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When a Family Member Is in Recovery

Families with a loved one who’s abusing drugs or alcohol long for the time when the person will get help and begin recovery.

After the person attains sobriety, families experience a “honeymoon period.” All seems well, and they have good feelings toward one another. Conflicts and problems seem to be gone, and they have great expectations for the future.

Complicated reaction

But as the weeks go by, many complicated feelings may come to the surface. For example, both parties may feel like strangers to each other. The person in recovery may seem to have a different personality—more serious, more careful, more private—and the family may feel uncertain about how to relate.

The family may be afraid of sharing responsibility and may feel guilty about it. They also may resent that the recovering person attends sobriety meetings and seems more interested in a new group of recovering peers.

At other times, families live in dread that the person with the addiction will relapse and the family will have to deal with the problem all over again. This can create a new set of unspoken rules, such as: Don’t say or do things to upset the person with the addiction. Don’t talk about problems. Don’t let feelings out in the open—feelings lead to conflict. The addict’s recovery is more important than all other family needs. These rules can lead to family members “walking on eggshells,” which ultimately puts the recovering person in the most powerful, yet vulnerable, position in the family.

Get help

Families can get help by joining a support group for families led by a professional who’s an addiction expert.

You also can attend Al-Anon and other 12-step meetings, which use group support and the power of example for recovery. Al-Anon groups are led by family members of recovering addicts.

Prepare for relapse

Relapse is possible. If it occurs, the person needs to get back into treatment and the family needs to resume participation in a support group, professional counseling, or both.

Relapse can serve as an important opportunity for learning if the recovering person and other family members identify what triggered the relapse and determine ways to avoid it in the future.