If you have a friend or family member who has been struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, your relationship has most likely changed. It is natural, therefore, to hope and possibly assume that life will go back to how it was once your loved one goes through treatment and enters recovery. You may feel excited to go back to the same places, spend time with the same people, and engage in the same activities.

It is important to recognize, however, that your loved one is most likely not the exact same person leaving treatment as they were entering it. Of course, they are the same person that you know and love, but in order to be successful in treatment, and now to sustain recovery, they need to have different priorities and will not want to fall back into old routines. It is likely that they are actively working against slipping back into those old habits.

As a person who loves someone trying to overcome and recover from substance use disorder (SUD), you should consider how you can cultivate an environment for sobriety. There are many steps that you can take to maintain your relationship while helping them to maintain their sobriety.

Understanding Treatment

When someone enters treatment, it is sometimes referred to as “getting clean.” This can invoke the image of a detox that washes away the effects of drugs and alcohol and allows a person to return to life as it was before. The reality is that treatment is much more complex than that, and it goes far beyond just stopping the use of substances. It emphasizes long-term sobriety and being able to maintain recovery long after being discharged. A person leaves treatment with a variety of coping mechanisms they can use to navigate a life free from substances, and this means that they will not be ready to return to the way things were. 

It is important to prepare yourself for this change. If you don’t know how to traverse this new territory, that is to be expected. It is okay to ask questions and learn about your loved one’s needs and boundaries so that you don’t need to guess or assume. Reading up on the topic can be helpful in learning about how to avoid some of the pitfalls and adapt to the situation.

Identifying Triggers

Addiction is not a bad habit or a result of bad decisions; rather, it is a rewiring of the brain that causes dependence on a substance to function. It is both a biological and psychological condition that is accompanied by intense cravings and withdrawals without regular ingestion of the substance. Even after treatment, those sensations and urges are not entirely gone. They will most likely be part of daily life for your loved one early on. 

If you recreationally used drugs or alcohol with your loved one before they entered treatment, you should not expect to return to those activities once you start spending time with one another again. While part of treatment is learning to live with inevitable triggers, it can greatly complicate early recovery if an individual is confronted directly with the opportunity to use. Certain places, like a bar or restaurant, can trigger cravings because those locations are places where the individual habitually used substances. Certain people can spark urges because an individual is used to spending time with that person only in the context of drugs or alcohol. 

A New Routine

Your loved one will most likely return from treatment very aware of those triggers. Having an open conversation about them can help you understand how to steer clear of them. You can be a part of a new routine your loved one is establishing where they don’t have to tiptoe around triggers like broken glass but can instead stride confidently throughout their days. It also is an opportunity to give “fun” a new meaning that has nothing to do with substance use. Rather than frequenting bars, clubs, or alcohol-centric restaurants, you and your loved one can spend time doing less triggering activities, such as going to see a movie, going for a hike or bike ride, learning and cooking a new recipe together, having a game night with board games or video games, or going to the gym. 

Working with your loved one to develop an atmosphere where sobriety is not only accepted but celebrated can help them feel less alone in their journey. Only involving people who are positive influences can also reduce the risk of temptation. There is a lot that you can do to support your loved one’s sobriety, but it does not fall entirely on your shoulders. They spent time in treatment learning how to cope with triggers and overcome urges. While it is not your responsibility to keep them off drugs and alcohol, your attention to their needs and goals is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.

Recovery is all about finding what works for a specific person. There is not one solution that will work for everyone. While confronting the urges associated with certain triggers is an inevitable part of this process, doing your part in reducing those triggers can help your loved one make great strides early on in recovery. Even though your loved one being sober does not mean you have to completely abandon the responsible use of substances, finding ways to spend time with them without the presence of these substances can strengthen your relationship while supporting their recovery. At Family-Centered Services, we offer a variety of services to help your loved one achieve and maintain sobriety, including individual and family therapy, a Family Recovery Program, comprehensive case management, and sober monitoring. Our licensed clinicians will help them identify triggers and develop coping strategies. You can learn more by calling (509) 991-5822.