It is never easy for you to see someone you love go through an addiction or mental health illness. When they do go into rehab, it can be just as difficult for you. Find out the coping mechanisms you can take to support yourself, when a loved one enters into rehabilitation.
Entering rehab is seldom an easy process. For most addicts or alcoholics, getting into treatment comes at the end of a long and painful struggle with his or her addiction. Often there are mixed feelings from the addict. Do they really want to clean up and face a life without the prop of alcohol and drugs? Often the addict or alcoholic not only faces sobriety, but is accompanied by all the chaotic consequences of using – debt, job loss, health issues – to name but three.
Rehab can be bewildering. Most treatment centres offer in-patient treatment and usually recommend a minimum 28-day stay. There is usually a thorough admission procedure, where the patient can be monitored for withdrawal effects, and if necessary, receive medical attention.
It is common for personal effects to be removed and stored and all mobile phones and laptops taken away. Rehab is an intense process. Most centres believe it is vital for the addict or alcoholic to have no distractions from the serious business of his or her recovery.
What you need to do when a loved one goes into rehab
While the addict or an alcoholic embarks on a structured programme of rehabilitation, and is removed completely from their everyday life, family members and friends seem to have to “just get on with it”. As it is common practice not to make contact with the outside world, the patient’s family can often feel isolated or shut out.
Family members in particular are left dealing with the chaos an addict or alcoholic often leaves behind – bills left unpaid, jobs and contracts left unfulfilled, children, relatives and friends asking awkward questions. This can be an overwhelming experience for the family member. And family members of addicts or alcoholics are often already at breaking point.
For friends, there can be a similar array of difficult feelings. Many friends or colleagues of addicts and alcoholics feel displaced when their friend enters rehab. They may have spent months or years encouraging, cajoling, running around trying to find cures, alternative therapies, anything to help their friend. Sometimes they’ve lent money or lied or covered up and made excuses. Now it might seem that their job has gone and their friend removed.
This is a crucial time for the friend or family member. While all the attention seems to be turned towards the addict or alcoholic entering a treatment programme, it is vital that families and friends find their own support.
“It was such a relief when he finally went in,” says Catherine, from London, a professional in her mid-thirties with two primary school aged children. “I’d spent almost a decade begging him to get help. But when his company offered an immediate admission to treatment, I felt devastated. I had to carry on with work, with the children, and I had no idea what he was up to.”
Most treatment facilities liaise with family members and close friends when a patient is admitted. Making contact with the treatment centre and asking for information can be a very important step for the family and friends to feel included. Admissions team should give an overview of what the patient will be doing for the first few days, and let families know when they can expect to hear from their loved one. They should also give details of or an invitation to the first family support group or meeting.
All good treatment facilities should offer family support groups, open to family members and also friends and colleagues. These can be a lifeline for relatives, who are often bewildered as to how they should be supporting their spouse or friend, as they embark on recovery.
“It was great to have some first-hand information on what to do and what not to do,” says Catherine “but it was especially helpful to hear from other partners and families. No one talks about the huge mix of feelings family members have when a loved one enters rehab.”
She goes on: “I had so much anger towards my husband for all his years of drinking, for all the chaos I had lived with. I even resented him going into treatment,” she says. “I was struggling with the children, the house and the bills and he was suddenly whisked off and all the attention was focused on him.”
Catherine’s feelings are far from unusual. Many family members harbour anger and resentment towards the addict. Family support groups in treatment centres provide a safe forum for these thoughts and feelings to be shared and to be reflected back by other families struggling with the same issues.
Most treatment centres actively encourage friends and family members to go to their own 12-step support groups, such as Al-Anon, or other support services, such as Adfam. These groups not only offer support and identification, but encourage loved ones to adopt a whole new way of living around their newly sober alcoholic or addict.
“I had heard about ‘detaching’ and ‘letting go’ so often before,” says Catherine, “but I had no idea what it really meant. Al-Anon really taught me to keep the focus on myself and not keep obsessing about my partner’s drinking or about his recovery.”
Here are some tips for family members and friends when a loved one enters rehab:
- Breathe a sigh of relief – know that your partner, relative or friend is in a safe, specialist environment, where he or she really has the chance to get clean and stay clean.
- Engage with the treatment facility – what sort of contact can you expect and when.
- Ask what sort of family support programmes the treatment centre offers – when can you go to the first group.
- Build your own support network – Al-Anon, Adfam, as well as trusted friends and colleagues.
- Be patient with yourself and your feelings – relief and hope are often mixed with anger and resentment.
- Encourage the recovering addict or alcoholic to work their own 12-step recovery programme, then step back. We are powerless over another’s recovery, just as we are powerless over another’s addiction or alcoholism.