How Can I Support My Loved One in Treatment?

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Having a loved one in treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) can be tough. On one hand, you are likely feeling relieved knowing they are seeking help. However, on the other hand, you may feel intense pressure or uncertainty about your role. You may want to support your loved one but not know how.

Preparing to Support Your Loved One

Learning how to effectively support your loved one will be a process. This process requires you to become educated about various addiction and mental health topics, including your loved one's diagnosis.

It will also require you to take proactive measures to prevent addiction and other mental health problems from developing in yourself. With time and patience, you will become more confident in your ability to support your loved one in treatment.

Educate Yourself About Addiction and Recovery

One of the first things you can do to support your loved one in treatment is to become educated. There are so many different things to learn about addiction and mental health disorders.

Every person is at a different stage in life when they are introduced to their loved one's substance abuse behaviors. The journey of becoming educated for your loved one requires you to reflect on your thinking about substance abuse. You may need to challenge any stigma, bias, and judgments that you unknowingly carry with you.

Fortunately, stigma and bias can be effectively unlearned through a better understanding of the science of SUD and recovery. This can also help you foster greater compassion for what your loved one is going through. You can begin by researching your loved one's diagnosis.

Understand Addiction as a Brain Disorder

Your loved one is participating in treatment for SUD. To support them, you must understand how chronic substance abuse alters brain structure and functioning. This is why addiction is a brain disorder.

The National Insitute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) highlights the emergence of a scientific consensus regarding addiction as a “chronic but treatable medical condition involving changes to [brain] circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control.”

Understanding that recurrent substance use and abuse directly impact brain structure can help you challenge problematic stigmas. For example, this notion challenges inaccurate assumptions such as addiction being a result of moral weakness or lack of willpower. 

Recognizing addiction as a brain disorder can also help you better prepare for potential relapse in your loved one's journey. NIDA explains that relapse rates for SUD are about 40-60%. Unfortunately, this high prevalence is a result of the chronic nature of addiction. This explains why relapse prevention is one of the central elements of addiction treatment.

Research Your Loved One's Co-Occurring Disorders

Your loved one may also be in treatment for a co-occurring mental health disorder. This is not at all uncommon. People with SUD experience increased risks of developing a co-occurring mental health disorder. Likewise, people with another mental health disorder are at greater risk of developing SUD.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) highlights three possibilities to explain this phenomenon.

1. Both SUD and other mental health disorders share underlying risk factors. Examples include genetic vulnerabilities and specific environmental factors, such as stress and trauma.

2. Other mental health disorders increase an individual's risk of substance abuse and SUD. This is because many individuals with mental health problems turn to alcohol and other drugs in an attempt to self-medicate.

3. Substance abuse and SUD can contribute to the development of mental health disorders. This is because substance use and abuse trigger certain brain changes. These changes make an individual more vulnerable to other mental health disorders.

There are many other topics you can research to become informed about what your loved one is going through. Consider utilizing online resources for families, such as ones provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

How to Support Your Loved One While They're in Treatment

In addition to becoming educated, there are many things you can do to support your loved one while they are in treatment. Here are a few suggestions.

Eliminate Enabling Behaviors

Effectively supporting your loved one requires you to eliminate enabling behaviors. Enabling behaviors are actions you take to protect your loved one from facing the consequences of their addiction.

Common enabling behaviors include:

  • Offering to pay your loved one's bills
  • Lying for them
  • Using alcohol and other drugs with them

Before eliminating these behaviors out of the blue, you can explain to your loved one your motives for doing so. While it may take time for them to truly understand, you are eliminating these behaviors to support them as best as possible during their recovery.

If you struggle to set and maintain these boundaries, consider attending therapy to learn more about how to do this in a healthy way.

Prioritize Self-Care

It is not uncommon for people to neglect to care for themselves as they focus on supporting a loved one in treatment. However, to reduce your risks of substance abuse and addiction, it is vital to prioritize self-care in your life.

For example, you may want to add mindfulness practices, such as meditation, into your daily routine. Adding small practices of self-care can help you de-stress when you are overwhelmed. It can remind you that your well-being is important to your loved one's recovery. Additionally, it allows you to set a positive example for your loved one, who will eventually need to learn how to regularly practice self-care in recovery.

Participate in Family-Oriented Support Services

As addiction treatment continues to develop, many facilities are beginning to offer family services for the loved ones of those in treatment. By participating in these services, you will strengthen your confidence in your ability to support your loved one.

Some examples of services that facilities may offer include family education, family support groups, and individual counseling. These services strengthen family involvement in recovery.

Supporting a loved one in treatment will require you to become educated about their diagnosis, eliminate enabling behaviors, prioritize self-care, and participate in support services. Learning how to be an effective support for your loved one is a process that will take time. Pathways Recovery Center is an addiction treatment center that understands how challenging it can be to support a loved one in treatment. We can provide you with educational resources and opportunities that can increase your confidence in your ability to support your loved one. Additionally, we can keep you informed about your loved one's treatment journey if they allow it. To learn more about our programs, call us today at (888) 771-0966.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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