When a person develops an addiction, it doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it takes time. In fact, a person who’s abusing alcohol or drugs may not begin to experience the first signs of addiction until he or she has been abusing the substance consistently for as much as a couple of months. But eventually, the signs of dependence will rear their ugly heads: Symptoms of withdrawal become apparent after only a few hours without the substance, previous pastimes and hobbies become unfulfilling, and the individual’s priorities shift completely.
Much like the journey into active addiction, recovery is a process that takes time, too. There’s a tendency for people to view recovery as if it’s something that can be checked off a to-do list or as if it’s as simple as completing a thirty-day treatment program; however, as we’ve learned from years of research and observation, successful and lasting recovery is more a state of mind or lifestyle. When you’re in recovery, there’s not really a finish line to cross at the end of the race. Rather, your recovery is something in which you must continue to invest for the rest of your life.
As such, successful recovery has many important components. Every individual who overcomes an addiction will need to address the disease via a combination of different resources and treatments, each of which is critical to his or her success in recovery in one way or another. One such resource that’s often a make-or-break when it comes to recovery is the support of one’s family and loved ones.
Particularly when it comes to early recovery, family support can be the difference between a relapse and successfully sustaining your newfound sobriety. But why?
How it is that family support can be so critical to early recovery?
Identifying And Addressing Negative Behavior Patterns
Typically, your family consists of a group of people who know you better than anybody else. They’re people with whom you share blood relations and who have witnessed many of the most pivotal, important moments of your life.
For example, your parents were present when you were born and helped you to grow and develop into a member of the community. Meanwhile, other relatives surely had a hand in your upbringing, whether they taught you important skills or lessons or were merely present to observe these touchstones of your adolescence. In short, your family are the individuals who know you better than anyone because they’ve watched you become who you are today, and, for better or worse, that probably includes watching you develop your alcohol or drug addiction.
One of the reasons that family support is so important to early recovery is because your family is in the best position when it comes to detecting negative or maladaptive behaviors, especially ones that relate to your previous substance abuse.
Whether they’re aware that it’s an actual substance abuse problem or not, family members can often detect when an individual is suffering from addiction. If they’re unsure or unfamiliar with the specific warning signs of addiction, they at least know that something is wrong. Once they’ve realized that the problem was alcohol or drug use, they’ll likely come to associate many of the behavioral phenomena they saw with substance abuse.
In early recovery, this means that family members have the advantage of being able to detect those maladaptive behaviors related to addiction much earlier than outsiders could. At best, this early detection could help to prevent an individual from relapsing. It also helps the recovering individual to be more wary of these behaviors and the threat they post to his or her recovery, effectively reinforcing his or her newfound sobriety.
Providing A Source Of Reinforcement
As mentioned just previously, another important role that family members play in early recovery is reinforcement. This makes it particularly important for family members to be active during the recovery process, which gives them a crucial opportunity to learn more about the disease of addiction and the journey of recovery. By being more knowledgeable about recovery, family members can learn different ways to proactively support the recovery process.
While there are many ways for family members to reinforce or support recovery, a common example is being participative in ongoing recovery. Many individuals who complete addiction treatment programs will continue to attend support groups and other such peer-led resources once they return home; similarly, family members can participate by attending these support groups, too. Alternatively, it can be extremely helpful for the recovery individual and his or her family to continue participating in family therapy sessions even after the individual has completed treatment. It gives family members even more opportunities to implement what they’ve learned throughout the recovery process.
Showing The Recovering Individual He/She Is Not Alone
Even though being in active addiction is often a very lonely experience, people in recovery often feel lonely, too. But whereas addiction often causes individuals to alienate their family, friends, and other important relations, recovery is lonely because individuals are experiencing a return of their emotions and feel as though there’s nobody around them who truly understands or can empathize with the inherent difficulties of recovery.
Arguably the most important role of family support in early recovery is in assuring the recovering individual that he or she isn’t on this journey alone. When left to their own devices, individuals tend to be much more likely to relapse, which refers to when they resume their alcohol or drug use. However, when there are family members and loved ones nearby to offer words of encouragement, advice, and affirmation, it makes the individual feel much less lonely. It also gives the individual more confidence in his or her recovery, making him or her far less likely to relapse.
Overall, family support can make a major difference to the success of individual recovery. Even if it’s the support of just a couple immediate family members, this support helps individuals to feel like there’s someone watching out for them who cares about their well-being. In most cases, the family support provides an additional incentive when it comes to putting effort into lasting recovery.