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Six powerful ways to partner in your loved one's treatment and recovery

So, here’s the difficult and honest truth: your alcoholic or addicted loved ones are in a fight for their lives, and there are only two possible endings to the story. People find recovery and reclaim their lives, or they continue abusing alcohol or drugs, and their lives slip away. Your behavior will have a tremendous impact on the direction they choose. Here are six powerful ways for you to partner in – rather than sabotage - their drug and alcohol treatment and recovery:

1. Trust the process. We realize that substance use disorder is unfamiliar to many people, and we’re here to help you navigate through some murky waters while we assist your loved ones in residential drug or alcohol treatment. Please take advantage of our experience and trust the process. Don’t become an accomplice to your addicted loved one if they seek to end treatment prematurely.

2. Ignore your loved one’s complaints about treatment. Your loved one may sincerely believe that we only want their money, the food is horrible, their roommate is waaaaay worse than they are, and this is a waste of their time. Trust me – we’ve heard it all. Ignore those complaints and let them focus on the hard work of recovery. When they rattle off a list of complaints, just say “Oh.”

3. Don’t believe every thing they say. “Now I know how to stop drinking!” or “I’m done with drugs, for sure….” They may sincerely believe that they are “cured,” but they are not. Substance use disorder is a complex and chronic disease that does not go away. It takes time and commitment to learn how to manage it. Leaving treatment early is like stopping chemo treatments prematurely: it goes against medical advice and can lead to death.

4. Don’t be fooled by appearances. In the first month of treatment, your loved one will start to look healthy again. They will put on weight. Their color will improve. They will be sleeping better, and their mood will probably be more stable. You may get a peek at the person you know and love, rather than the manipulative, angry substance abuser. Still, don’t be fooled. They didn’t develop substance use disorder in one month; and they won’t recover from it in one month.

5. Have a solid plan in place before your loved one leaves our care. Going back to the same old living situation will likely reignite the fire of substance use disorder. Agree to support your loved one ONLY in recovery, which should probably include several months in a sober living community to firm up their foundation of recovery. Or consider an intensive outpatient program where they can tiptoe back into life while continuing to bolster their recovery in the evening. Meetings such as AA or NA or Celebrate Recovery, and working with a sponsor, should also be part of the plan.

In any event, don’t take the bait. Don’t discuss “next steps” until you have developed a firm plan with your loved one’s counselor. Failing to have a plan is planning to fail.

6. Stand firm. If you’ve been dealing with a loved one’s substance use disorder for any length of time, you’ve probably given ultimatums and then given in. You’ve made threats that fell on deaf ears. Your loved one is counting on you to waffle. This is the time to stand firm with a kind and loving voice. Their lives depend on it.

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