What You Can Do to Help When Your Loved One Is in Rehab: The Essential Family Checklist

There are many things that loved ones can do to support someone in rehab. From learning more about addiction and substance abuse to attending family days and therapy sessions, providing active support will help your loved one have a more successful recovery. Plan for the future as well, creating a safe home environment, managing their responsibilities while they are away, and getting therapy for your own mental health if needed.

As a parent, child, spouse, or close friend of someone in rehab for alcohol or substance use disorder, it’s easy to feel helpless. You want to be able to support them, to make their journey easier, but you feel lost. The truth is that family and loved ones have an important role to play in healing, recovery, and avoiding relapse.

If you have a loved one in recovery, find out what you can do to be helpful and supportive. It can make a big difference in the outcome of treatment. Speak with the staff at the treatment center to find out how you can get involved and take steps at home to ensure their return will be to a safe, supportive environment.

Why Family Is So Important to Recovery

Experts in mental health and addiction agree that family plays a major role in substance use disorders. Drug and alcohol abuse cannot be fully understood unless it is seen in the context of an individual’s family. There are other factors too. Addiction is a complicated disease with no single cause and contributions from family, culture, mental health, experiences, trauma, and more.

Within families, there are several factors that may contribute to one or more members’ addiction: genetics and family history, childhood abuse and other types of trauma, mental illness, availability of drugs or alcohol, and more. Because the family is inextricable from the addiction, they are essential players in recovery.

To help your loved one recover from a substance use disorder, it’s important to be involved. Anyone within the family who can participate should. The process will not only help the member in recovery but everyone else too.

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Checklist for Supporting a Loved One in Rehab

If you have a loved one in treatment for a substance use disorder, you need to understand the right steps to take to support them. There have likely been patterns of behavior in your family and relationships that contributed to or worsened the addiction. Everyone needs to work together to establish healthier relationships, to support your loved one in recovery, and to heal individually.

Here are some of the actions you can take right now to help your loved one, yourself, and your entire family:

  • Communicate with the treatment center. Sending a loved one to residential treatment for substance use disorder is a big and important step. But it does not mean they have gone into a black hole. To support your loved one, be in contact with their treatment team, provide input on care if it will be helpful, and ask how you can get involved and be supportive.
  • Participate in family therapy. Because of the complex nature of addiction, and the fact that it is a family disease, involving other members in therapy is useful for everyone. The goals of family therapy are not just to help the individual with an addiction but to meet the needs of each member. It can help improve relationships, change negative behavior patterns, and in turn prepare a safer home environment for when your loved one returns from treatment.
  • Participate in family psychoeducation. Different from therapy, psychoeducation is an educational program that may include some elements of therapy. It was largely developed for families of patients with serious mental illness but is now also used for substance use disorders. The goal is to teach families about their loved one’s condition and how best to support their recovery. Evidence from research suggests it is effective in reducing relapse and improving family relationships.
  • Attend family days. Many treatment centers offer less formal ways to get involved as well. Family days are times when family members are invited to hang out at the facility. There may be therapy sessions, but this time is mostly devoted to simply spending time together. Doing this shows your loved one that you are physically there for them, supporting their recovery. If you cannot be at the treatment center often, or at all, send encouraging letters and cards. Enlist other friends and family to do the same.
  • Join support groups for family days. While your loved one is in treatment, you can also be getting support. A support group for families of people with substance use disorders is great for working through your own challenges. You can learn here from others who have been through similar experiences. Discover healthy ways to cope and concrete strategies for helping and supporting your loved one when they come back home.
  • Work on your own mental health. All of these steps will help improve the family dynamic and change negative behavior patterns, but this is also a good time to get individual support. Families with addiction often have other mental health challenges. Whether you have an underlying mental illness, one that is triggered by the challenges of addiction, or you just feel like you could use professional support with coping, look for a therapist and consider outpatient sessions. When you are mentally healthy, you can better help your loved one.
  • Make changes at home. With a loved one in treatment, you can support their recovery by preparing the home environment. Substance abuse is strongly tied to triggers, often environmental cues that signal the brain to drink or use drugs. If you can change things in the home, your loved one will experience fewer triggers and be less likely to relapse. Change furniture around, do some redecorating, and move your loved one’s bedroom. These steps may seem insignificant, but a new environment is supportive of recovery.
  • Set a routine and boundaries. Also helpful in the new home environment is routine and boundaries. Your loved one in treatment is benefitting from the structured life of a residential facility. Making the transition back to complete independence will be difficult and can lead to relapse. While your loved one is in treatment, plan how you can structure the home for their return. While avoiding being overly controlling, develop an outline for family and household routines and rules that will help them feel safe and structured as they transition to greater independence.
  • Provide practical help. If your loved one is leaving behind important responsibilities, this can be a source of stress that interferes with treatment. Do what you can to manage those responsibilities so they can focus on recovery. Let them know you’ll take care of their kids or pets, keep an eye on their home, or take care of other chores while they are away.
  • Prepare a crisis plan. It’s important to be prepared for the worst even while you hope for the best. When your loved one returns home, they will be struggling to maintain sobriety and to avoid relapse. They have the tools to succeed, but relapse is still possible. Have a plan in place, and let them know what it is, in the event they relapse or have a mental health crisis.

Dealing with a substance use disorder in the family is difficult. It’s important to remember that this is not simply an issue with the individual; it is a family disease. With this in mind, there are many things you and other loved ones can do to support someone in rehab. Take as many of these steps as is reasonably possible to ensure a successful recovery and family life at home after treatment.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward lasting recovery.