Family Support After Rehab: How to Support Your Loved One

Rehab can be a difficult time for some and can leave your loved one feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed. Transitioning home may be challenging, too, as they adjust to their everyday environment, which may include many triggers and stressors. Family support after rehab can be an important component of your loved one’s recovery process.

In this article:

What is Rehab Like?

Rehab centers will vary in what they offer and how they operate, but most rehab programs offer evidence-based practices, such as:

  • Medical detox, if needed
  • Individual therapy sessions with a mental health professional
  • Group support meetings with other patients attending rehab
  • Group therapy sessions and interpersonal process groups
  • Family counseling sessions, which you may have taken part in
  • Alternative and holistic therapies, such as yoga, meditation, or creative arts therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)

While your loved one was in rehab, they likely learned many new skills and strategies, such as:

  • Coping skills to help with cravings and life stressors
  • Identifying patterns of maladaptive behavior
  • Avoiding substance-using triggers, such as specific people or locations associated with use
  • Enhancing motivation to change
  • Understanding how triggers lead to substance use urges
  • Emotional regulation and impulse control skills
  • Reframing negative thoughts

The work that your loved one did in rehab is difficult and can sometimes feel overwhelming and emotionally trying. While in rehab, they received around-the-clock care and support to walk through this strenuous process, which can make leaving rehab a hard transition.

How Long Does My Loved One Attend Rehab?

The length of time your friend or family member attends rehab will vary, depending on many factors, such as:

  • The severity of their addiction
  • The presence of a co-occurring mental health condition
  • The presence of a comorbid medical condition
  • Previous rehab experiences
  • Motivation to change
  • Whether they needed detox services or not
  • Cost of rehab and/or insurance coverage
  • Their individualized treatment plan, established by the treatment team

Your loved one will complete rehab when their treatment team agrees they have met the criteria to leave rehab and continue recovering at home. If they leave before the doctors advise it, this is called leaving against medical advice (AMA) and could increase their risk of relapse.

Recovery Continues After Rehab: Stages of Recovery

Although your loved one has finished rehab, that doesn’t mean their recovery process has come to an end. Recovery is a lifelong process, full of ups and downs, challenges and successes.

Recovery is broken up into three general stages, which take place over several years. These stages include:1

1. Early recovery stage: Maintenance of abstinence and prevention of relapse
2. Sustained recovery stage: Increasing life stability and attaining goals
3. Stable recovery stage: Improving skills, growth, and development

Typically, your loved one is considered to be in the first stage while they are in a rehab program. As they move into the second stage of sustained recovery, this is when they will leave rehab to continue their journey outside of the program.

Sustained Recovery

Each rehab center will have its own way of measuring outcomes for your loved one in recovery. The goal of treatment is to stop using the substance, learn necessary relapse prevention and coping skills, and function productively in their family, job, and community. Studies have found that some factors correlate to treatment completion, including:2

  • Older age
  • Higher level of education
  • Being employed
  • Access to housing
  • Having private insurance to pay for treatment

If these factors are not true of your loved one, it does not mean they cannot complete recovery treatment. Research shows that the majority of people who engage in treatment will experience success in ceasing drug use, decreasing criminal activity, and improving their overall functioning.3

Stable Housing

Most rehab programs will require that your loved one has stable housing before leaving the treatment center. If your loved one does not have stable housing, there are options available to provide this for them. Recovery-supported housing and sober living homes are both available options to discuss with their healthcare provider. These organizations often have house managers and encourage or mandate participation in 12-step or other peer support groups.4 You can always assist your loved one in finding transitional housing that meets their needs.

If you have the space, it may be helpful to allow your loved one to live with you temporarily, while they acclimate to life after rehab. Naturally, this choice isn’t right for everyone, and you must decide what’s best for you and your family, but it can help your loved one start off on the right foot after completing treatment.

What to Expect After Rehab

Recovery does not end when your loved one leaves rehab. Addiction is considered a chronic disease, which requires long-term efforts. When your loved one leaves rehab, they will most likely be encouraged to engage in aftercare services. Throughout the continued recovery process, there are some rules your loved one may be encouraged to follow, including:1

  • Create a new life that makes using the substance more difficult
  • Maintain complete honesty
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for help
  • Regularly practice self-care
  • Avoid trying to bend the rules

You can make some of these rules easier for your loved one by organizing joyful activities that don’t include substances, such as going to the beach or the park, playing a sport, creating art, going on a walk, or cooking together. You can also practice honesty and boundary-setting yourself in order to set a solid example for your loved one to follow. Make sure they engage in self-care by doing so yourself.

Aftercare Services

Your loved one’s recovery team will put a plan in place for aftercare services. These may include ongoing therapy appointments, attending support group meetings (such as 12-step programs), medical check-ups, and telephone check-ins. If they are in a sober living house, they will be required to follow certain rules. These may include:

  • Completing house chores
  • Remaining sober
  • Attending 12-step meetings
  • Following a curfew
  • Being consistent with employment or volunteering

How Can You Provide Family Support After Rehab?

You are not responsible for the success of your loved one’s recovery, but there are several things you can do to provide support, encouragement, and empowerment while they adjust to a substance-free life.

Encourage New Routines

Your loved one is learning how to build a new life without the substance they were previously using to cope. You can suggest healthy routines and habits for them that can aid in setting up a “new normal” that doesn’t include substance use. Some good activities to suggest include exercise, healthy eating, relaxation and finding enjoyable hobbies. Participating in these activities with them can be extra helpful so that they have an accountability partner and may find more pleasure in these hobbies.

Educate Yourself

You can find resources that help you understand your loved one’s addiction and behaviors. After learning more about it, you may begin to recognize ways that you have enabled unhelpful behaviors in the past, such as rescuing your loved one from a negative consequence of substance use.

There are groups specifically geared toward family members of those struggling with substance use, such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. These groups can also offer you support as you walk through this recovery process with your loved one.

Learn Their Triggers

Part of the rehab process for your loved one will include identifying things, places, and people that may trigger the urge to use a substance. Find out what these triggers are for your loved one and help by creating an atmosphere free of these triggers. This may include removing certain substances from the home or avoiding specific people, places, or conversations.

Incentivize and Celebrate

Many rehab centers find that incentives for behavior change produce good outcomes in recovery.5 You can use some of the same techniques at home, setting up a reward system for compliance with aftercare service requirements. Also, finding ways to celebrate your loved one’s progress along the way with verbal affirmations, thoughtful gifts, and praise can be beneficial throughout their recovery process.

Know the Signs of Relapse

Understanding the nature of addiction and relapse can help you better support your loved one as they go through this life-long journey of recovery. As with all chronic conditions, relapse is fairly common, particularly if a person stops following their recovery plan. Studies show that it can take up to five years beyond initial abstinence for the risk of relapse to drop lower than 15%.4 However, this doesn’t mean that relapse is inevitable; plenty of people avoid relapse post-rehab.

Signs of relapse may include:1

  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Not attending 12-step meetings or therapy sessions
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Cravings for the substance they used before rehab
  • Remembering or talking about past drug experiences with positive feelings

In the case of a relapse, this does not mean that your loved one’s efforts in recovery are for nothing. If they return to rehab, they are returning with new knowledge and insights they did not have the first time around that will further contribute to their continued success. If your loved one does experience a relapse, it is a sign that they need to resume, modify or seek new treatment and this should be discussed with your loved one’s healthcare provider.

If you are looking for treatment for your loved one, please call 800-963-1579 (Who Answers?) to speak to a treatment support specialist about rehab options.


  1. Melemis, S.M. (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine,88(3), 325-332.
  2. Mutter, R., Ali, M.M., Smith, and K. Strashny, A. (2015). Factors associated with substance use treatment completion in residential facilities. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 154(1), 291-295.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. How effective is drug addiction treatment?
  4. Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health. Chapter 5 Recovery: The Many Paths to Wellness.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Contingency Management Interventions/Motivational Incentives.

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