There’s not much you can do to prepare yourself for the fear, anger and pain that accompanies learning your child has a drug or alcohol addiction. Substance abuse affects the whole family, and the best way to help your child get the help needed to recover is to thoroughly educate yourself about recovery and post-treatment.
The more you know about addiction, the better you can help your child come to terms with their addiction, find helpful resources, choose the right treatment program and become involved in your child’s treatment and aftercare in the most effective ways possible.
This 14-part series is designed to help provide you with the information you need to face this struggle and help your child and your family find the path to recovery.
The Early Stage of Recovery and Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Recovery is a lifelong endeavor, and in the early years, it requires a high level of support. That’s why it’s important for your child to fully engage in the aftercare plan – or alumni program like what is offered at Gracious Care – that’s individualized and set in place after treatment. According to a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the likelihood of maintaining sobriety increases by 20 percent for each consecutive month of engagement in aftercare programming.
The early stage of recovery is the abstinence stage. During the one to two-year duration of this phase, your child will be focused on accepting his addiction and developing a new self-identity as a non-user. He will practice honesty with himself and others; develop skills for coping with stress, triggers and cravings; learn to practice a high level of self-care; and develop a healthy lifestyle that’s conducive to sobriety.
The primary danger during the abstinence stage is post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, which begins shortly after quitting drugs or alcohol and lasts as long as two years. Symptoms of PAWS are usually intermittent, going away for several days or weeks and then returning for a time.
Symptoms of PAWS include mood swings, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, irritability, low energy levels and disturbed sleep patterns. While the aftercare plan is designed to address the symptoms of PAWS, family support is also essential for helping your child navigate the early months and years of sobriety.
Continue Family Education, Therapy and Support
For you and other family members, continuing to engage in family therapy and participate in a family support group is crucial for helping your child through the abstinence stage of recovery.
Ongoing family therapy will continue to help you restore function to your household. Dysfunction in the family is a major relapse trigger, and learning effective communication skills and developing healthy ways of thinking and behaving within the family system are essential for improving family dynamics.
You will need a high level of support once your child leaves rehab and returns to regular life. Continuing to participate in your support group will provide you with emotional and practical support as well as help you find the resources you need to best help your child through the often-rocky first months of recovery. You’ll also have the opportunity to offer sage advice and a sympathetic ear to families who are just beginning their recovery journey.
Continue to educate yourself, focusing now on the mechanics of relapse and relapse prevention. Know the stages of relapse—emotional, mental, and physical—and how to recognize the signs of each stage.
Know what to do should a lapse or relapse occur. Perhaps most importantly, remember that relapse is now considered to be the norm rather the exception in recovery, and it never means that treatment failed. Rather, it’s an opportunity to develop missing skills that will contribute to long-term sobriety moving forward.
Aftercare is Essential…
Engagement in aftercare is the number one overall predictor of abstinence. The National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence stresses the importance of supporting your loved one’s participation in the aftercare plan. Encourage your child to attend and participate in meetings and therapy, and let him know you support him and believe in him.
…And So is Hope
Perhaps most importantly, always hold onto your hope, which is the foundation of recovery. No matter what challenges crop up or what setbacks leave you feeling rattled and worried, let your child know that your hope and your love are undying and unconditional.