5 Tips for Supporting Someone Who Just Got Out of Rehab

My wife is finally getting out of rehab today. She’s beaten her addiction; now everything can go back to normal. I’m ready for things to be like they were before she started abusing pain medication.

When someone you love gets out of rehab, you naturally want to be a solid member of their support system. What you don’t want to do, however, is have unrealistic expectations.

Rehab is just the first step of a long recovery journey. This journey lasts a lifetime and requires ongoing work, support, and resources.

Think of it like this: Addiction treatment is like going through physical therapy in order to learn how to walk again. After a while, the therapist sees you’ve mastered the skill in therapy, so they discharge you. It’s now time to continue that therapy at home, which means practicing all the skills you learned during intensive therapy. Leaving rehab means taking the recovery skills learned during treatment and putting them to work at home.

Your Role in Supporting a Loved One Out of Rehab

If you’re a friend or partner of someone who’s recently completed rehab, you might wonder how to support them.

Maybe a lot of your activities used to revolve around drinking, and you don’t know if you should invite them to social gatherings now that they’re sober. Or maybe you are their partner, and you’re not sure if it’s your job to make sure they stay sober.

Before you spring into action, read the following list of five ways you can truly support a loved one who just got out of rehab.

1.   Be Mindful, But Don’t Coddle

It’s perfectly natural to want to protect someone who you view as vulnerable. Heck, they are raw and vulnerable after their world has just been turned upside down in rehab. They’ve had to dig up the past, rummage through it, and discard a lot of beliefs and coping mechanisms. That said, your loved one doesn’t need you to wrap them in cotton wool. You might be tempted to remove them from situations where you know there will be alcohol, or where their old drinking buddies might be hanging out, and you might even feel the need to call and text them every five minutes when they leave the house, to ensure they’ve not gone to pick up.

While your concerns are valid, it’s important to communicate and let them stand on their own two feet. You could be mindful by asking how they feel about being in those situations and if they might feel uncomfortable or triggered. You could arrange a check in time or ask the time they’ll return home when heading out, and you can also let them know that you’re here if they need you and refrain from texting and calling. Pressuring a loved one will only result in pushing them away so when they do need help, they’re unlikely to come to you.

Anthony shared his insight into his protective mom. “When I got out of rehab my mom was waiting to pick me up. While she was happy to see me, she had a million questions which was pretty overwhelming,” he said. “She wanted to know what I learned, what my coping strategies were, what they wanted me to do as an outpatient, and if there was homework.” Anthony just wanted to go home and get settled in his space, without the supervision he’d had the last 90 days of treatment. Unfortunately, he was mistaken.

“Mom asked me to keep the door open and I swear she’d be in my room every hour to ask if I was OK. It was so annoying, that I just sought to avoid her.” Anthony left the house to get away from his overbearing mother, but instead of going to a meeting, he went to hang out with friends. While that might have been initially comforting to catch up with friends, it also posed a risk of relapse, because his friends smoked weed all the time.

2.   Triggers Change

Recovery is a continual process of growth. That means, over time, a person in recovery begins to feel more comfortable as a sober person and more confident in handling everyday situations where booze might be present. For example, someone in their first month of sobriety might feel too uncomfortable going to a sports bar to watch a game with their friends, whereas someone with a year under their belt wouldn’t be phased at all. It’s best just to ask.

Recovery is a continual process of growth. It’s best just to ask what their comfort level is with certain activities.

Emily reflected on her growth over the first year of recovery. “By the end of my first year, I was hanging out with friends in clubs because I forgot how much I loved to dance. It wasn’t triggering to be around people drinking. In fact, it felt freeing to know I could still enjoy going out without all the consequences,” she explained. That wasn’t always the case for Emily. “I wouldn’t go into a club for the first year because it felt too raw and brought up a lot of memories that I am ashamed of,” she says.

3.   Work on Yourself

This may be hard to hear if you’re the partner or parent of a loved one who has just gotten out of rehab. The thing is, addiction is a family disease where we all play our part, which is why recovery must involve the family too. That might mean therapy, attending family sessions, or attending a recovery support meeting like Al-Anon.

In Mary’s case she thought that the problem lay with her husband, Charles, and that it was on him to repair the marriage. “When Charles got out of rehab, I was so angry with him for all the hurt he’d caused as an alcoholic,” she says. “But then I attended a family session at the rehab and other women told me about how they’d contributed to the circumstances of their partner’s addiction. I couldn’t believe it!”

“But then I attended a family session at the rehab and other women told me about how they’d contributed to the circumstances of their partner’s addiction. I couldn’t believe it!”

Mary thought she’d be nothing but helpful, but after just one meeting she started to see how she’d been enabling Charles and perhaps let resentments simmer rather than communicating. “It didn’t take long for me to realize I had my own part and that I too needed help. I reached out to a therapist and now we’ve worked together on rebuilding our marriage. It’s better than ever,” she contends.

4.   Offer to Go to a Meeting With Them

It can be difficult making that first step into a meeting in your community when you’ve been in the protective bubble of rehab. You no longer have your rehab buddies to feel comfortable. It’s like you’re now attending a meeting for the first time.

It can be a really daunting process, so one way you can support your loved one is to go to a meeting with them.

5.   Be a Sounding Board Not an Authority on Recovery

It’s very easy to watch a few episodes of Intervention and think you know what is best for a person with an addiction. Unfortunately, you’re not privy to all of the work your loved one has undergone in rehab. You might not know that they couldn’t be discharged without a relapse prevention plan, that clearly details how a person is going to stay sober and how they’ll deal with triggers. You may also be unaware of the intensive outpatient program that they will attend.

All of this is to say, unless you’re an addictions counselor, it’s best you don’t provide any recovery advice. Instead, you could be there for them and listen to their experiences.

Jack was lucky enough to have a friend who was a really great supporter of their recovery. “I remember when I first came home and went to see Steve. He was super chill and like nothing had changed, even though he knew I was sober,” she shared.

“Unlike my other friends and close family who didn’t know how to act around me, Steve would just ask what was on my mind and listen, then ask how he could support me. It was life-changing to have this support. I know lots of my friends in rehab feel like their friends avoid them now [that] they’re sober.”

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