After years of dealing with a loved one who is on alcohol or drugs, many family members can be unclear as how to handle him while he is in treatment. Over the next few pages, we have provided some rough suggestions on how to handle many different situations that might arise. These approaches can differ depending on the treatment type or the length of stay and these suggestions should only be used as a general guide. Any questions on how to deal with a specific situation can usually be answered by the treatment provider themselves. No matter what the modality of treatment, however, any effective treatment program should handle, at a minimum, the following 4 things:
- Safely detox the client off of drugs and alcohol so that he is no longer experiencing any medical danger or physical withdrawal symptoms.
- Help the client to learn and develop coping skills to face and deal with uncomfortable life situations, things and feelings in a healthy manner instead of “running away from them”.
- Help the client to face and deal with past issues, take accountability and responsibility for any harms done and, if necessary, work towards making up the damage.
- Teach a substance abuser how to develop a sober support group that he or she can use after treatment.
During any stage in these processes of recovery, your loved one could be experiencing physical or emotional ups and downs. One day he may sound wonderful, while the next day he’s angry and bitter. Try and understand that an addict or alcoholic has lived a life of avoiding uncomfortable things and feelings, and now, without drugs or alcohol, he may be facing them sober for the first time in many years.
More information on what to do after the intervention.
What to Expect for Them While Your Loved One is in Treatment
Phone calls to the facility:Due to HIPPA laws and client privacy, the treatment center (and any counselors they may have there) cannot give any information about a client, including whether or not he is even there. However, most treatment centers do have a confidentiality waiver list for family members wishing to discuss the progress of a client. Make sure that you encourage your loved one to place you on this list or else you will be deaf and blind to any progress or problems that may occur.
Phone calls to your loved one
Many treatment centers do not allow direct calls to clients within the facility, but instead provide payphones for the clients to use. Make sure that your loved one has a phone card so that he may make phone calls to you. If you do speak with him frequently, try not to focus on any negatives that may be going on at home. For example, if he just received divorce papers, repeatedly speaking to him about it in early treatment might not be such a good idea. In addition, if you hear him begin to complain, try and understand. Acknowledge whatever positives you may hear, and try not to validate any negatives. In other words, a good suggestion is to try and keep your communication positive at all times. Understand also that these calls are very rarely monitored, which means that in addition to you, your loved one may also be calling anyone else…even the negative people in his life.
Mail and Packages
During this difficult time it is encouraged that family members write letters of encouragement or ship packages while their loved one is in treatment. Most facilities will screen packages, but check with them and see if they restrict certain items such as food, books, hygiene products containing alcohol, etc. Remember that he may not have access to the local store, and the occasional letter or care package with an item or two is usually greatly appreciated.
Sometimes we are asked by families as to whether or not they should provide any kind of financial assistance to their loved one while he in treatment. Is that enabling? Not necessarily so, as long as the amounts are limited. Agreeing to buy someone a car or pay all their debts completely just because they agreed to go to rehab isn’t exactly healthy for a recovering addict or alcoholic. But paying some minor bills just to keep the house from going into foreclosure or the car from being repossessed would be acceptable. In addition, some families put small amounts of money on their loved ones “account” at the treatment center, which allows him to go on outings or purchase small items. Again, be conservative in this. Treatment should not be a day spa, vacation or resort. Some programs suggest no more than $100.00 a month. If your loved one is in a half-way house or “sober living” environment where he is able and is required to work, a good suggestion is to only pay for the first month. If he is able to support himself within treatment then he should. Providing more than you should for an addict or alcoholic even in recovery only takes away their responsibility and actively harms their recovery.
Some treatment facilities allow visitation by family members or close friends. Although it is healthy for family members to take an active part in the recovery of their loved one, too much visitation can sometimes be counter-productive. The wife that visits her husband every single weekend during a 4-month treatment program without any accompanying marriage counseling may initially be doing more harm than good; because of this her husband wants to leave the facility for a period lasting several days after each of her visits. In addition to this, sometimes your loved one doesn’t actually want to have visitors early on. Check with him and see if he’s comfortable having visitors. The last thing you want to have happen is your loved one to have any negative attention on you, or on him going home and leaving the facility.
Support Groups, Family Therapy and Counseling
Any time there is a strong emotional connection between the alcoholic or addict and a specific family member then some form of counseling or therapy can be beneficial. Find out if the treatment center provides any family counseling as a part of their program. If they do, be sure to take advantage of it. If not, then seek some out on your own. The stronger the emotional connection you have with your loved one, the more damage you have probably suffered from him as a result of the addiction, whether you are aware of it or not.
Recovery Support Groups
Most major cities also have support groups such as Alanon for spouses; a meeting can be located at the following website: