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5 Ways To Better Support A Loved One In Drug Rehab

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

We hear about drug abuse every day. But when drug addiction affects a friend or family member, feelings of anger, guilt, and regret can keep us from being loving and supportive. In fact, our well-meaning intentions can often end up doing more harm than good. Being that drug rehabilitation is an essential step in getting an addict back on the road to recovery, here’s a look at 5 ways to better support a loved one during drug rehab in a residential or medical facility.

1. Set realistic expectations

As much as we would like to think that rehab in a facility will be a quick cure-all for our loved one’s addictions, the truth is that addiction is a chronic disease that can only be controlled through prolonged treatment. Friends and family members who have unrealistic expectations about treatment success only set themselves up for disappointment and heartache, as setbacks are likely to occur.

It is also unwise to share unreasonable expectations with loved ones in rehab, as the extra pressure they might feel in trying to live up to those expectations can cause extra guilt, discouragement and anxiety, which is the last thing someone battling drug addiction needs.

2. Be an active participant

While drug addiction obviously affects the user, it also takes a toll on everyone who cares about them. This can lead friends and family members to breathe a sigh of relief; feeling that once their loved one enters rehab their job is done. But in reality, they need to offer full support, encouragement and participation for the rehab process to be successful. This means writing letters of encouragement, visiting as much as it is recommended and allowed by the facility, and actively participating in counseling sessions.

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3. Don’t dredge up past hurts

All interactions with recovering loved ones need to be as positive and supportive as possible. Asking “why?” and dredging up and rehashing painful events from the past with the addict will only serve to sabotage the rehab process by laying on more guilt and blame. Keeping conversations positive with a loved one about all the good things the future will hold when—not “if”—they successfully complete treatment will go a long way in rebuilding self-esteem, confidence, and most of all, hope.

4. Don’t be an enabler

Feelings of guilt about not having recognized early warning signs and done more to keep a loved one from descending into addiction can cause friends and family members to be overly supportive. This can result in being overly supportive to the extent that it can enable continued bad behaviors in the addict during rehab.

The road to recovery demands that addicts take full responsibility for themselves and their actions, and allowing them to get away with abusive, dishonest and disrespectful behaviors only keeps them from fully owning up to what they have done. Keeping a calm, supportive, yet forceful tone in the face of confrontation will help friends and family members establish and enforce the proper parameters of conduct and attitude for loved ones in rehab.

5. Seek support for you

Supporting and dealing with an addicted friend or family member—even when they are in a facility—can be an all-consuming process. Too many times in trying to meet the needs of the recovering addict your own needs get pushed aside and you end up physically and emotionally drained. The best way to support your loved one in rehab is to make sure that you yourself are eating right, getting adequate sleep and exercising regularly to reduce stress, increase your energy levels and boost your immune system.

In addition, it’s advisable to seek individual counseling or support groups to help you better deal with the effects of your loved one’s addiction on your life. In seeking support for yourself you will be better equipped to support your friend or family member on the road to recovery once they leave the rehab facility.

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC
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