Counselor Tips: What to Do When Your Loved One Comes Home from Addiction Treatment

We asked one of our counselors some questions that loved ones of individuals in treatment will likely be interested in.

I think you’ll find her answers helpful.

Q: What can I expect from my loved one when he/she returns home from Duffy’s? Is there anything I can do for them?

This is a huge subject. But two short lists come to mind: “What to do when my loved one returns home” (or even while they’re in treatment) and, “What not to do when your loved one returns home.”

What To Do

  • The first thing I would do is ask for the family to educate themselves on addiction so they know what to expect. I usually recommend the book Staying Sober by Terence T. Gorski. The book does a good job explaining what addiction is.
  • I recommend going to 6 Al-Anon meetings—at least to give them a try. Family members need to figure out what their part is in the recovery process, and they have to understand they can’t fix or change their loved one. All they can do is change themselves.
  • Family members need to understand that they need to be patient with their loved one. Recovery is a process—not an event; so don’t expect a miracle.

What Not To Do

  • Don’t take things personally. If your loved one needs to go to meetings twice a day for three months, don’t give them a hard time.
  • Don’t be afraid to communicate, even if it’s negative.
  • Don’t be concerned about causing your loved one to relapse, the loved one can do that all on their own. You don’t have that much power. So be honest about your feelings. It’s “OK” not to know what to say; just don’t hold something in; it isn’t worth it.
  • Don’t keep secrets from your loved one; bring everything into the light. Saying “I don’t understand it,” or “I don’t know what to do,” is better than saying nothing.

Q: Would you ever encourage the family to play a role directly in the rehabilitation process of their loved one?

The best thing a family can do is take care of themselves. When family members understand they are powerless over their loved one’s addiction, they’ve taken the first step towards helping their loved one. Many families try hard to help. But as they try, they often enable their loved one in the process.

It’s very important that families allow their loved one to hit their “bottom.” Most families have probably heard this before, but they continue to say, “I love them, and I don’t want them to hit bottom.”

But as they keep trying to help, their loved one will start to think, “I don’t have a problem. Mom keeps coming in and saving me, so I don’t have to really deal with these issues.”

Q: So it’s like a teacher whispering answers to her student during a test.

Exactly! It’s about letting go. It’s simple; but it’s not easy.

Q: When an addict comes home from treatment, what do you recommend they do?

It varies from guest to guest, but routine is key.

When they’re here at Duffy’s, they’re on a pretty tight schedule, and that’s intentional. Up until this point, they haven’t been able to do that in their life. So maintaining some routine when they return home is equally important.

Q: Is there a specific structure or routine you recommend to guests when they leave here?

We work with them one-on-one before they leave here and develop an exit plan.

Within that exit plan we identify “high risk” times and prepare them to deal with the risks they’ll confront at home. For example, if someone knows they’ve always drunk after work, that desire won’t neccessarily go away after treatment, so we help them form a plan to deal with these “risks.”

Q: I’m guessing a majority of this plan is helping them identify the triggers of their addiction, not only here at Duffy’s, but when they return home as well. Is that a big part of your job as a counselor—teaching them how to deal with those triggers when they return home?

Yes, we have an entire class we teach on on triggers and high risk situations—it just happened earlier this week as a matter of fact. After that class, we usually sit down with the addict and tell them to find a quiet place and start writing down their triggers.

Once they’ve identified their triggers, we sit down with them and decide what we’re going to do as each trigger comes up. And much of this actually happens organically in the process of treatment.

Q: I went to a camp years ago—a spiritual emphasis sort of a camp, and one of the first things they had us do was write down 75 ways we were selfish. They encouraged us to share the list with someone else; a brother, friend, parent etc. when we got home. Do you encourage the guests to share the specific triggers they identified here at Duffy’s with someone when they return home?

Yes, we do.

But identifying exactly who to tell is the tricky part. Some guests really love their families, some families are really “up to here” with their addiction, and have a “we’ve heard all this before” mentality. So everyone is different, but yes, sharing it with somebody—especially with their sponsor, their home group, and their AA support group, is important.

We tell them they might not see the trigger being pulled, but someone else who cares will. So yes, share it.

Q: I always pictured the family as the people who push the addict out the door and into rehab. Is that accurate?

So sometimes families do send their loved one to treatment in an appropriate way, but sometimes they push them when they’re not ready and the person is resentful early in recovery.

Most of what we tell families is to give the addict room to recover. Certainly talk about the problem, but don’t try to micro manage it.

Families are not God. They can’t tell their loved one what to do, and they have their own life.

Many times, the family doesn’t realize they have a disease called codependency. For the most part, the guests know they’ve messed their lives up. But the families don’t realize their enabling behaviors help keep their loved one’s disease alive… although it isn’t their fault, they are helping keep it alive. But this isn’t a black and white issue, families come in all different forms and sizes.