Early recovery brings up a number of new challenges. For a newly sober person the holiday season can be particularly difficult. Not only is it hard for the addict, the rest of the family is in a troublesome position as well. Issues include everything from what to do with alcohol in the home to whether or not going out of town to visit relatives is a good idea. There is no blanket solution because every family’s situation is different. However for a young person in the early stages of recovery there are some suggestions that may help. Let’s start with a few simple questions:
How long has the young person been sober?
Will there be a lot of alcohol at the family event?
Will there be people at the event that the young person has used drugs with?
What Can I Do?
One of the primary objectives in recovery is to get to the point of being able to navigate challenging social situations. It isn’t realistic to believe that one can go through life never being around alcohol or other temptations. However, a young person in early sobriety is particularly vulnerable because there is little confidence in the sober lifestyle and holidays can bring heightened expectations for everyone. This pressure can be too much for an emotionally unstable newly sober teenager. For a parent of a young person in this situation it is vital to not take temporary for permanent. It will not always be this way. For the first sober holiday season here are some ideas that can help:
If a large family event is unavoidable, have a way for the young person to be able to leave
Make the family event alcohol free
Consider hosting others who may need a sober environment
These are just a couple of ideas and the best suggestion is to seek guidance from others who have been in a similar situation before. The priority is for the person in early recovery to have the best opportunity to stay sober through the holidays and for the entire family to enjoy this special time together. Every emotionally challenging situation a sober young person is able to face, the stronger his or her recovery will be. Have a wonderful holiday season and enjoy your family!
The drug epidemic has afflicted young people in America for decades. There is no shortage of ideas on how to solve this problem. From “The War on Drugs” to the “Opioid Epidemic” there have been several campaigns started with the idea of stemming the overwhelming tide of drug abuse. While these approaches are always well intentioned they have done little to decrease drug abuse among young people. There is no magic cure for this problem. Medication may provide temporary relief but it does not change an addict’s thinking. Therapy can be helpful but the discovery of root causes does not motivate a young drug abuser to abstain from mind changing chemicals. Church attendance can lift an alcoholic’s spirits and provide a new perspective but sobriety is certainly not guaranteed. Changes in diet, more exercise, better sleep, and other physical changes are undoubtedly necessary but will not stop a young person from using. A fundamental tenet in any twelve step program is “First Things First.” In order to start the process of recovery an addict must become abstinent. This is the number one priority.
A Program of Attraction
A young addict or alcoholic uses or drinks because the chemical provides a desired effect. By the time drug or alcohol abuse become problematic the abuser knows there is something wrong. One of the primary reasons a person will not stop using is because he or she does not see a better alternative. From an outside perspective this looks insane. To the person who is using, it makes perfect sense. An addict is not concerned with “consequences” until these ramifications stand in the way of being able to get high. Drugs and alcohol affect a person physically, mentally, and spiritually. An addict must have these needs met.Fear is not a good motivator because most young drug abusers are numb to it. Sobriety has to be attractive and fun.
Young addicts and alcoholics wrestle with the temptation to use for a long time after they get sober. They are always aware that “relief” is available from their drug or drink of choice. It is imperative that they have a firm grasp on abstinence before beginning to dig into underlying issues. For young people, this process involves a combination of fun and inspiration. Enthusiastic sobriety opens the door to enjoying a life without drugs and alcohol. It also allows young people to begin coping with difficult issues in a safe and supportive environment.
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.
When an addict or alcoholic enters recovery it may take a few days, or in some cases weeks, for the dust to settle. Once the initial crisis that leads an individual into treatment subsides, the challenge really begins. For the person in recovery, there can be a feeling of hopelessness due to becoming aware of the damage that has been created. For a family member or loved one, it is normal at this stage for anger to come to the surface. This is the point at which recovery tools become a high priority. Without a new manner of coping, an addict may resort to using drugs and/or alcohol again. A loved one is likely to try and control the behavior of the person in need of help. This stage of recovery is scary but with some awareness deep levels of sabotage can be averted.
Ride the Pink Cloud
When a person enters treatment everyone involved breathes a sigh of relief. Even when someone starts their sobriety reluctantly, physical abstinence usually allows for a degree of relief. Early recovery is usually the first time in a long time that a loved one, especially a parent, has had any sense of solace. This period of time is sometimes described as “the pink cloud.” This break from the insanity of addiction should be welcomed. This is also a good time to start implementing aspects of the 12 steps. Once the pink cloud subsides, it is vital to have a safety net of support. This is created by forming relationships with other people on a similar journey and by developing a basic connection with a Higher Power.
It Is a Rollercoaster
There are definitely lots of ups and downs in early sobriety. It is never a smooth ride. There is a lot to learn and many issues of which to become aware. It is not abnormal to feel a bit overwhelmed. Don’t take temporary for permanent. As scary as the journey up the hill can be, it is exhilarating to rush down hill and discover what is around the corner. If everyone involved stays engaged in a personal program there is endless joy that awaits. There will be ups and downs but the adventure will always be rewarding.
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.
“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.