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What families should expect from a recovering addict

Beyond rehabilitation: What to expect from someone in recovery

The addict has finished an inpatient program and is clean and sober. You have gone through the hard part and think that the worst is over. We will discuss what you should expect, be aware of, and understand about recovery. Then, we invite you to ask questions or share your experience. Send us a message in the comments section below. We’ll try to get back to you personally and promptly.

What you should expect in early recovery

Becoming clean and sober is the first step in recovery. While at an inpatient rehab program, the addict will only begin to think clearly and deal with why they use drugs. At this point, it is like the addict is waking up from a coma and is only starting from where they left off before the drugs took over. Emotions will be raw and the addict may not be able to handle too much at first. However, you do not want this opportunity of vulnerability to close. Helping an addict open up and deal with the underlying causes of their addiction is what recovery is all about.

The bare minimum

An addict should be in active recovery every day. Whichever program they choose, they should be:

  • In support group meetings
  • In psychotherapy (individual or group counseling)
  • And/or following a recovery protocol or relapse prevention plan

These actions need to take place every day for a minimum of one year. If an addict stops the actions needed to maintain sobriety, s/he can easily fall back into old patterns.

An open book

An addict who wants to be sober and live a clean life is very observable. If an addict is serious about recovery, their lives will be an open book. The will let you in and not keep secrets or disappear or refuse drug tests or make excuses for why they are acting different.

This is not to say that old patterns are easy to break… but if an addict is ready to move on with their life, they will want everyone to know they are clean and sober. They will not have a reason to hide from friends and family anymore. They may be shameful of their past behavior but honesty will be their number one priority. You will notice a sincerity you have not seen in them since maybe before they became addicted.

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Increased trust over time

Family members can expect to still have the old fears and rightfully so, but over time trust will be regained. It is completely normal fear to let an addict to go to the bathroom in your home with the door closed. These fears are real but you must trust your instincts because you will know the minute they are using again.

The dry drunk

What happens if the addict is clean and sober but their attitude remains the same? Some refer to this behavior in a recovering addict as a dry drunk. Just because a person can abstain from using drugs, their behavior may be the same as when they were drinking and drugging. A dry drunk is not committed to, nor participating in, a program of addiction recovery.

This could simply be an issue where the addict is angry and has no other way of coping. They might lack coping skills and that is why they used drugs in the first place. They may have underlying anger issues or problems they have yet to address, so they act out instead of use drugs. Most families are so relieved that the drug use is over, they will tolerate just about anything.

If this is the scenario you are experiencing with your sober loved one, then it might be a good idea to insist they seek therapy. You can still create boundaries, much like you did when they were using drugs. You have every right to not be a victim to this type of behavior. We know from experience that forcing an addict to get clean does not work and forcing a dry drunk to get help may not work either, so setting up boundaries and being clear about what you expect is a great way to not repeat the same old cycle you were in before.

The one-time relapse

An addict may also relapse. This is a common fear among family members and a very real one. If the addict is not coping in the real world well and finds life to be too overwhelming, their urge to use drugs will be too strong. However, a very high percentage of drug users relapse. It’s actually quite common.

If you find the recovering addict has relapsed, first know that you do not need to shut them out of your lives. You may offer them a way to go back into recovery. Life without drugs may be too much for them to handle. Most people go back to old patterns and what they know best when they feel lost, trapped, or hopeless. This is a sign that the addict may need more help or a different kind of help.  Recovering from a relapse can mean that a person can just get up and return to recovery, but there are addicts to which this behavior is chronic.

The chronic relapser

Different from a one-time relapse is the chronic relapser. This person will flip-flop between sobriety and using at a moment’s notice. They will play on your sympathies. They will start to move away from sober living and recovery programs. It is just a matter of time before this person will most likely go back to their full blown addiction. You will have to stay strong and recognize that this person is not ready for recovery. The key is to not let the merry-go-round of addiction and co-addiction start again.

MAIN TIP: Deal in facts only

A family may be asking how they will be able to navigate their loved ones recovery, alleviate old fears, and gain trust back. Sometimes, the fear that an addict is clean and will use again is overwhelming. You feel like you are walking on eggshells and you do not want to do anything to possibly set that person off. The truth is, if an addict really wants to be clean, he or she will not make excuses but will be honest and work at their sobriety every single day.

So, to conclude, family members must deal in facts only. So many promises have been broken and there is no trust in the addict and so the family has two things they must understand when an addict comes home. Your gut feeling is your best guide, you know from the past what an active addict looks and sounds like. You know when something is not right or if you are being lied to.

The other key piece is getting the facts. Do not trust or believe an addict for their words, you can only trust the actions you see. If an addict is clean then there should be no excuse as to why they cannot take an impromptu drug test. Who needs drug testing? Anyone who used to take drugs! Do not believe what an addict tells you, even if they are sober, they must show you. There must be proof of what they are saying.

If they are going to an outpatient recovery program then you should be able to be in contact with that program director. If the facts are there, then trust will come in time. This is a rocky period for everyone and establishing a list of things you expect while being supportive may be the best way to get through it.

Questions from families

Do you love someone who’s just started the road to recovery? Please leave us your messages here. We really do try our best to help, and will get back with you ASAP!

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12 Responses to “What families should expect from a recovering addict
Anne
6:18 am September 29th, 2015

Yes me I’m an addict ?

Riley
3:05 am September 30th, 2015

I have recently discovered that my boyfriend of 6 years, living with me, has a heroine problem. This was discovered when his family and friends confronted him about stolen items that were found in a pawn shop. He admitted to stealing, and that he has been using heroine. I found all the parafanalia. The minute I discovered all of this, we went straight to the VA and he is currently in the mental health ward getting detox care and psychological. The program may only keep him for up to a week, and my fear is what happens after? His brother and I are looking into programs where he will have to stay under surveillance. I cannot be home 24/7 to watch him. My biggest fear is that he relapses. I love him so much, and I have come to admit I am codependent. But I only want for him to get better, for us to make it through. I am scared for the road ahead.

Cathy
2:42 pm October 9th, 2015

My son did a 5 day detached from her in and had relapsed. I am so angry and tired. it is not good for him to be living with me because of my anger toward him. we can’t afford for to go to a half way home. Any suggestions?

4:06 pm October 9th, 2015

Hi Riley. Thank you for being concerned and ready to take measures to make things better. In your search for a longer and inpatient treatment program, you can call the helpline number displayed on our site. You will get in touch with our trusted treatment providers that can help you find the best treatment program fit for your boyfriend’s needs. Then, I also suggest you get into counseling meetings to learn how to cope with him, how to stop being codependent, and provide the type of support he will need when he is released from the treatment program.

Amanda Andruzzi
2:58 am November 8th, 2015

Riley,
I am glad you uncovered the truth. I hope you find him the right place and that he accepts the help. You need to prepare for a long road of recovery, for you and for him. Therapy for you is key right now and don’t hold back, share all of your feelings so you can work through them. Find a therapist who has experience with addiction and co-addiction. Al-anon is a great resource as well. Don’t give up on you and do not let this addiction dictate your life and your emotions. You can offer your support but you cannot change him, he needs to want to change.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict
View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

Amanda Andruzzi
3:21 pm November 12th, 2015

Cathy,
He needs to go to a long term rehab. That would be his best shot. Taking the drugs away is only the first step, healing and recovery are things that take time and addicts need to uncover why they used in the first place and they need to learn coping skills. A dual diagnosis center would also help him treat any underlying mental health issues.
Amanda Andruzzi

Barbara
6:51 am March 28th, 2016

My 27 yo adopted son is a recovering heroin addict sober 8 mo today. A genuinely good, kind person, he misinterprets or misperceives at times and reacts with over-top-verbal assaults (Jekyll and Hyde) Should this behavior just be tolerated in order to avoid more conflict and thus greater stress (just be happy he is not using) or, does tolerating send the msg this behavior is acceptable? If the latter, how might one go about minimizing it. He has a significant abuse hx so I have cut him a lot of slack. Now I am wondering if I have done him a disservice.

Amanda Andruzzi
7:05 pm March 28th, 2016

Barbara,
We all do the best we can but he may have psychic scars, trauma or mental illness underlying if he is acting this way that should be addressed. You can help but by ignoring his behavior you are not helping him be able to cope in the real world where no one would put up with that behavior. Sobriety entails a whole life and lifestyle change, behavioral issues included.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

Nancy
3:09 pm April 10th, 2016

My daughter is married to a drug addict. He has been using drugs for 20 years, since 11 years old. He has gone to two drug rehabs & got kicked out of both. They have been married 5 years. She thought he was clean when they married. But he wasn’t. He has lied & manipulated her. They have a 5 month old baby. She left him 3 months ago. He was high & threatened to kill her dad when he confronted him. He took their money for drugs each week supporting a 100 week habit. He is going to counseling, church, & celebrate recovery. Claims he is clean. But has never done drug tests. Pressuring her to come back. He has only had a job for 3 weeks. Only gave her 100. Demanding she come home. Five years were horrible for her. He tells her she isn’t honoring their vows. She is considering going back & giving him another chance. We know he hasn’t changed. He is manipulating her. She is paying their mortgage while he lives there. He has never held down a full time job. Scared for her to go back to that life. She is a good Christian woman. His family is though with him. They are on her side & proud of her for leaving. How can I convince her not to go back.

Amanda Andruzzi
2:45 pm April 15th, 2016

Nancy,
I was her so I can tell you that you cannot convince me. My mother was in your same postition and probably told me 100 X to leave him or to let him go and I didn’t until I was ready. But I can tell you this much, if you let your daughter know a few things like my parents did not because they did not understand addiction, nor did I at the time, it may make her think twice. First I would let her know if she is going to go back and forth with this man that you will not continue to support her for her decisions. Urge that she go to al-anon or another support meeting and counseling. Addicts can fool a loved one because she WANTS to believe he is better but you know in your gut that he isn’t and so does she deep down. My book, Hope Street, is my memoir of my relationship with an addict for 12 years, marriage and a child. I would buy it for her and let her read it, it was written to help exactly her. She doesn’t understand addiction and when you love someone you will forgive and hope even against your better judgement. If he is really clean and in recovery then he should have a different attitude and have no problem proving it to her for a year on his own. He broke his vows too, she should remind him of that.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

Pam
8:53 pm April 26th, 2016

I have a 40 yr old stepdaughter who has been an addict for 20 yrs…with different drugs the most recent Meth…she has been living with her dad and me for 4 mos and has a 6 yr old with her. She was going into In Patient Rehab because she had tried Out Patient a few times and didn’t work. A few days before going into In Patient she told us she decided that wasn’t the place for her that she was going to do Out Patient. She did a few meetings but I don’t think she is continuing them. She has a job , has a cell phone, goes out with a friend… She does not give us any money towards household or groceries. I would like to let her know that she needs to start providing for herself and her child and would like for her to find her own place by the end of June! Is this a reasonable request? Help !

Amanda Andruzzi
1:53 pm May 5th, 2016

Pam, You are in a difficult position. She is not your daughter so I think that you need to discuss this with your husband and have him be the person to tell her what you both decide. She is obviously not clean, responsible, and taking advantage of you both. The sad part of all of this is the child. Do you trust her to be alone and raise a child? If this were my situation, I would not want to enable her either. It is to her detriment, not her benefit. She is just able to keep using for as long as people are there to support her and make it easy on her. My biggest concern is the child and I only hope that you can take the child and allow her to go and hit rock bottom on her own. For an innocent child to have to watch that is not fair. I am sure the child has seen enough already. It is time for you to make a change and I think you have to do this for you, for your marriage and for your stepdaughter.
I have many other articles here that will be a resource for you. Please click on my name and they will alll come up.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

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About Amanda Andruzzi

Amanda Andruzzi, MPH, AADP, CHES, is a Certified Health Coach, founder of Symptom-Free Wellness, and the author of Hope Street. Her first book, Hope Street memoir is an inspirational story of one woman's frightening journey of co-addiction that led her to uncover courage, unbelievable strength and overcome great adversity. She resides with her daughter, husband, and two sons in Florida.

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Help Available 24/7
1-888-882-1456
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