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You as the family of an addict exhales after your child, husband, wife or partner is admitted into a treatment programme as it has been a lengthy and painful process to get them to this point. You might sigh and have a sense of relief, but then the questions start to pop up in your mind. At this stage the family is exhausted and needs a break from the demanding addict as all the relationships are strained. It is afterwards and closer to the addict leaving treatment that you might ask yourself “What now? “What should or shouldn’t I do or say?”. The actual question is how do I support the addict in recovery? It is important to define the term “support” vs “codependency”. These terms are confused with each other in the context of substance abuse treatment.

“Support” in this context is about the action as well as wanting the person to reach their objectives and succeeding. You have to understand that co-dependency is trying to do recovery for the recovering addict and working harder than them at it. The time that the addict is in recovery is a great opportunity for the healing process to start for the family. You have to do introspection about the role you played and how addiction has impacted on your relationship with yourself and between the members of the family. Even to take a hard look at your own negative behaviours and habits that might need to be changed.

Addiction is seen as a “family disease” and not only the problem of one person, in this case the addict, but everyone in that family. I have heard family members say “Why must I go for group sessions, I’m not the one with the problem?”. These family members don’t realize that it is their problem and that through positive family involvement, the addict feels more motivated and hopeful to succeed at their treatment and eventually recovery. It is the same concept such as supporting your favourite sport’s team and letting them know that you are on their side and believe in them. This team spirit is needed for the addict to buy into recovery whilst in treatment. They need to know that you are routing for them to win and that even if you can’t play the “game” for them, you can support them and encourage them from the side lines.

Some research has indicated that there are five things families can do to support recovery of a family member. This will mean that you would have to decide to get involved in the treatment process and open yourself up to learning and listening to new knowledge about addiction being a brain disease; addiction being a lifelong disease like diabetes; the addict’s 12 STEPS programme and even change your own myths, perceptions and negative habits or behaviours. These are the suggested guidelines for families:

  • Educate yourself on the recovery process for individuals and families. Read up on addiction and even download “Pleasure Unwoven” from YouTube to understand what addiction really is about. This documentary is a good start for you as a family to understand your loved one better as an addict and that addiction is more complex than what we could have imagined.

  • If your recovering family member is living with you, provide a sober environment to support that recovery. Investigate your living space and make sure all drug paraphernalia and alcohol beverages have been removed from your house before the recovering addict returns home. You need to become more sensitive towards a totally abstinent lifestyle that your loved one needs to follow. This means that you have to check menus; content of medications and even change family events that involves alcohol. Discuss these scenarios with the recovering addict and determine what will work for them.

  • Seek professional and peer support (from a group like Al-Anon) for your own physical and emotional health. It is important to seek support groups in your area because you will need your own space to talk about the negative experiences and gain support from other families that have been there themselves. Support your family member’s involvement in treatment aftercare meetings and recovery support groups.

  • Assist the recovering family member with assistance in locating sober housing, employment, child care, transportation or other recovery support needs. The recovering addict will have to re-learn to live their life and need more practical support during the stage of leaving treatment.

  • Assertively re-intervene in the face of any relapse episode. You need to compile a relapse and aftercare contract with all the parties including the therapist before the recovering addict is discharged. This contract spells out what is expected of all parties in terms of curfews; dangerous people like friends; dangerous places; control of money, cellphones, vehicles; accountability; attending of AA/NA meetings; attending aftercare sessions, etc. Furthermore, the possibility of relapse needs to be discussed and crucial decisions need to be made regarding the consequences of a relapse. You as the family also need to be able to identify the relapse signs beforehand to make the recovering addict of them.

  • This is not an easy task to get involved with this process to support your loved one, but the rewards are in seeing your child, your husband, your wife or your partner change for the better. Please remember that recovery doesn’t mean that all the problems disappear overnight. There still will be challenges and disappointments that you will have to face as a family. Roles and responsibilities have changed now and this can cause conflict as change bring a sense of fear for the unknown. Make it a good habit to talk every day about recovery and practice good communication skills with each other. Honesty is one of the most important cornerstone of recovery but honesty can.

    About author Phoenix House For 44 years, Phoenix House has offered services in the prevention and treatment of addiction. Our excellent track record speaks for itself as we are recognised by the medical aids as a preferred service provider. Our referral networks are extensive, and include medical practitioners, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, employee assistance practitioners, human resource managers, school principals, social media and the community. Click here to view their profile