Today we welcome a guest blog post from Trevor McDonald, a writer and recovering addict living in San Diego, CA, who reached out to us to share his unique perspective on drug and alcohol addiction.
Having a loved one attend a medical detox program can be very bittersweet. It can be the biggest decision of someone’s life and has tremendous emotional effects on family and friends. It can be scary and stressful, and often family members want to know how they can best help. From the point of view of a recovered addict, I’d like to suggest some of the best ways to support a loved one who is going to detox.
Emotional support vs. enabling
It is important to persist in your emotional support throughout the process. This can mean a lot to someone suffering from addiction, because often the person does not feel worthy of anyone’s time or love. Addicts have been hurting themselves and others for so long, they often feel great remorse. It is very important to draw a line between enabling and emotional support.
Enabling is typically some form of monetary support. If addicts think they will have a safety net to fall back on, then they are more likely to use drugs or drink again. Make it clear that you will be there for the person no matter what, so long as it does not involve money (or a place to stay, a car, rent, etc.). Anything of monetary value can rob addicts of their bottom and literally enable them to keep going. Often when family members are just trying to help, they are actually hurting their loved ones by enabling their drug/alcohol use.
Visiting them in detox is also a great way to show support and love. Detox can be grim and lonely. Visiting a loved one in detox can be the highlight of the person’s day and can significantly increase morale. Staying and playing a board game or just talking could show you care and are emotionally available.
Getting familiar with recovery can also help greatly. Often those recovering from addiction or alcoholism will choose to live drug- or alcohol-free, which means no offering them drinks or going out to bars. Generally, alcoholics believe they cannot even drink one drink, so knowing some of the norms of recovery can be of massive benefit to supporting your loved one.
Find out if your loved one is going to join a fellowship like Alcoholics Anonymous and try becoming familiar with the organization’s approach to treating addiction.
Another great way to help a recovering loved one is to help the person figure out and plan what to do after detox. Many times, this includes some form of treatment, whether it be inpatient or outpatient. Often in detox, a person is in a fog and may need support in finding the best treatment program. Speak with medical staff at the detox facility and do some research on the type of treatment doctors suggest and what insurance will cover.
It also is important to become familiar with common struggles of recovery. Memory problems, concentration, anxiety, and depression are all common for people in recovery. Being tolerant and understanding, as opposed to angry or offended, can be very helpful for someone in recovery. There is even a condition called post acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, that can cause long-term psychological symptoms that may need treatment. Being aware of PAWS and how it affects early recovery can enable you to be more loving and tolerant in your loved one’s most critical time.