How to Help a Loved One in Recovery

Addiction is a family disease and recovery is a family process. Here are tips that will help you help your entire family recover.


1. Addiction is a family disease.
The addicted person becomes the focus in the family. If the addict is sober, everyone relaxes; if high, everyone is tense. To relieve the tension, family members may try to pretend the addiction does not exist, minimize the extent of the problem, or cover it up to protect the family secret. To compensate for the dysfunction, they may try to be perfect, charming, or funny. They may stay away from home to get away from the chaos. Often, communication becomes faulty and feelings are ignored.

Recovery is a family process, too. If the family does not change, the family disease will persist and the addicted person will have an excuse to continue with addictive behaviors. It is up to each family member to look at his or her own behavior and come to understand how the disease has affected them. Family members need to find healthy ways to change for themselves. Family members must get well simultaneously but separately. Later, family members can work on healing family relationships if additional work is needed.

2. Understand the Disease
Addiction is a chronic disease. Refer to the article, Why an Addicted Brain Makes Such Poor Decisions, Recovery Solutions, August 2005, for a comprehensive explanation of what happens in an addicted brain. It is important that you recognize that your loved one cannot get well by willpower alone and, while there are medications that provide much help in managing moods and cravings, the addict will have serious work ahead to maintain a sober lifestyle.

3. Have Realistic Expectations
We often blame addiction on a host of behaviors that may not be caused by it. A husband who used to watch sports all weekend while he drank beer will not become a master handyman. If you expect that all your differences will be resolved when the using stops, you are likely to be disappointed.

4. Do Not Take Responsibility for the Disease or the Management of It
You did not cause your loved one to become addicted and you cannot cure the addiction. If someone in your family developed diabetes, you would not try to treat them yourself. Encourage and support the recovering addict to seek professional help and to get involved in recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

5. Get Help for Yourself
Your life is changing. Now is the time for you to focus on getting healthy, too. You may have a long list of hurts and disappointments that you’re ready to unload. You must learn to shift your attention from trying to manage the addict to managing yourself. You will learn new behaviors. These changes may feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first. Consider seeking professional counseling and going to Al-anon, Alateen, or Codependents Anonymous for help and support.

6. Be Honest and Open
Put an end to denial. Start speaking up about what is happening in the family. Learn to recognize and express your feelings. Learn to ask for what you want and need. Teach your children to do the same.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Set Limits
Start allowing the recovering person to experience the consequences of his or her actions. Resolve to stop covering up, cleaning up, or fixing your loved one’s problems. It will be part of their healing process to become responsible for themselves.
Learn to say “No” to your loved one and set limits. You should still set curfews and limits for your recovering teen. You do not have to go along with every request your spouse makes.

8. Expect but Do Not Excuse Relapse
Unfortunately, relapse is often part of the recovery process and it is important that you be prepared for it. It is equally important that you do not continue your enabling behaviors such as ignoring the relapse or making excuses for it.

9. Be Patient
Recovery is a process and true, long-lasting change does not happen overnight. The recovering family must heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The recovering addict will likely experience sleep and appetite problems as well as mood swings. It will help if you can be supportive and encouraging.

By Terri Abraham, eHow Member

Randy Haveson

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Randy Haveson
Randy Haveson is the Founder & CEO of HERO House, a sober living, recovery residence program for college students in early sobriety from addictions. Learn More

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