The answer is both “yes” and “no”. Family involvement is one of the most important pieces in helping a loved one stop with their addiction. However, there are traps that many genuinely caring family members fall into that make the recovery process very frustrating. Addicts are very skilled at manipulating the family, and it is a cycle that is hard to stop. So, this article is meant to give some “Do”s and “Don’t”s with someone who is trying to get sober.

Do: Set aggressive limits and boundaries. Commonly, a recovering addict has tendencies to go back to the behaviors that are most familiar. Unfortunately, these behaviors are often manipulative in nature. So, expect them to try to get money, make impulsive decisions, and try to avoid healthy behaviors because they are inconvenient. So, if you are going to give them any money, demand a receipt. If they have an impulse to try something, confront it and instill consequences if they follow through with it. If they, say, want to skip their recovery meeting (AA, NA, Smart Recovery), do not support this. Encourage/Demand that they attend, provide a signature indicting that they have attended and institute natural consequences (see below) if they do not do so.

Don’t: Threaten. If you are going to make a threat, be prepared to follow through on that threat. Far too many times does a spouse or family member make a threat, such as “If you get high/drink again, you can’t live here.” And, an incredibly high percentage of the time, the threat is not followed up. This leads the addict to find an avenue to manipulate and the cycle of addiction to continue. You are better off strongly encouraging and instituting natural consequences if need be. For example, they have found a ride to their supplier’s house, but they need a ride home. Do not provide that ride.

Do: Attend Al-Anon. It is important for the family member to get help for themselves as they ALSO recover from the disease of addiction. Support is vital. Many family members have not been through this before or have not successfully helped an addict get and remain sober. Remember that knowledge is power even if you do not like the subject matter. The goal is to help the addict get and stay sober. We cannot pretend that this is an easy subject or that you are alone dealing with this matter.

Don’t: Say “Have you been drinking?” if you are not going to accept the answer. This question is oftentimes, a setup. If they say “no”, they are not believed. But, if they say “yes”, they are facing a rage from the family. Truth is, if they have relapsed, they will eventually get caught. If not immediately, it will happen not too far down the road. The best avenue is to provide them a safe place to discuss if they did relapse, yet having to pay some consequences. Please get some advice on this topic.

Do: Attend family components of therapy. In most programs that help with recovery, there is a family component that offers a forum to bridge any gaps between the addict and the family. Far more often than not, the addict does not tell the sponsor or treatment staff everything that is necessary. The family can help bring to light those topics in a safe, yet open and honest environment.

Don’t: Bring up everything that they did wrong just because you are mad at them and you finally have their attention. The addict in early recovery is very fragile. This is not to say that they do not have to be responsible for their past behavior. But, it is to say that as long as they try to do things well, it would be helpful to avoid bringing up the wrongdoings for a while. That time will come. Please maintain your patience.

There are more areas that could be covered, but what is here addresses the most common complaints within the family. If you know someone who is in need of treatment, please encourage them to get assessed and into some form of treatment. The Behavioral Wellness Group offers several Intensive Outpatient Programs that address these issues and provide tools on how to proceed going forward. These can be viewed at:

Intensive Outpatient Programs

If your loved one needs an assessment or if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at the below phone, email or fax number. I hope that I can be useful in answering any concerns you may have in this area. Thank you for reading. 

Michael J. Pollak, PCC, LICDC Director, Dual Diagnosis Intensive Outpatient Program