Living with a Recovering Addict—Dos and Don’ts

Family welcome
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A family member or someone you care about is almost complete with substance abuse treatment and will be coming home soon. How should you act? What should you talk about? What are the dos and don’ts?

Granted, it may feel awkward at first. Maybe those last days together were not so great. Maybe you feel bad about some things that you said or did, or perhaps you are still angry about the money that got stolen. As the time gets closer, the more anxious you may feel. Tense feelings and bad memories can kick in, along with uncertainty about exactly what your role is in all of this, now that your loved one is returning home.

Obviously, the main objective is to prevent relapse and it is important that you approach the situation with the right frame of mind. This is going to be a growing experience for you too. Here are some points to consider and work out for yourself before the rehab graduate returns home.

Have a Positive Attitude

First, relax- take a deep breath. It really is probably going to be OK.

The drug rehab graduate is going to be in a different condition than the addict who left for treatment. Reacquaint yourself with who that person is now. (It is someone you knew all along and hoped would come back.)

If there are things you feel bad or angry about, bite your tongue. Your loved one feels worse than you do and probably wants to make things right. Give the recovering addict a chance.

Try to stay away from negative topics. There is always safe harbor in positive and interesting conversation. Help the recovering addict look to the future and do your best to stay away from events of the past.

The best attitude is one of support and recognition of all the work the person has done to get clean through treatment.

Be patient. Remember, substance abuse treatment is just the beginning of full recovery. It is going to take work to build stability after treatment. Most of this work will be done by the recovering addict, but your help will be needed.

In summary, Keep things as stress free as possible for both of you. Stress can affect your health adversely and can contribute to relapse for your loved one.

Now that we have examined how to keep stress out of the home, let’s take a look at a couple of other things we need to remove.

Remove Alcohol from the Home

Even if alcohol was not the drug of choice for your loved one, it is still an addictive substance. Toss out the alcohol and close the door to unnecessary risk. You do not want your family member to be overconfident and think they can start drinking or reach for a drink out of curiosity or to relieve momentary stress. If you like to imbibe in the occasional toddy yourself, do it away from home, or leave it alone for now.

Medical cabinet
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Remove Unnecessary Medications from the Home

It is not smart to have old and unused medications in the home, under any circumstance. Unused medications pose a risk to young children, teens, and recovering addicts. A neighbor can even find their way into your medicine cabinet, under the guise of “borrowing a cup of sugar.” Dispose of unneeded medicines safely and ethically. For more information on this, the Drug Enforcement Administration offers resources on drug take-back programs.

Secure Necessary Medication

Safely secure under lock and key, the medications you absolutely must keep at home. Hide them in a place where your recovering loved one would not know to look.

Here are a few dos and don’ts for the longer term to help the recovering addict attain the goal of stable sobriety.

Never Use Drugs or Alcohol with Any Rehab Graduate

Set a good example in every way you can, including refusing to engage in using substances with a rehab graduate. Do not under-estimate the influence you can have on others, including your loved one, especially when it comes to substance abuse. Make your home an alcohol and drug free zone and keep it that way. Do not bring in alcohol or any mind-altering substance for your own use, even if it seems like things are going OK with recovery. Show the recovering addict that you care enough to walk this journey of substance-free living with them.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Though it is essential to help the rehab graduate through the first few weeks and months post-rehab, remember to set healthy boundaries for yourself, too. It would be unwise to allow your loved one to lean on you too much. It can be stressful for you and unhealthy for them. Full recovery includes getting back out into the world, going back to school, finding a healthy career, and resuming familial and societal responsibilities. Point the graduate in the direction of getting back into life at a pace they can deal with.

Watch Out for Your Loved One

Don’t let your loved one fall back in with a bad crowd after going to all that effort to break away from toxic people, places, and habits. Be aware and watch, not like a cop, but in a caring manner. Encourage the graduate to focus on creating healthy relationships with people who are supportive of recovery and drug-free living.

Visiting family in recovery
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Create a Supportive Environment

Life in recovery is not always easy. There will probably be some rough moments for your loved one. One of the best things you can do for them is to be there for them, even if only as a shoulder to cry on when life gets particularly difficult.

Help Keep Your Loved One Actively Engaged and Busy with Their Recovery

Getting sober and staying sober is not something that happens on its own or overnight. It must be worked on every day. Different people accomplish this in different ways. Find out what the rehab graduate is interested in. Whether it is going back to school, working with like-minded people, volunteering, advancing a career, or simply helping around the house, there are healthy interesting and enjoyable activities that should be supported and encouraged.

Rebuild Trust

Addicts do not come home “cured” of drug and alcohol addiction. A treatment program helps a recovering addict make significant progress towards freedom from addiction, but this is not an instant process. It will take some time for a recovering addict to become stable in their recovery. Most of this work will need to be done by the recovering addict, but the family can help. If the recovering addict comes home wanting to do amends, support this endeavor! It will increase self-trust for the recovering addict and trust from the family.

Rebuilding trust takes time. While you and the rest of the recovering individual’s family members should not be overbearing with distrust, you should not give someone in recovery free rein or total control either. Find a good balance. Addiction destroys trust, and that trust can be rebuilt over time. The more time passes, the more trust can be rebuilt.

Seek Outside Help if Needed

Don’t hesitate to seek outside help if you feel trouble is brewing. Sometimes, crises do occur in recovery, and it is crucial to do what it takes to avoid a relapse. If you think a relapse might be imminent and you are not sure what to do, reach out. A good drug and alcohol rehab center will be able to provide help and guidance. You can also contact an addiction counselor, interventionist, or anyone you feel may be able to help prevent your loved one from returning to drug use.

Family support
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Should a Relapse Occur

Though they should be avoided at all costs, relapses sometimes happen. A relapse is not the end of the world; It doesn’t mean you and your recovering loved one failed.

Relapse indicates there is more to address in treatment. Help the recovering addict go back to rehab to fully address all of the underlying issues, triggers, mental blocks, behavioral struggles, coping mechanisms, challenges -anything that may put them at risk for another relapse in the future.

If there is a relapse, act fast. Don’t be convinced that a drug or alcohol relapse was “just a mistake,” and that it will “never happen again.” Relapses are extremely dangerous. A relapse occurs after a period of sobriety, when there have been no drugs in the system. If the recovering addict uses a similar amount of drugs that they used before treatment, there is chance of overdose. For this reason, if a recovering addict relapses, they need to reenter treatment immediately.

Please call Narconon today if you require assistance in convincing your loved one to get help.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MC



After graduating from the program in 2008, Matt works to help others find a new way to live life, free from drugs and alcohol. Matt is an Internationally certified drug and alcohol counselor and has written extensively on addiction and evidence-based treatment. You can follow him on Linkedin.