Addiction Recovery Guide
Help Your Loved One Navigate Addiction Recovery
Addiction is a chronic disease without a cure, meaning those who suffer from it will have to live with the effects for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, it can be treated and managed, but treating addiction requires the person to re-envision themselves, change their relationship with their environment, and move beyond the habits that led to substance use. As someone who has walked this path, I know that this can be a lonely process if they have to undergo it alone.
Family can be an incredibly powerful source of support during the recovery process, and in this addiction recovery guide, we will outline several tools and approaches you can use to help your loved one along their road toward recovery.
The first thing to do before we can begin to make significant progress in the treatment of addiction is to understand what it is that we are up against. It can feel like the struggle you have with your loved one is truly based on antagonism, a result of them being angry with you for something they think you’ve done. They may even tell you this in so many words. However, it is something much deeper. Your loved one is struggling with themselves, and you are caught in the crossfire.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is a disorder where a person is unable to avoid using a substance they are addicted to despite the consequences it has had for their life, their current desire to avoid it, and the consequences it has had for those around them. As mentioned, addiction is also what is known as a chronic disease. That means the person will live with it for the rest of their life. However, just like other chronic diseases, there is treatment for addiction and ways to cope with its existence.
The Neurological Roots of Addiction
For a person with substance use disorder, the reward system of the brain has been fundamentally hijacked. In the same way that the brain knows that it needs food or water, it has been convinced by persistent changes in chemistry caused by continuous substance use that it needs the substance to survive and function normally. While the person is in a state of active addiction, their brain is insisting that they require the substance the same way that a person going without food for days is told by their body that they need food. Without it, they will likely experience the physical and emotional symptoms of withdrawal.
Addiction doesn’t happen the same way in each individual, but once it has taken hold, it is vicious. Someone suffering from a SUD may be able to go without a substance for a time, but without taking the proper steps to address withdrawals, cravings, triggers to use, and the mental health complications that can come with SUD, the desire to use can return full force. While the brain can be retrained over time to need the substance less, each time the substance is used, it returns the individual to a place of primal need.
Reducing the need for the substance is a project that takes place over time and requires constant effort. With the proper treatment and therapy, managing this need can and must become a lifestyle. Understanding what your loved one is going through and that they must, for the rest of their life, starve themselves of the substance can help you to maintain empathy with your loved one. This can help carry you both through the recovery process.
Common Signs of Addiction
While it is possible to have a passing relationship with an addictive substance, for someone at risk for SUD, that doesn’t often last long.
Some common signs of addiction for the person experiencing it include:
- A feeling of needing to use a substance regularly
- Intense urges to use even though they know they shouldn’t
- Needing more of the substance over time, driving them to potentially take more than intended
- Changes in appetite and sleep habits
- Being concerned about their supply of the substance
- Using the substance despite the harm it causes
Substance use disorder can lead to changes they may notice, such as:
- Making reckless financial decisions to get more of the substance
- Avoiding work and social obligations because of substance use
- Doing things they wouldn’t normally do to get the substance
- Acting out of character while using the substance
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the substance
These issues may manifest in ways that you can see, as well. Keep an eye out for red flags, including the following:
- Your loved one is missing school or work
- Changes in behavior
- Changes in dress, hygiene, and physical appearance
- Weight loss or gain
- Unusual odors
- Physical health issues
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep
- Red, watery, or bloodshot eyes
- Unusual pupil size
- Frequent nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or impaired coordination
- Reckless behavior
- Hiding money or financial issues
- Hiding substance use or secretive substance use
If you notice these symptoms, they could be from substance use, mental health issues, or a combination of both. Either way, these symptoms are reason enough to open a dialogue with them.
Steps to Recovery
Recovery is a lifelong process, and it requires constant vigilance and understanding along the way. There is no road to recovery that is straight and easy, and it will require a great deal of thought and investment from your loved one to get to the other side. While you cannot pursue recovery for them, your support is very important.
The first step in recovery is working toward acknowledgment – your loved one must accept that addiction is a present force in their life, and you must do the same. This is a very sensitive part of the process and may be the most difficult step for some people. People often feel that admitting that they have an addiction wipes them of their self-worth, and this can make them resistant to it.
As people who love them at this moment, our role is to acknowledge both that we love them and that they have done harm to themselves and potentially to others – but they are not a bad person. Planning an intervention with a professional can help to present these ideas in a way that your loved one can hear without feeling attacked or unloved.
Seeking a Professional Addiction Treatment and Behavioral Health Assessment
Once your loved one has accepted that they have a problem with substance use disorder, seek a professional assessment for addiction treatment services to help better understand what level of care is needed, what treatment center is the best fit and what types of recovery modalities should be included. Every addiction and mental health disorder is unique, so a proper assessment is key to ensuring that the individual receives the proper diagnosis and care.
Addiction Treatment Planning
When you or your loved one has been assessed and understands their diagnosis and what level of care is most appropriate for their personal needs, it’s then time to find the right treatment. From medical detox and residential inpatient care to outpatient treatment and sober living arrangements- the right treatment program depends on the individual.
Professional addiction treatment placement services can help you find the right program that considers your diagnosis, financial needs, location, family dynamics, gender, age, medical history and other factors – such as your insurance plan, job, etc. In fact, case managers often offer support beyond recovery services. For instance, numerous individuals on the path of recovery often encounter difficulties in securing stable accommodation or sustaining employment.
Case managers have the expertise to evaluate the housing and employment necessities of their clients, pinpoint accessible resources, and aid them in formulating a strategy to tackle these challenges. This could encompass linking clients with suitable housing initiatives, vocational training services, or additional supportive resources that can contribute to stabilizing their lives and upholding sobriety.
Joining a Support Group
Support groups are a critical part of getting the long-term addiction recovery help that most people need, even after professional treatment has ended. There are certain kinds of conversations and experiences that can be offered by others who have experienced substance use disorder that simply are unavailable from those who have not battled through this process.
Here, too, your loved one can learn and practice the coping skills and relapse prevention methods necessary for continued recovery. Fortunately, addiction support groups are widely available and are easy to find due to the continuous expansion of public health efforts and the presence of online resources.
The way your loved one was living before they began recovery was likely a crucial component of how they developed substance use disorder in the first place. Substance use disorders create patterns in the brain, and doing things the same way that they did before they started recovery is a recipe for failure. Substance use also often arises from negative feelings or mental health conditions, so doing everything possible to deal with those positively is essential.
Creating a Personal Space Conducive to Healing
One of the simplest but often overlooked pieces of changing our lives in recovery is changing our space. For example, your brain uses some of the same pathways every time you open your dresser or brush your teeth. Therefore, making certain activities easier, yet different, for your loved one can have a significant impact on their life.
When their brain is triggering different neural pathways – i.e., not the same ones they experienced when they were using a substance or doing activities leading to using a substance – they can feel more able to make different choices and opt for healthier behaviors. Every piece of your loved one’s life that you can work together with them to simplify and make them feel better is less time they spend in the space they occupied when they were using a substance.
Starting a Healthy Routine
Working with your loved one to regularly create times for them to enjoy their body, reset their mental state, and help keep them feeling positive are critical, and creating a routine can help accomplish this. Positive routines can help your loved one center their emotions.
Encourage them to set time aside to exercise, write in their journal, be out in nature, or do any other combination of things that helps calm them and brings them peace – and offer to do what you can to help it occur. No matter how your routine looks, healthy habits can help your loved one work toward finding positive ways to cope with stress and help them recognize and avoid triggers that lead to substance use.
“Recovery happens one day at a time.”
There’s a saying in AA that recovery happens one day at a time. Each day your loved one makes it through without using is something to celebrate, so make sure and celebrate even the little milestones. They might not seem like much, but these small milestones can be quite significant during recovery. Additionally, celebrating your loved one’s progress helps to remind them how proud you are of them because you are on their side. This helps to create connections in the brain that reward them for recovery and reinforces their positive choices.
Relapse and Triggers
Once you know your loved one is on a positive course, the challenge for them will become avoiding things that activate the pathways in their brain that once drove the need for the substance or resolving these things as they occur without using. These triggers can resurface the need to use powerfully and suddenly.
Triggers can be people, places, emotions, activities, or even just the presence of substances. For example, people could be individuals they had used with before or those who caused them trauma or grief that made them turn to substance use. Certain places, such as sites of trauma or stress or the places they once frequented while deep in addiction, can also be triggers.
Since it may be difficult to avoid these triggers completely, having a plan to deal with them at the moment can help mitigate their effects.
Your loved one learned coping strategies while in addiction treatment, and it is more important to use these coping skills now than ever before. While every person is different – and every trigger is different – some common coping strategies are listed below.
- Practicing meditation and mindfulness
- Delaying response to the trigger
- Connecting with a sponsor or support person
- Attending a group meeting
- Beginning a new hobby or re-establishing an old one
Failure to avoid triggers or make sufficient change is somewhat inevitable and could lead to a relapse. If your loved one does experience a relapse, it doesn’t mean they have failed in their recovery because relapse is extremely common. It’s important that if your loved one does relapse that you receive them with kindness and understanding, as well as accountability.
Relapse can come with powerful emotions from your loved one, including shame, anger, and frustration. It may also come with sadness, rage, or anger from those who are supporting them. However, each of these emotions easily intensifies the other and can lead to a negative feedback cycle that can drive the individual deeper into substance use. This is the opposite of what we want.
It can be helpful to reflect on how relapse is likely to make you and your loved one feel and to acknowledge it as something that could happen. Spend time reflecting on your emotions ahead of time so that you can be supportive when you need to be. Also, spend time with your loved one discussing how you will both act and work together if a relapse happens.
Preparing for a potential relapse ahead of time can also help mitigate the aftermath if it does occur. Make a plan and ensure everyone who needs to know the contents of the plan is aware of its purpose. Know where you will turn for support as well. While relapse isn’t guaranteed to happen, having a plan and taking care of your emotions ahead of time can help you and your loved one both avoid devastating frustration and help them get back on the path to recovery much quicker.
Sustaining Long-Term Addiction Recovery
Your loved one will never stop needing the version of you that loves and supports them with kindness and without judgment. By working to establish an honest relationship with your loved one where they can talk to you about their feelings about substance use and by continuing to support their life as it goes forward, you can help them maintain their sobriety.
A Note About Alcohol Recovery
If your loved one is addicted to alcohol, long-term recovery can be extremely challenging because of the presence of alcohol at social functions, parties, and family dinners. It’s good to ask yourself, even years later, whether it might be kinder to avoid having drinks around your loved one. You can also ask them about their comfort level.
With that in mind, it is just as important to remember that the ultimate responsibility for recovery rests with your loved one. They will learn in treatment that requiring others to make changes around them is not a healthy way to pursue recovery. However, if you want to be proactive in your support for them, leaving the drinks at the door is a small price to pay for avoiding a relapse.
Events, parties, travel, work, life… can’t always be avoided. Especially for CEO’s, celebrities and other high powered individuals.
A sober companion is a seasoned professional providing individualized help, direction, responsibility, and aid to those transitioning from a treatment program or those needing additional support to maintain sobriety in their everyday life. In the journey towards healing, the presence of a recovery companion can significantly influence the outcome.
Addiction Treatment Consultants Help Navigate Addiction Recovery
Staying on the road to recovery is your loved one’s responsibility, but they do not have to walk it alone. If you are ready to start a journey of recovery alongside your loved one, or if you aren’t certain how to apply these steps to your specific situation, please seek the help of experienced addiction treatment consultants.