What families should expect from a recovering addict

More here on what you should expect, be aware of, and understand about addiction recovery. Then, a section for your questions at the end.

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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.

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!

About the author
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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  1. Hi, my boyfriend just recently got out of rehab for drug abuse and lately he’s been really mean to me and bipolar. Im not sure what to do and I constantly feel like im walking on eggshells just so I don’t make him mad. It’s been really hard and I’m hoping it’s just part of his recovery and it could pass?

  2. My 19 year old son and his gf are both recovering heroin addicts. They have been together 3 years and clean for 10 months. She unexpectedly just left with no warning and moved to another state. I am so worried he will relapse because he is so heartbroken. Should I talk to him about a possible relapse or leave it alone?

  3. Tracey,
    It sounds like he has a lot of anger towards you and not enough respect for you or he wouldn’t talk that way to his parent or he may be using again. You really won’t know until you see him but I would let him know that it is not okay to speak to you like that. Parents can become enablers and if he is using or not, the key here is to let him know that you deserve respect and that you won’t allow him to treat you that way.
    Amanda Andruzzi, MHP, CHC, AADP,published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the video book trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

  4. My son is 32 yrs old recovering from a 5/6 yr drug addiction. He has been sober for maybe 2 months. He was sober for six months and recently had a relapse therefore it has been two months. My question is, I text him the other day and told him I had a question to ask him and if I could call him. I simply wanted to invite him to his father’s birthday party. My question was that there was going to be drinking and if that was going to be a problem for him. When I called to ask him the question he got angry at me. He told me to never text him and tell him I have a question to ask him. He told me to just call him and ask him the question he said that it freaks him out and his mind goes crazy wondering what it is I want to ask him and he gets all anxious. He was really angry that I went about it this way.
    So my question is why would he be so upset over me texting him and asking him if I could call and ask a simple question. ?

  5. My boyfriend has been sober for three weeks. He was drinking vodka neat near the end. He got the DTs real bad and was hopitalised. He drank not long after that (slipped up) and then got antibuse medication. So far so good.

  6. Ellie, Moke, Dana, Viji, Sarah,
    There is not much I can tell you to help you help the addict. I can help you help yourselves. Have you tried therapy with an experienced therapist, al-anon, meditation, or anything else that can help you start living the way you want? You need to learn that the addict’s addiction is just that; the addict’s. You can detach with love and go on living but I can’t give advice on how to help them. I did that for too many years and only ended up losing myself.
    Amanda Andruzzi, MHP, CHC, AADP published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

  7. Sandy,
    It is never going to just be “all over.” staying sober is a lifetime commitment with no guarantees and it sounds like even if he is sober, he is not emotionally healthy on top of the addiction. Please be more aware of what you are getting into. Read up on addiction and loving an addict. You are in the right place.
    Amanda Andruzzi, MHP, CHC, AADP published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

  8. My husband has been an addict for about 15 years. I knew this when we met as we were friends first. 4 years ago we started seeing each other when he was fresh out of a 13 month long rehab program. I didnt know much about addiction, he relapsed within 4 months and ended up going to prison for 6 months. I stopped all communication with him and told myself I was not going back to him when he got out. Within a day of him getting out i was already talking to him again (lol) and he had been using the whole time he was in prison. He went to a short program and had 3 years of sobriety until this past month..he relapsed. I didnt catch it until recently and he agreed immediately to stop using. He stopped for almost 2 weeks and the other day used again and I caught him. He agreed he should go to a short program wich is where he is currently. My question is: if I have to catch him/find out hes using rather than he come to me as his wife should I stay in the relationship? He gave me no grief on getting help but I still had to find out on my own rather than him come to me.

  9. My son is in his road of recovery. He is 22, relapsed and I thought it was time he got professional help. I met him yesterday after 3 weeks of separation and no phone calls. He looked confident and has gained some weight. I was happy to see him. However, today I am going through some pain as I started recollecting the hurt he had caused in the last 5 years. I feel depressed. I am afraid of what again could happen upon his return.

  10. I got in a relation with a guy , he was the perfect prince charming , we spent around 9 months then he was exposed as he was a gambling addict
    He got into rehab , but i got to see him only once there he told me he was a drug addict not a gambling one .
    The rehab do not involves me in the meetings because im not an immediate family member
    And now im stucked between hating him for lieing and wanting to move on , or staying by his side and help him recover because i know he s the sweetest person
    Plz help

  11. Love one has been in recovery for 3 1/2 months doing good all of a sudent t behaver has a changed and seems like she is mad at the world me bing the first on list can’t talk no go . Want to help this is my daughter and has a child that lives with me 50% of time can’t seem to talk don’t know all advice is help full

  12. My daughters father & the guy I been seeing for the last 3 years went into treatment a week come Tuesday I feel as if he hates my guts now & all hope for him & I & our family is gone this crushes me. Him doing drums has strongly impacted our relationship & I’m willingly to move forward w him & start fresh due to the fact he decide to go into rehab on his own. Will rehab help him realize that our family is important & that I do love him I just needed him to get help? I’m so scared that all hope is lost now

  13. My sister lives in my home. Her adult daughter who is a long time herion addict. She stopped using and asked to move in with us. She burned her bridges and was basically homeless where she was in another state. I don’t think I was emotionally prepared to deal with her behavior. She has been here 3 weeks. She slept most of the time for the 1st week, now she stays up all night and sleeps all day. My sister called the cops the 2nd week she was here because she threatened to kill herself. An intervention team showed up with an treatment program that I hope she follows through with. My sister thinks it’s mean of mean to expect her daughter to make her bed or clean up after herself. I lost my own daughter two years ago to alcohol addiction. I wanted to help my sisters daughter but I find I can’t sum up the patience or whatever to deal with it. I want them both to move out. I guess I’m a awful person.

  14. I’ve been involved with someone for three months who recently after we started dating attended a day program at a rehab facility and I try to be as understanding as possible with what he is going through but we argue almost every day sometimes over things that don’t even matter. He is self devensuve and gets upset over a lot simple things, and then lashes out on me- and then expects me to just be okay with it, and to sit back and not have a response…I feel like I am being controlled in ways because he is not happy with his own personal life at the moment, what can I do to help, ? How do I as a partner on the other end deal with this without turning it into another argument….Im emotionally drained but I love him and see so much potential here once this is all over.

  15. 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/

  16. 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 !

  17. 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/

  18. 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.

  19. 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/

  20. 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.

  21. 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

  22. 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/

  23. 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?

  24. 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.

    1. 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.

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