Your loved one has returned home from treatment for their substance use disorder. They have an aftercare plan: alumni gatherings, 12-step recovery meetings, weekly therapy sessions, and a commitment to self-care. They seem optimistic, if a little nervous. They’re ready to get back to work and claim they want to spend more time with you and the family. 

Everything can go back to normal now, right? You can stop worrying about them and get on with your life. You can trust that they’ll be responsible for their share of the income, housework, and pet and/or childcare. 

The answer is yes. The answer is also maybe. 

Yes, you can stop worrying because worry doesn’t help anyway. Yes, you can get on with your life because your well-being matters. 

Maybe, because it’s quite possible that your loved one will experience a smooth and sustainable recovery. They’ll follow their relapse prevention plan, take on responsibilities, and nurture their relationships. However, as you may have learned in the family program at your loved one’s treatment center, relapse rates for addiction are between 40-60%, with some estimates much higher. Addiction is considered a chronic illness, one that has no cure but can be managed successfully with dedication and commitment. 

For many, many people, addiction recovery takes several tries, and relapse is always possible, even after years of sobriety. So what can you do to support your loved one in their recovery? Let’s look at three primary objectives…

1. Set Boundaries

Your loved one may come home from treatment eager to start again and confident that they’ll never go back to their old ways. It’s easy to get caught up in that enthusiasm and share their confidence that everything will be different now. In your enthusiasm, you may want to be as supportive as possible and do as much as you can to make sure your loved one has no stress (because stress causes relapse!). This is a very slippery slope. Before you start sliding, pause. 

Take a moment to remember how difficult it was when your loved one was in active addiction. What responsibilities did you have to take on? How many hours of emotional, mental, and physical labor did you spend trying to keep afloat during that time?

Now, make a list of what you need from your loved one. This may include the following:

  • They need to clean up after themselves
  • They need to get themselves to work or school every day 
  • They need to be responsible for following through on their aftercare plan
  • They need to be responsible for whatever household chores you both decide is fair
  • They need to treat you with respect
  • They need to be honest with you 

You may have other needs that feel more important to you than these. The main task here is to acknowledge that you have needs and that you’re allowed to express them. Share your needs with your loved one. Encourage them to share their needs with you as well. Negotiate as needed until you both feel comfortable. 

2. Manage Your Expectations

Now that you’ve talked about your needs with your loved one, you can trust that everything will take care of itself, right? Well, not exactly. While it’s crucial to your mental health to express your needs and ask for help, you cannot control how your loved one will respond. 

The question then becomes, how much do you compromise? If your loved one starts to leave their dirty dishes all over the kitchen or their wet towels on the bathroom floor (and if these things are important to you), do you give in and start cleaning up after them? Or do you continue to let the mess pile up until your loved one confronts it? 

If your loved one starts to oversleep, do you wake them up so they get to work on time, or do you let them manage their own schedule, even if it might lead to them getting fired or failing a class at school? 

The answers to these questions will be personal. The danger, of course, of giving in and starting to do these tasks for your loved one means that they will be protected from the consequences of their behavior and that you will be exhausted and resentful.

3. Manage Your Own Recovery

We saved the most important task for last. Manage your own recovery. Because you, too, are in recovery–from the family disease of addiction and possibly from your own codependent tendencies. Two suggestions: a) attend a support group for family members of people in addiction recovery. Al-Anon is a popular one; and b) if you can afford it, meet with a therapist. A therapist can help you manage the complicated emotions you’ll have as you adjust to life with this newly sober person you love. They’ll help you learn how to have tough conversations and how to foster your independence, focusing on your own goals and pursuits. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or feeling in danger of relapse, our compassionate team at Safe Harbor Recovery Center can help. We know what the recovery journey is like and the challenges it holds. Contact our Portsmouth, VA, facility today to learn more about our comprehensive program