How to Help Your Loved One After Rehabbing from an Alcohol Addiction

How to Help Your Loved One After Rehabbing from an Alcohol Addiction

by | Jan 15, 2022 | Alcohol Rehab

An addiction of any kind can significantly strain a person’s personal relationship. Sometimes the closer the relationship is, the greater the strain may be. While a person is amid alcoholism, their drinking can take over every event, holiday, or family gathering. This creates an enormous amount of tension for everyone involved.

However, suppose the alcoholic eventually enters rehab for their addiction. In that case, many people begin to hope that everything will return to normal after they complete the program. Addiction is a lifelong struggle, and they will need a significant amount of support to continue fighting their addiction.

If you have a friend or family member that recently completed an alcohol rehab program, you may feel a little helpless. How do you help them? What do you say? Should you give them space? It can be hard to know how to say or do the right thing when trying to help a loved one who is a recovering alcoholic.

The truth is, there isn’t going to be a magical thing you can say or do to make your loved one’s time any easier after rehab. But that’s ok! They need your support and not a professional level of advice or therapy. You can support someone who just began their recovery journey in so many different ways. Read on to explore all the many ways you can help someone recovering from an addiction to alcohol.

Understanding What Life is Like After Rehab

Inpatient rehab centers are very structured environments. There will be an adjustment period once your loved one returns to “real life.” During this time, their main focus will be on their sobriety and avoiding triggers that may cause them to experience the urge to drink. It’s easy to mistake this period as your loved one being selfish or dismissive. Please remember that self-care is not selfish. The period after rehab should be all about self-care. Don’t take it personally if your friend or family member wants to spend time alone or not attend large gatherings or events. Those types of experiences can be incredibly overwhelming for a recovering alcoholic. Also, remember that they may try to develop a schedule and routine similar to the rehab centers.

Does Rehab “Cure” an Alcoholic?

While rehab is not a cure for addiction, it is a way to transition to a life without alcohol. Your friend or family member will not leave rehab, never wanting to drink again. The urge to drink may be vital, especially in the beginning of recovery. They will live by a “day by day” mentality, so there will be good and bad days. It’s important to understand that your loved one is at the beginning of a lifelong journey of sobriety. They’ll need a lot of patience and understanding in this phase.

Educate Yourself on Addiction

Alcohol addiction is highly complex and complicated. Recovery will most likely be your loved one’s greatest challenge. To support them proactively, the first step is to educate yourself on all the components that go into addiction recovery. Things like:

  • Triggers
  • Health issues related to alcoholism
  • Enablement
  • The recovery process
  • The psychological changes that come with recovery

Strengthening your knowledge of addiction will make it easier to relate to your loved one. You’ll also be better equipped to reduce the likelihood of a relapse.

What if they relapse?

Relapses are very common during recovery – about 30% of recovering alcoholics relapse within the first year of their sobriety.

  • In terms of alcohol addiction, relapse means drinking again after remaining sober for some time. A relapse can be brief or happen multiple times. They can also lead back to a full-blown addiction.

If your loved one trusts you enough to confide in you that they’ve suffered a relapse, leave your judgment at the door. Talking down to or yelling at them is not a helpful tactic. Furthermore, even calmly stating that you are “upset” or “disappointed” in them could cause a relapse. Relapses are an unfortunate part of recovery. Plenty of recovering alcoholics can get right back on track after a relapse. Here’s what you can do instead:

  • Listen – There was most likely a trigger before the relapse. Allow your friend or family member to talk to you and explain what caused the deterioration and their thoughts surrounding it.
  • Offer help – Give them a ride to their therapist or an AA meeting. Give them a place to stay for a few days as they clear their head.

Be Conscious of Your Own Drinking Habits

Unless you’re a recovering alcoholic yourself, it’s hard to understand just how strong the urge to drink can be, especially in the beginning stages of recovery. Be conscious of those urges whenever you spend time with your loved one. Make an effort to abstain from drinking in their presence. Suggest sober activities to do together away from places like clubs or bars. And most importantly, don’t make their non-drinking an issue. Don’t bring it up every time you’re making plans. Your loved one doesn’t want to feel like a burden forcing you to alter your plans.

Keep Your Expectations Realistic

You want to see your friend or family member clean and sober, that’s understandable. But it’s important to remember that addiction is not the source of all your loved one’s problems. Addiction is often triggered by deep, unresolved issues. Once they complete rehab and are able to live a life without alcohol, they’ll now have to work on those underlying problems. This process can look messy and lead to further strain on relationships. Don’t expect your loved one to be the same person they were before they began drinking. In addition, don’t expect your relationship with them to go back to the way it was either. Remember, you want your loved one to be happy and healthy – and the road to the result may not be easy.

Take Care of Your Own Mental Health

While you’re supporting your loved one, don’t forget about your own needs. You’ve been through a lot too – and you may not have processed the trauma you experienced while being in a relationship with an alcoholic. It’s not possible to support someone unless you’re getting the proper support, too! It can be quite an emotional process to help an addict, and support can make all the difference. Consider therapy or counseling to work out your feelings surrounding your loved one’s addiction. There are many valuable resources available for just that. Like:

It’s All About Boundaries – Setting them AND Enforcing them

Boundaries are pointless if you don’t enforce them. Depending on your relationship with your loved one, you may have set boundaries they repeatedly violated during their addiction. This happens a lot between addicts and enablers – without the enabler even realizing that they’re doing it. Once your loved one completes rehab, setting and enforcing boundaries is even more important. What those boundaries look like will be entirely unique for each individual and relationship. But what’s important is that you set them and stick to them.

On that note, it’s ok (and sometimes necessary) for your loved one to set their own boundaries. If they do, respect them. They’re not doing it to be rude or selfish. They’re setting boundaries so they can navigate their new life as comfortably as possible. If a boundary confuses you, ask them about it. Being open and honest in communicating with a recovering alcoholic is always the way to go.

What if you suspect your loved one is drinking again?

As mentioned earlier, relapses do happen, and they could happen frequently. Research shows that most addicts will relapse at least once in their lives. However, a relapse does not necessarily mean that your loved one can’t go back to being sober – or that they need to go back to rehab. With careful attention and support, your loved one can get back on the right track. If you suspect your loved one is drinking again, here are some ways to help:

  • Talk with mutual friends and family members to see if they suspect a relapse
  • Ask your loved one to meet with you privately and ask them if they’re drinking. Be kind and as non-judgmental as possible.
  • Offer to contact their sponsor or therapist.

Build a New Kind of Relationship

Since boundaries are so important when dealing with someone who just completed alcohol rehab, your relationship may have some growing pains. This is normal! Your relationship with your loved one will grow and change as their recovery progresses. It might be helpful to stop comparing your relationship to the one you had before they entered rehab. Think of this as a clean slate – you can start a brand new relationship with healthy boundaries. This will also help you regain trust in your loved one as they start their new sober life.

Try New Things

As you build your new relationship and your loved one begins their sobriety, try creating brand new memories. Start a new hobby together, take a cooking class, or go on a weekend trip. Sharing brand new experiences will help build a new foundation for your relationship. If your loved one sees you as a safe person to be with and talk to, they’ll be more willing to branch out of their comfort zone if you’re right by their side. Trained alcohol rehab therapists always recommend including healthy habits during recovery, so consider trying one of these activities with your loved one:

 Exercise – Join a gym together or sign up for a fun workout class.

  • Yoga – Research has shown that yoga can be incredibly healing and therapeutic for both the body and mind.
  • Art Classes – Consider taking an art class with your loved one, like painting, drawing, or pottery.
  • Cooking Classes – Learning new skills can be an incredible way for a recovering alcoholic to feel confident in their new life.
  • Volunteer – Helping others is rewarding. Consider volunteering together at a nursing home, an animal shelter, or a soup kitchen.

Be Proud of Your Loved One

It’s sometimes hard to grasp just how hard beating addiction is if you’re not an addict. You should be incredibly proud of your loved one. They just did a really, really hard thing by admitting that they are addicted and stopped drinking. Their journey may not be easy – but if you continue to support them and be there for them every step of the way (while allowing them space when necessary), you could be part of their wonderful new life. Take it one day at a time, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need to.

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