When you love an addict or alcoholic, you probably have spent a long time hoping…
Supporting a Loved One After Rehab
A graduate student who finds herself leaning on Adderall in the morning and pot and booze at night finally enters treatment to learn healthy coping skills.
Terran had entered Columbia University’s graduate program as a bright, hopeful student with a cheerful attitude and a curious intellect. But life in the city, away from family and friends and immersed in such a busy, intense place, had been much harder than she’d imagined it would be. She’d begun to have panic attacks in crowds and on the subway, and crippling anxiety and depression during months when she needed to be actively involved in research. Eventually, she could barely leave her apartment.
Terran had begun drinking as a way to dampen the anxiety, to help her feel more social and less afraid. In the beginning, it had worked. No one seemed to notice or even to mind until Terran switched from a couple of glasses of wine at dinner to wine in a coffee mug at 7:00 a.m., her teeth stained perpetually purple from the merlot. It was a neighbor who introduced her to marijuana, a high that left her feeling three feet outside her body. Never being quite centered in her skin had the advantage of buffering her against the seizing worry—more general than specific, though no less toxic—that otherwise gripped her gut, at least until she sobered up. It wasn’t until Terran began sleeping through lectures and submitting research papers that were more expository than academic that anyone took notice.
Terran’s answer to this dilemma was symptomatic of the problem; she sought out illicit Adderall to help her stay awake and focus, and soon enough, found herself dependent. Adderall in the morning, pot and booze at night; her anxiety got worse and so did her substance use. Dropping out of school would have been unthinkable to the previous high school valedictorian with big dreams and a bigger work ethic, but Terran had been changed by addiction. Now she used in order not to care. She’d finally accepted her family’s offer of rehab because there was nowhere else for her; she couldn’t afford her apartment and no one would hire her in her state. She knew, too, that it was time to change. Maybe in treatment they could help her address the underlying depression and anxiety in ways that weren’t damaging to the rest of her life. But she worried about how things would be when she got out. She came from a family of big drinkers—it was part of their ethnic identity and their celebratory spirit—and her mother, who also suffered from generalized anxiety, had a medical marijuana prescription for leukemia. She’d be staying with them until she got on her feet.
How would things go for Terran in rehab, and important to her and her family, how would things go for her when she got out?
Importance of Family, Friends and Loved Ones in the Life of Recovering Addicts
Entering rehab is a major decision in the life of an addict and, hopefully, marks the beginning of a period of much needed change. It’s a place to learn about addiction, to examine yourself and your personal history and to better understand what people, places and things tend to trigger your addictive behaviors. Most importantly, rehab is a place where addicts begin to learn healthy coping mechanisms for stress so that when life gets sticky or overly-exciting, reaching for a numbing substance or behavior isn’t the only tool available.
Addiction recovery focuses on the importance of communication and honesty with self and others, so that healthy relationships and a positive sense of identity can begin to flourish. It’s up to the addict whether to take these important skills and apply them in life after rehab, building good habits in place of unhealthy ones. But families, friends and loved ones play a significant role, and greatly influence an addict’s success after rehab.
Tips for Helping Your Loved One After Rehab
- Choose to be a place of non-judgmental support. Judgment can feel like a weapon, and is unlikely to help addicts who feel abandoned to criticism. The opposite of judgment is not enabling; it is recognizing that addiction is a difficult mental health problem that can be overcome with treatment and support. Supporting the addict without supporting his or her addictive behaviors is an invaluable skill for loved ones to learn.
- Recognize that addiction is a family issue, not simply a personal problem. Addiction does not occur inside a vacuum. Problematic emotional histories help to create it, and once created, it adversely impacts the emotional health of any family. A commitment to wellness requires honesty and accountability on everyone’s part.
- Seek your own support, including personal therapy, peer-to-peer support and co-dependency support groups. You cannot give your loved one what you do not have. Seek support and healing for yourself so that you can recover from the tragedy of your loved one’s addiction, and so you can be an example of how to move forward.
- Take time out to focus on your own health, well-being and recovery. Dealing with a loved one’s addiction is not easy. You deserve to be healthy, too.
- Reach out to addiction counselors and/or clinicians to learn what you can. Seek up-to-date information about addiction and learn from your loved one’s clinicians what they advise about the period after your loved one comes home from rehab.
- Don’t use drugs or alcohol in the presence of your loved one. Keep a sober home, even if you do not have a problem with substances. Just after rehab is a vulnerable time in the life of an addict.
The period after rehab may be challenging for your family—addiction is never easy—but the good news is that you have begun. There are resources available online, if not in your area; take advantage of them. And don’t give up. This process may move forward and backward at times, but there is hope. Addiction can be overcome.