September is National Recovery Month —a national observance to educate Americans that substance use treatment and mental health services can enable those with a mental and/or substance use disorder to live a healthy and rewarding life. Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery and reinforces the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover.
Those in recovery often get varying degrees of support from their family. While many families want to provide support, they often do not because of misinformation and misperceptions about recovery. Here are a few tips for helping family in recovery.
Recognize that addiction is a disease, not a personal failing
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.” There is a tendency to want to punish the person with addiction and pass moral judgment. This humorous ad, “Beat the Stigma,” by the Ohio Opioid Education Alliance, shows how wrong many of our perceptions of addiction can be.
Understand that if relapse occurs, it does not mean the recovering individual is not trying.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction has a 40-60% relapse rate. That doesn’t mean that the person suffering from addiction is a failure, in fact, these symptom recurrence rates are similar to other chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma.
Be encouraging and acknowledge progress.
Newly recovering individuals often are filled with guilt and shame. The family may not be ready to trust or forgive, but if they see an effort, they need to let that person know. Acknowledge their efforts and emphasize the positive changes you see.
Understand that recovery is a process.
Just abstaining from an addictive substance doesn't automatically result in happiness or peace of mind. Recovering individuals must work on all of the things in their lives that might lead to a relapse, such as stress, unhealthy relationships and other triggers. Once they figure out how to live without these substances, they can work on repairing relationships. These things happen overtime—not overnight. It’s important for family members to have realistic expectations.
The road to recovery is a continual process and challenging, but can be managed with the love and support of family.