that recovery can only be achieved when someone suffering from addiction decides to seek treatment, there are countless outside influences that can make or break his or her success in recovery. In fact, many individuals relapse due to having insufficient preparation or resources for recovery.
Among the many resources that can contribute to long-lasting success in recovery, having the support of one’s loved ones is among the most vital. But what can loved ones do to support recovery? Why is family support so necessary to a person’s sobriety?
Supportive Loved Ones Provide Ongoing Motivation
Addiction doesn’t happen overnight. Even when an individual makes the decision to abuse a mind-altering chemical substance, he or she must continue to abuse that substance frequently over a period of time before the individual actually becomes addicted. The reason for this is because the body must acclimate to the continued presence of the substance; as the substance is introduced to the body again and again over time, the body adjusts its physiological processes to accommodate the substance, making it difficult — and oftentimes physically uncomfortable — for the individual to go even a brief period of time without the substance.
So Why is This Relevant?
Many family members have certain misconceptions about recovery. In particular, there’s a common assumption that going to treatment is all a person needs to overcome addiction, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Much like how addiction doesn’t occur overnight, neither does recovery occur overnight. Although an initial and tenuous sobriety is achieved during treatment, actual recovery is more an ongoing and lifelong journey, requiring continuous focus and strength of conviction. Additionally, having the support of family members and close friends is often seen as a crucial ingredient to one’s success in recovery.
Over the course of treatment, patients are educated about the many obstacles to recovery they will inevitably face as they return home and attempt to sustain their sobriety on their own. Even the smallest stressors can potentially result in relapse, especially when an individual doesn’t have a strong support network in place. But when an individual has supportive loved ones surrounding him or her, the individual has significantly higher chances of sustaining newfound sobriety long-term.
It’s not inaccurate to think of a recovering individual’s loved ones as his or her cheerleaders. Rather than taking a hands-off approach to recovery, loved ones should be championing his or her successes and providing as much positive reinforcement as possible. When the recovery individual has achieved certain milestones in recovery — e.g., six months sober, one month sober, maintaining employment for a period of time, etc. — it’s very important to acknowledge and celebrate these achievements as it will provide motivation for the individual to continue this success.
Family Members Can Minimize Obstacles to Recovery
As mentioned above, the treatment and rehabilitation process aims to impart lots of useful and practical information to individuals who are in recovery. For instance, one of the numerous goals of treatment is to help a patient uncover some of the root causes or contributing factors of the addiction. Once the individual understands how he or she came to be addicted, a therapist can help to teach the individual about lifestyle and behavioral changes that can mitigate those factors, thereby minimizing his or her potential for relapse. However, no individual can ever be prepared for every obstacle or dangerous situation he or she may encounter after treatment. That’s where family members come in.
Many individuals find themselves making significant changes in their lives after treatment. A common example is with regard to their social circles: Since people often socialize with other substance abusers while in active addiction, individuals in recovery must go to lengths to distance themselves from other substance abusers after completing treatment. But this is just one change of many that are often required to safeguard one’s sobriety.
After completing treatment, an individual with supportive family members can benefit from his or her loved ones being more proactive by eliminating as many relapse triggers and stressors as possible. For example, many individuals in recovery will associate certain places or even particular items with substance abuse; being exposed to these places or items will likely make them experience cravings for alcohol or drugs, but family members can take the initiative to ensure that any possible triggers are removed from individual’s day-to-day life. Granted, it’s not possible for loved ones to be aware of every trigger, but it’s important to make an effort to be knowledgeable of possible triggers — perhaps through independent research or voluntary support groups for the family members of addicts — so as to help safeguard the individual’s sobriety.
Having a Vital Resource in One’s Family
Although addiction is often a lonely lifestyle, many individuals find that recovery can feel just as lonely. After spending an extended period of time in active addiction, a person’s mind takes a long time to restabilize and acclimate to the sudden absence of mind-altering chemicals, many of which triggered feelings of happiness and euphoria. After achieving sobriety in treatment, life can feel very dull and the fact that recovery is a one-person journey often feels isolating.
Fortunately, family members and close friends can be a valuable resource to the recovery process. In particular, it’s helpful for family members to make themselves available to the individual in recovery, particularly if he or she were to ever need to talk or vent to someone. Similarly, it’s crucial to avoid responding to the individual in a negative or reprimanding way. Even if the individual in recovery admits to having experienced cravings — a fact that would surely be unsettling and worrying to loved ones — every attempt to resist a negative response should be made. If loved ones respond negatively, the individual will likely feel that he or she should simply internalize these difficulties, making it difficult for families to intervene in a scenario where there’s a high risk of relapse.
There are many other ways for family members to reinforce an individual’s sobriety. For instance, taking the initiative to learn more about addiction and recovery — whether by seeking information on the Internet or by attending support groups in the community — will provide lots of useful, actionable information that can be used to help the individual experience the greatest possible success in recovery.