Family Resource


Post rehab dos and donts

When your loved one comes home from rehab, it’s natural to be nervous about what comes next. This guide will give you a basic framework for navigating some of the common challenges faced during the post-rehab adjustment period.

Do Take Time to Educate Yourself

If you’ve never struggled with drug or alcohol abuse yourself, it can be hard to understand what someone in recovery is going through. However, there are many excellent resources available to help you learn more about the roots of addiction and how to best support your loved one during the recovery process. Start by seeing what resources your loved one’s counselor recommends or by attending a friends and family support group such as Al-Anon.

Resources from St. Joseph Institute for Addiction that you might find helpful include:
What Is Withdrawal?
Principles of Effective Addiction Treatment
Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders: A Double Whammy for Treatment Goals

Do Ask Open-Ended Questions

When it comes to talking about recovery, everyone is different in regards to what they feel comfortable sharing. Some people want to share every detail, while others are slower to open up. You can express your support without prying with a simple, “How are you feeling?” or “What did you do today?”

To avoid making your loved one feel as though they’re being put on the spot, remember that a conversation is a two-way street. Make an effort to share details about the activities of your own day as well as your future plans. Your goal should be to foster a meaningful dialogue so it doesn’t feel as though you’re simply lecturing or criticizing.

Do Engage in Acts of Service

Verbally expressing your support is a good start, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. Show your support for your loved one’s recovery by offering transportation to appointments, the supplies or resources necessary to begin a new sober hobby, or assistance picking out clothes for a job interview. An invitation for a home cooked meal or a drug and alcohol free social engagement are also great options to consider.

If you’re not sure how to best be of service, don’t be afraid to ask. “What can I do to help you?” is always a good way to open the lines of communication. Your loved one may have ideas that you never would have considered on your own.

Don’t Rehash the Past

Your loved one is well aware of the mistakes he or she has made while struggling with addiction. Focusing on past mistakes will only keep you from moving forward in your relationship, especially if your loved one starts to feel like you’re blaming him or her for what has happened. Nobody can change the past, so it’s best to keep your focus on the future.

If you need to process your feelings about past events, vent to a trusted friend or write down your thoughts in a journal. This will help you keep a level head when dealing with your loved one in recovery.

Don’t Neglect Yourself

Loving a recovering addict can be stressful. It’s easy to spend so much time worrying about how to help your friend or family member that you forget to make time to take care of yourself. But, if you’re exhausted and overwhelmed, you won’t be able to effectively support your loved one during the recovery process.

Set a regular sleep schedule, eat nutritious meals, exercise regularly, and make time for stress-relieving activities that you enjoy. You’ll feel better about yourself and be setting a good example for your loved one of how to live a sober lifestyle.

Don’t Think of Rehab as a Cure

Addiction is a chronic illness. Your loved one may be sober now, but he or she is not cured in the sense that addiction will never be an issue again. Just as a diabetic needs to take insulin and manage blood sugar with diet and exercise, a recovering addict needs to remain vigilant to stay on top of relapse triggers. Rehab sets the foundation for a successful recovery. It’s not a quick fix.

Always remember that recovery is a journey that must be taken one step at a time. Your loved one may experience obstacles and setbacks along the way, but this does not mean that sobriety is impossible. It simply means that it may take some time to find a treatment plan that works best for his or her individual needs.

By Dana Hinders

How to help a parent who struggles with addictionWatching a loved one battle addiction is never easy, but having a parent who struggles with substance abuse presents unique challenges. You must balance the desire to see your father or mother get help with the need to address how parental addiction has affected your own mental health.

Recognizing the Signs of Parental Addiction

In many families, addiction is a secret that everyone knows and nobody acknowledges. Children grow up knowing that their parent abuses drugs or alcohol, but not fully understanding how to change the situation.

However, it’s possible for an addiction to develop so gradually that you might not realize there is a problem right away. In cases where an adult child is concerned about an elderly parent’s recent changes in behavior, retirement, illness, or the death of a loved one may serve as a trigger event for substance abuse.

If you’re worried about a parent’s alcohol or drug use, here are some warning signs to watch for:

  • Slurred or difficult to understand speech
  • Angry outbursts
  • Difficulty remembering conversations or details about important family events
  • Confusion
  • Glazed eyes
  • Pupils that seem unusually small or unusually large
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Unexplained financial problems
  • Lying about daily activities or habits
  • Change in activity levels, such as excessive energy or extreme exhaustion
  • Disheveled or unkempt personal appearance

Note that in cases where seniors are drinking to excess or abusing prescription medication, the warning signs of addiction are often mistaken for age-related cognitive decline or the early signs of dementia. Since addiction is often mistakenly seen as a younger person’s problem, it’s somewhat easier for seniors to hide the signs of drug and alcohol abuse from the casual observer.

Getting Help

If you’re worried about a parent’s substance abuse, discussing your concerns with other family members is a good place to start. You may find that your siblings or your other parent have similar concerns, but were too afraid to speak up until you began the conversation. Joining together to discuss the problem in a calm, rational way will help you decide how to best proceed.

Planning an intervention can be an effective way to convince your parent to seek treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. An intervention is a meeting led by concerned family members and friends. The meeting begins by having everyone share examples of behavior that they’ve witnessed and how these actions have negatively affected them. Then, the group presents a prearranged addiction treatment plan and the consequences for refusing to accept treatment. After listening to everyone speak, the addicted person is then asked to make an immediate decision about seeking treatment. If the addicted person refuses to accept treatment, the intervention team must be prepared to follow through on the consequences—which may include limiting contact or refusing to provide financial assistance.

Some key points to remember when talking to a parent about his or her addiction include:

  • Try to avoid using the word “addict” since older people are more likely to view substance abuse as a moral failing instead of a chronic illness.
  • Be supportive and compassionate by taking about happy memories you have with your parent. Stress that your concern is coming from a place of love.
  • Don’t bring up topics that are unrelated to your parent’s substance abuse. Keep your focus on the need to get your parent into addiction treatment.

If you believe that your parent may become violent if confronted about his or her substance abuse, do not try to have an intervention without the assistance of a mental health professional. Ensuring the safety of everyone in your family should be your top priority.

Taking Care of Your Own Needs

Having a parent who struggles with addiction is a traumatic experience due to the role reversal it involves. Normally, your parent is the one to care for you, guide you, and teach you how to prepare for the future. When addiction forces you to become your parent’s caretaker, feelings of confusion, anger, shame, and betrayal can result.

Seeking counseling can help you learn to deal with your feelings surrounding your parent’s addiction in a constructive manner. Support groups such as Al-Anon or Al-Ateen may also be useful in helping you to better understand the challenges associated with your situation.

Finally, you may find it useful to remember the 7 Cs of addiction as taught by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics:

I didn’t cause it.
I can’t cure it.
I can’t control it.
I can care for myself
By communicating my feelings,
Making healthy choices, and
By celebrating myself.

By Dana Hinders

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Talking to kids about a parent's addictionTalking to kids about a parent’s substance abuse problem isn’t easy, but this is a conversation you simply can’t ignore. Brushing the topic aside gives children the message that addiction is a shameful family secret. Instead, plan to discuss a parent’s decision to seek treatment in an age-appropriate manner—setting the stage for open and honest communication.

Teaching the 7 C’s of Addiction

According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, the 7 C’s of addiction can serve as a useful framework for helping children understand a parent’s substance abuse problem and how it affects their own lives.

I didn’t cause it.
I can’t cure it.
I can’t control it.
I can care for myself
By communicating my feelings,
Making healthy choices, and
By celebrating myself.

After you’ve talked to your child, consider sharing a copy of the 7 C’s of addiction. Your child may wish to display a copy of this information in his or her bedroom or to carry it in a wallet or backpack as a reminder of how to handle conflicting feelings surrounding a parent’s substance abuse treatment.

Explaining Addiction to Kids Under 10

At this age, children still live in a me-centered world. This means they’re likely to blame themselves for a parent’s addiction-related behavior. Your task is help your child understand that their mother or father’s addiction is not their fault and to reassure them of your family’s love and commitment to each other.

You can begin the conversation by bringing up an example of behavior that your child witnessed, such as an argument occurring after your spouse missed your child’s school play to go out drinking with friends. Explain that addiction is a disease that causes people to make bad choices, even when they know those bad choices hurt themselves or others. Stress that the parent in treatment is getting help for his or her illness, much like you would take your child to the doctor for a high fever or a bad cut.

Talking to Tweens

Tweens are at the stage of their lives where they’re attuned to rumors and gossip. When you talk to your tween about a parent’s addiction, your goal should be to make sure he or she has all the facts.

Plan to talk to your tween in a calm, quiet location that’s free of distractions. State the facts simply, saying that the parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol and is seeking treatment for this illness. Give your tween ample opportunity to ask questions, answering as truthfully as you are able to. Stress the importance of coming to together as family during this time and invite your tween to come to you whenever he or she is feeling sad or angry about the situation.

Talking to Teens

Teens often have a different perspective on addiction than younger children. They may be resentful for having to handle household chores and care for younger siblings when a parent is under the influence. They may also be jealous of friends who they view as having “perfect” families.

When you’re talking to your teen, express your appreciation for all your teen has done to help the family during this time and acknowledge the impact this experience has had on his or her life. You can point out that all families have their own struggles, but avoid taking a condescending or dismissive tone. Teens will often shut down if they feel they’re not being respected as part of the conversation.

After your teen has had a chance to process the initial discussion, you should broach the subject of what a family history of addiction means. While genetics aren’t destiny, studies have shown that having a parent or other close relative who suffers from addiction does increase a teen’s risk of developing a substance abuse problem. Stress your concern for your teen’s wellbeing and help him or her explore interests and hobbies that can will reduce the urge to experiment with drugs and alcohol.

Seeking Help for Your Child

The experience of living with a parent’s addiction can cause some children to act out. If you notice that your child is experiencing signs of depression or anxiety, such as changes in appetite, sleeping patterns, academic performance, and time spent with friends, he or she may be in need of counseling to help process the feelings associated with a parent in treatment. Your pediatrician can refer you to a qualified therapist in your area. Attending Ala-teen or a related support group for children in similar situations may also be beneficial.

By Dana Hinders

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