It can be difficult for families to know how to proceed when one among them has struggled with addiction and is in the early stages of recovery. Family members tend to either avoid the person or cut them too much slack.
A Happy Medium
Both of these rather extreme approaches can create issues. Avoidance can leave the person feeling isolated and unsupported, which can fuel a relapse. A lack of expectations and accountability can create misunderstandings and make it difficult to identify if the person is starting to relapse. A family recovery contract can provide a happy medium, where the person in recovery is supported and everyone knows what the expectations are for all parties.
Benefits of a Family Recovery Contract
As pointed out by our partners at the St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, there are numerous benefits to creating a family recovery contract, including:
- Making clear how the behaviors/choices of each family member impacts everyone else.
- Getting everyone to agree on a recovery plan that will work for them.
- Setting up rules for how and when confrontations might need to occur.
- Helping everyone in the family to feel heard and respected.
- Identifying red flags before a relapse happens.
Pieces of the Recovery Contract
Families may be unsure what to put into a recovery contract. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids recommends a number of things that all recovery contracts should include.
- Expectations for on-going treatment – The contract can require that the person in recovery stay committed to the process by participating in recovery groups, individual and family therapy, and outpatient treatment.
- Trigger strategies – This section acknowledges that certain people, places and experiences are likely to make it more difficult for a person to stay in recovery, and outlines how these triggers will be addressed within the family.
- Relapse plan – By understanding that a relapse begins well before a person re-introduces substances into their body, and by setting a plan in place to notice and address signs of potential relapse, it is possible to head off a relapse or address slips quickly.
- Family Interactions – This section clearly indicates expectations for reasonable response times to calls, texts, emails, etc. between family members; sets curfews in place as needed; and sets guidelines for face-to-face interactions.
- Responsibilities – The person in recovery isn’t typically just an individual or family member; they are often also a student or employee. A good plan should outline responsibilities for all of the various areas of the person’s life.
- Consequences – both positive and negative – The contract makes it clear what can be lost or gained by making good and bad choices.
Characteristics of a Well-Written Recovery Contract
It is important that recovery contracts meet the following criteria:
- Be in writing – this eliminates the risk of people remembering the conversation differently later.
- Include input from everyone – the person in recovery is included in the conversation and treated as an expert on their own recovery journey.
- Give everyone a role – it is not just the person in recovery who is being given rules and expectations; family members also have guidelines for their behavior.
- Be specific – the goals listed in the plan provide enough detail that everyone can agree if the goals have been reached. For example, rather than saying that the person will help around the house, the contract can lay out specific chores and how often they are performed.
- Clearly indicate that sobriety is expected.
- Clearly outline consequences – what happens if the person doesn’t get a job, doesn’t go to meetings, has a relapse, or is hanging around with friends who use? The contract anticipates behaviors and assigns consequences.
Signs That a Recovery Contract Needs More Work
A poorly written recovery contact is no more helpful than being entirely without a recovery contract. If any of the following are true, the recovery contract needs to be revised:
- The person in recovery wasn’t consulted in the creation of the document. They were given a form to sign without being allowed to contribute their input.
- The agreement is vaguely worded so that expectations are unclear.
- The agreement is unreasonably long and complicated.The consequences aren’t something that the family
- is willing to stick to. If you aren’t really willing to throw your loved one out onto the street for relapsing, don’t say that this is what you will do.
- The person in recovery is allowed to relapse without consequences. Consequences need to be put in place to help the person stay accountable.
Our partners at St. Joseph Institute for Addiction offer some suggestions for how to phrase the recovery contract, both in terms of what the person in recovery is expected to do and also what other family members are expected to do.
Some examples include:
- The family agrees to practice healthy detachment and allow the person to learn, grow, and develop a healthy self-respect from their mistakes.
- The person in recovery agrees to accept the consequences of their behavior.
- Loved ones promise to notice positive changes and reinforce them.
- The recovering person also offers validation to the family for respecting their needs.
- The family agrees not to nag, criticize, judge, or condemn the person in recovery.
- The person in recovery permits the family to give them honest feedback if they see destructive patterns reemerging; they listen to and express gratitude for feedback and try to learn from it.
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, we strive to assist our guests in building strong support systems that can aid them in their long-term recovery journey. We are happy to assist in the creation of recovery contracts between our clients and their loved ones.