How Families Can Best Help While a Loved One is in Treatment

Success for family recovery

Getting a loved one to accept help and start treatment for addiction is a critical first step.  Whether it's your son, daughter, parent, or spouse, family involvement remains very important for setting up recovery success.  However, knowing when, where and how to be involved is often confusing.  Since early recovery is an emotionally charged and stressful time for everyone, I’ll keep it simple and offer three suggestions – the three P’s – for family and concerned loved ones to make treatment an effective time for everyone: 

1.    Participate

Family involvement is critical.  It is not by mistake that this is listed first.  Addiction affects the family and is known as a 'family disease’.  It is extremely rare for an addicted person to “recover” without family participation.  This means being present and part of their treatment – and, importantly, yours.  Take this seriously and your entire family may have a very positive treatment experience.  

According to the CEO of one of the country's top addiction treatment facilities, who is also a recovering addict: "after many treatment programs and several hundred thousand dollars, I finally began to get better when my mother got better."

2.    Prepare

Consider engaging a qualified family therapist.  The ideal time to engage a family therapist is in advance of the invitational intervention, but this is not always possible.  While the addicted loved one is in treatment is when the family should also be in therapy.  A family therapist can be a major difference maker in the healing process for the entire family while dramatically improving the treatment experience for the addicted individual.  

Preparation for the loved one’s return from treatment will require a look at the dysfunctional communication, behavior, and resentments that may exist on all sides.  Without proper change in this area, the active addiction may be removed but the negative effects such as tears, shouting and emotional dysfunction may continue. Enter a family therapist who is charged with helping prepare the participating family members for an effective family recovery and life after treatment.

3.    Plan 

Recovery efforts don’t end when the loved one is discharged from treatment.   A plan needs to be in place for what life will look like once that controlled environment ceases to exist.  The day after admission to the program is a good time to start planning for aftercare.  In most cases, this waits until the final week of treatment when it feels rushed and urgent.  For those loved ones who have been through multiple treatment efforts (even with top tier facilities), aftercare planning can be weak to say the least. 

Ask questions, research, and if you are able to, bring in objective professional help to help you support your loved one by making sure their aftercare plan (and the family's aftercare plan) are as solid as possible.  Aftercare planning is important for all involved – who will own what responsibilities, who will get what treatment and where, and for what are people accountable.  Everyone should be focused on what they are doing to help themselves recover at this time, while being accountable to the family unit.

Remember, treatment is simply the beginning; one is not 'treated' if they successful complete addiction treatment. If your loved one suffers from addiction, they have a chronic condition that will require long-term multimodal care in a 'real world' environment.  Participation, preparation and planning by the family will help set everyone up for success on the path to lasting recovery.