Daunte Henderson, BlackDoctor.org Contributor
The addiction or substance abuse recovery process is very challenging for the person going through it, and the family members or loved ones involved in this stressful period. Dr. Lisa Ashe, Medical Director of Be Well Medical Group, and Lydia Brown, MS, CSAC, CADC talks about what you can do as a family unit to support your loved one in their time of recovery.
BlackDoctor.org: What are your loved one’s mental and physical challenges post recovery?
Dr. Ashe: Surviving addiction can be very challenging. Often times, drugs and alcohol destroy careers, finances and family and those who are in recovery find themselves starting over.
- Mental challenges include: depression, regret, difficulty concentrating on tasks can make returning to work challenging, devising new coping strategies.
- Physical challenges include: chronic pain, chronic gastrointestinal systems like vomiting and constipation.
Brown: This depends on the drug of choice, how long the person was using, and how much was being used. A person is not considered in recovery until at least a year of abstinence. Depending on the drug used there is a post acute withdrawal period, which is short-term.
Things to look for:
- Sleep deprivation
- Suicidal ideations
- Mood Swings
- The desire to contact negative peers (people/places and things)
Over time these areas improve on their own. Those who do not experience improvement may have co-occurring disorders that will require psychiatric and medical treatment along with addressing the alcohol and/or substance abuse.
BlackDoctor.org: How can you be supportive in their recovery?
Dr. Ashe: It’s important to have patience as well as realistic expectations. Those who struggle with addiction need to move at their own pace and not feel overwhelmed. Support also involves being sensitive to their needs and not encouraging bad habits. In other words, do not take your loved one who suffers from alcoholism to the bar.
- Attend a 12 Step fellowship meeting at least once with the family member to get an understanding of what the recovery process will be like for the person in recovery.
- If the loved one is going through inpatient or outpatient treatment visit and participate in any groups you are invited to.
- Don’t get upset if the patient/client does not sign consent for you to call his/her program. Give them time to adjust to treatment. Sometimes there are things they just don’t feel comfortable revealing to you. Bottom line, remember the important thing is that the loved one is getting help.
- Learn as much as you can about the drug of choice your loved one used and what mental and physical symptoms to expect. Best way to do this is to ask treatment providers your loved one is working with and you can visit http://www.samhsa.gov. This is a great resource for families, clients and people working in the field.
- Don’t expect perfection! Families want their loved one back without the alcohol and drugs but have a hard time excepting that as the recovering person goes through the process there will be change as he/she works on relapse prevention. This sometimes means establishing new boundaries with the family, which is challenging for all.
- Get help for yourself by connecting with other families. Alanon is a great support group regardless if your loved one used alcohol or drugs. Tough love is hard to learn and follow through on your own.
- Be receptive to family therapy if it is offered and you can inquire yourself.
- Be patient! There is a saying in recovery groups, “give time, time.” Your loved one did not become an alcoholic or addict over night the recovery journey does not make it all go away overnight.
BlackDoctor.org: What are some things to expect during this process?
Dr. Ashe: Relapse is unfortunate yet common. It sometimes may take people several trails prior to successful soberness.
Brown: While relapse is not a requirement of recovery expect it. Relapse happens. It is not personal to the family even though you will feel let down. You might have to face the fact that your loved one is not ready or your loved one is ready but needs more support. Example: If he/she was in outpatient care maybe it is time for all to consider inpatient treatment. During early recovery the person is trying to stay calm and accept life on life term. During advanced recovery they are usually working again, or in school and more sociable with family and/or friends.
BlackDoctor.org: How do you know they’re recovering or recovered?
Dr. Ashe: Acknowledgement of the issue and their short comings is a good indicator that recovery is underway or at least possible. Some signs include:
- Attendance at their meetings.
- Avoidance of people and places that trigger addiction. For instance, they may stop going to bars or spending time with known drug users.
Brown: The following is not all-inclusive nor applies to everyone because some people just stop using and that is where the recovery process ends for them. Not everyone is happy or strives to enjoy this new life of abstinence. To many, “recovered” is a word that is not relevant. The recovery process is an ongoing journey. As we grow and meet new life challenges we encounter another person, incident, challenge and continue to use the tools learned to not use.
For others “recovered” means that there is full confidence that he/she will never use again. Some people relapse when they think like the latter because they become cocky and start to take risk. Ex. visiting old friends, and old places that are not safe.