No one wants to wake up one day and realize their son or daughter has a serious drug and/or alcohol problem. Most parents would rather be thinking about how to help their child navigate through more “normal” adolescent challenges. Unfortunately many families will run into this problem. An issue some parents struggle with is the recognition that priorities will have to temporarily change. The sooner a parent figures this out the smoother the recovery process will be for everyone.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Substance abuse recovery for young people is not “one size fits all.” Problems with drug and alcohol abuse among adolescents and young adults can range from periodic alcohol and marijuana use to severe opiate addiction. Some young people are relatively functional while others have no direction. What all young people have in common is that early sobriety is extremely difficult. The more a young person is able to focus on recovery in the beginning, the better. It is extremely important for parents to recognize that it may be necessary to temporarily shift priorities. The simplest example is with school.
This Is Not Forever
We are all conditioned to believe that if a certain level of education hasn’t been attained by a specified age that somehow the child and the parent have failed. Think about that for a minute. There are many things wrong with that perspective. That is not to say that education isn’t important. Obviously, it is critical to gain a worthwhile education. However, if a young person isn’t functioning emotionally it will be extremely difficult to learn, excel, or care. In fact there are some drug abusers who are able to do well in school primarily to keep people off their back. The point is that while a young person is learning to stay sober, his or her focus will not be on school. Once the newly sober person is stable his or her ability to care about work, school, and other aspects of a healthy life will change. It is vital to trust the recovery process. A couple of points to remember:
early recovery is difficult for everyone involved
once an addict is thinking clearly his/her priorities will change
this is temporary
Patience is difficult but in this case it is vital. Remember that building a strong foundation in early recovery sets the addict up for success in life.
A common misconception is that if addicts were more aware of what they were ingesting they would be more likely to stop using. The reasoning is that this form of education would scare the drug abuser into sobriety. The problem is that addicts are either aware of what they are putting into their body and don’t care or they simply don’t care. In fact, many addicts are very well informed as to what they are using. Some have a vast pharmaceutical knowledge. In order to achieve sobriety an addict needs to have the proper motivation. No amount of education can provide this.
First Things First
Most addicts enter treatment because of external factors. The most common reasons are:
loss of employment
being caught at school
More often than not an addict will say anything to get out of trouble. If this includes completing a treatment program, so be it. An addict’s willingness to change cannot be based on entrance into a program. The true test comes after a period of sobriety once the initial crisis has abated.
Recovery Is a Process
Every addict is different and some take longer to develop strong recovery tools than others. It generally takes an addict or alcoholic about 18 months to stabilize. This doesn’t mean that someone in recovery can’t reintegrate into “normal” life prior to this time. This simply illustrates there will be some challenges along the way that are directly related to learning to live sober. A person in early recovery (up to 36 months sober) needs a lot of support from family, friends, and an understanding peer group. If sobriety isn’t the addict’s top priority he or she will likely sabotage any success experienced in the beginning stages of his or her new life. Coping with life’s challenges without a chemical crutch is very challenging for any addict or alcoholic. With a strong system of support someone with addiction issues is more likely to maintain long term recovery.
The first year of substance abuse recovery is a challenge for both the addict and the entire family. Not only is the recovering drug abuser trying to stay sober, there is also the challenge of mending relationships and cleaning up other areas of life. An addict’s first holiday season can also bring about new emotional demands. In particular New Year’s is known for its parties and alcohol fueled revelry. It is important to find ways to replace all that is being “missed” at this time of the year.
What To Do?
Enthusiastic sobriety programs hold a major event on New Year’s Eve that includes meetings, games, a dance, and tons of fellowship for the entire family. It is a great opportunity for everyone who attends to start changing some of the associations with the holidays that center on drug and alcohol abuse. For a lot of families it has been a while since the new year provided hope and optimism. Having something to do that everyone can enjoy helps the process of healing for the family. Plus, it is an opportunity to make more connections with people on a similar path.
What To Think
Ending the old year and beginning the new year with an attitude of gratitude goes a long way. For a newly sober addict it is easy to look back on the year with a lot of remorse and regret. This is dangerous because if an addict is caught in self-pity the tendency is to fall into a pattern of depression. Reflection doesn’t have to be morbid. It can be an honest assessment of past events with an awareness of new emotional tools to improve one’s life. Starting the year sober gives a clear perspective on how much possibility exists. Recovery from substance abuse is truly a great opportunity for a new lease on life.
In order to stay sober, an addict must identify the ways drugs and alcohol make his or her life unmanageable. Without this admission, progression into the following steps is impossible.The acceptance that drugs and alcohol either created or magnified problems provides the proper foundation for moving forward in the program. For parents there is a similar need to determine how the pattern of addiction has created unmanageability in their lives. An addict creates much destruction in his wake and family members are inevitably affected. With the identification of these issues comes the opportunity to truly change. The beauty of twelve step recovery is that it provides people with coping tools to let go of negative patterns and replace them with more effective ways to cope. The primary theme that runs through the twelve steps is the recognition of the need for a relationship with a Higher Power.
There Is A God and It Ain’t Me!
Most people with drug and alcohol issues suffer from insecurity and low self-worth. This negative self perception is often compensated for by an overblown ego. It can be difficult for an addict or alcoholic to admit there may be any kind of power greater than him or herself, much less a benevolent being who genuinely cares for his or her condition. When this person has either moved away from any religious or spiritual background, or has no familiarity with spirituality at all, believing there is ” a Higher Power, expressed through love that can help restore us to sanity” is a bit of a stretch. Because this concept can be so complicated, finding a simple way to deflate the ego while finding hope is vital. This usually begins with some form of connection with the love and compassion of family and friends.
Life Beyond Addiction
Twelve step recovery is spiritually based. In early recovery everyone affected by addiction, both the abuser and loved ones, are encouraged to develop some sort of understanding of a Higher Power. This isn’t meant to answer deep theological or philosophical questions. The point is for those harmed by this terrible disease to realize they are not alone and that there is a solution. There are many in recovery who choose to deepen their spiritual life in many different ways. This should be encouraged. Some decide that what they identify with in early recovery is enough. Either way, if the person working a program is able to find a way to recover, they are a success. Don’t be afraid of the spiritual part of the program, in fact keep it very simple. Any good spiritual tradition is built on a foundation of Love. That is exactly what to look for because where there is love, there is hope.
“Relapse is a part of recovery.” This is a term that has circulated around drug and alcohol treatmentfor decades. It is meant to help people to not become discouraged when an addict or alcoholic experiences a slip. However, this way of thinking can also be used as a way to rationalize a conscious decision to go back to active drug or alcohol abuse. Because the terminology can be somewhat ambiguous, what should someone do when a “relapse” occurs? What is the appropriate way to react? There can be a fine line between support and enabling consequently any loved one of an addict or alcoholic needs a lot of support.
So, Define Relapse
A simple way to understand relapse is to remember that a person who is new to recovery has depended on a chemical fix for an extended period of time. Abusing drugs or alcohol has become the normal way to live. It is the default response to any aspect of life, positive or negative. An addict uses drugs and alcohol to enhance good feelings as much as attempting to escape emotions that are uncomfortable. It is a major shock to the system to approach day to day life abstinent from all mind changing chemicals. In early recovery when emotions start to rise to the surface the newly sober drug abuser can become overwhelmed. His first thought will be to get high. Obviously it is best to avoid the temptation and work through his feelings. But when the opportunity to use comes up and is acted upon a drug abuser will either admit the mistake and move forward or become discouraged and continue to use. Whether or not this is considered a relapse depends on the reaction of the user. When a person relapses and is able to continue his program of recovery this can be very positive. After a short period of sobriety the positive payoffs of drugs and alcohol tend to fade. This contrast between using and recovery becomes dramatic. In this sense relapse is a part of recovery.
What Can I Do?
One person’s relapse is another person’s manipulation. One of the reasons it is so important for family members to be involved in an addict’s recovery is because of the need for accountability on all levels. No one can “keep” another person sober. However, when everyone is engaged in the recovery process the addict is less likely to see getting high as a viable option. The family has to make the decision that the rollercoaster ride of active drug and alcohol abuse is over. When an addict knows this wall exists and everyone involved is committed to recovery the decision to use again becomes much more difficult. Just like an addict in sobriety needs a sober peer group, parents and other family members thrive with support of an empathizing circle. Family members need counseling, guidance, and support. With the right kind of encouragement the recovery process will continue for all involved.