May 4, 2020

Managing Expectations for a Loved One’s Addiction Recovery

-by Kelsey Brown

Many experiences in life are impacted by expectations. You can move to a new city, but if you don’t do your research, your expectations of a perfect life there may lead you astray. However, if your expectations for a new life in that city are based on fact and evidence, you are more likely to be content with the results of your decision.

Similarly, managing your expectations for a loved one’s recovery from addiction can be difficult, but it is key to providing adequate support and playing your part in the process. Although sending your loved one to a rehab center or sober living home is not a quick fix or a one-size-fits-all solution, research shows that long-term rehab and transitional housing programs significantly increase the likelihood for lasting sobriety.1Regardless, it’s still important to avoid the temptation of thinking that life will be perfect when you loved one returns home. Those kinds of expectations can ultimately cause more harm than good.


What Does Addiction Recovery Look Like?

If your loved one is enrolled in a drug rehab or transitional housing program, you’re probably wondering what the recovery process looks like. Will they come home a completely different person? Will they be completely sober for the rest of their lives? Will they still be able to go out and have fun with the family?

It’s difficult to answer this question because recovery from addiction is a very personal journey. Therefore, it will be vastly different for everyone. Although the recovery process is uniquely different for everyone, there are a few things you can count on.

  • Your loved one will be working to modify negative behaviors and address the thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes behind them.
  • Your loved one will be learning how to develop healthy relationships with peers who are also in recovery.
  • Your loved one will be practicing efficient and healthy communication in individual and group therapy settings.
  • Your loved one will be adjusting to a new lifestyle without alcohol or drugs.


How to Set Realistic Expectations in Addiction Recovery

If you’re struggling to maintain realistic expectations about your loved one’s addiction recovery, you are not alone. Many families go through this while their loved one is in drug and alcohol rehab and even long after they return home from treatment and sober living houses.

Here are five important things that may help you more clearly understand what your loved one is experiencing in addiction treatment. As a result, you may be more willing to realign your expectations.


1. Addiction is a chronic disease.

Fighting addiction is not an issue of willpower. Addiction is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”2

Although it’s easy to think things like, “If she would just try harder, she wouldn’t keep getting drunk,” thoughts like this can be very dangerous because they ignore the fact that addiction physically changes the brain. These changes can be very long-lasting and have incredibly destructive effects on a person’s thoughts, behaviors, and mood.

2. Recovery requires effort from the whole family.

You are probably well aware that addiction is a family disease. Its destruction is far-reaching and impacts the lives of the alcohol or drug abuser as well as everyone around them. As a result, recovery must also be a family effort. Your loved one is doing his or her part in a rehab center or sober living home and now it’s time to do yours.

There are several things you can do to support your loved one’s recovery. First and foremost, you should make yourself available to attend family therapy sessions and to speak with your loved one’s care provider often. In therapy, you’ll have the opportunity to work together with your loved one to improve communication, resolve family conflict, and discuss unhealthy/healthy roles within the family unit.

Second, you should join a community support group on your own. There are many peer support groups designed to help family members of recovering individuals as they cope with the changes associated with having a loved one in drug rehab.

While your loved one is away in a transitional housing program, you could also use the time to work on yourself. Spend some time doing something you enjoy, catch up on projects you’ve had to set aside, rest, and simply take care of yourself instead of worrying about your loved one.


3. The risk of relapse is real.

Even after completing rehab, your loved one will still face the risk of relapse. Not all individuals in recovery will relapse, but some do. If your loved one relapses, this is not a sign of failure. It could simply be evidence of a need for additional support, such as a sober living program or a personal monitoring program.

These recovery support services are designed to provide accountability, support, and structure for individuals in early recovery. These resources will help your loved one manage high-risk situations without resorting to substance abuse to cope. High-risk situations often include:3

  • Extremely negative or positive emotional states
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Social pressure
  • Environment where drugs and/or alcohol are easily accessible
  • People, places, or things that bring back memories of past drug use

4. Recovery is a lifelong process.

Because addiction is a chronic disease, recovery will be something your loved one has to work to achieve for the rest of his or her life. It is important that you understand this and realize that attending AA or NA meetings, communicating with a sponsor, and sponsoring others may very well become a regular part of your loved one’s life after drug rehab. It will always require a significant amount of effort to remain sober, but over time, it will become easier.

There are many ways that you and your family can be supportive during this time, such as removing all alcoholic beverages from your home, making sure prescription drugs are locked up in a safe location, and even choosing to abstain from alcohol and/or drugs yourself. All these things will help create a healthier living environment in which your loved one can thrive in their recovery.


5. Full recovery is completely possible.

Just because addiction treatment didn’t work last time doesn’t mean it won’t this time. According to the NIDA, recovery from drug and alcohol addiction often requires multiple episodes of treatment and one type of treatment is not always effective for everyone.1For this reason, it’s important to continue with treatment and try new approaches, even when your family feels like giving up.

Full recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is completely possible, and evidence-based treatment in a rehab center and/or sober living home is a great way to get there. If you start to feel discouraged during this journey, attend a recovery support group for families of addicted individuals. This is a great way to receive encouragement and listen to the stories of others who have been where you are. No one understands your suffering better than someone else who has been there, so this could serve as a very helpful resource while your loved one is in drug rehab.

Recovery from addiction is a long and arduous process, but it can be achieved with long-term treatment, plenty of support, evidence-based therapies, and ongoing care. Managing your expectations for a loved one’s recovery takes time but doing so will increase your awareness of the process and aid in the healing process for the entire family unit.

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