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How individuals and families can embrace substance use disorder recovery

It can be difficult for families to deal with a loved one’s substance use disorder (SUD)—and helping them through recovery can be even more difficult. Recovery refers to the process of managing an SUD to improve health and quality of life. It may involve professional treatment, medications, mutual support programs, other resources, or a combination of these.  

Recovery can be slow or happen quickly when a person experiences a life event that leads to a decision to stop substance use. For many with more severe SUDs, recovery involves abstinence. But for less severe problems, a reduction of use may lead to significant improvements in health and quality of life. Some people with less severe SUDs recover on their own. They decide to cut down or stop substance use and improve their health and lives as a result.

Individuals who engage in recovery often work on self-change in addition to abstinence from substance use. Change may occur in any domain of life: physical health, mental health, family, social, psychological, spiritual, financial, or other.

Individuals with SUDs can maximize the benefits of recovery in many ways:

  • Keeping all scheduled sessions if involved in counseling or treatment.
  • Seeking professional help if involved in self-recovery that is not going well.
  • Requesting an evaluation for medication to aid in recovery from alcohol, opioid, or tobacco addiction if not already prescribed.
  • Taking medications only as prescribed and using them along with counseling and/or participation in mutual support programs.
  • Participating in mutual support programs (AA, NA, or others), online meetings, chat rooms, or other online programs in which people support each other’s recovery.
  • Making recovery a “we” rather than an “I” process by staying connected with peers in recovery, sharing struggles and successes, and reaching out for help and support.
  • Developing and following a daily plan of recovery with goals and steps toward goals. If the plan works, great. If it doesn’t, finding a plan that does.
  • Using relapse as a motivation to find new methods to sustain recovery, rather than letting it be a reason to give up.
  • Sharing any setbacks with a person they trust to avoid keeping secrets that can contribute to continued substance use.

How families can help individual recovery

If you have a loved one on the road to recovery, you can help them by attending sessions with them, encouraging them to follow their recovery plan, and getting involved in your own recovery. Ways family members can recover include:

  • Seeking professional help if depression, anxiety, anger, or other strong emotions are interfering with your health or behavior.
  • Engaging in a family support program to learn about what other family members do to cope with a loved one’s SUD.
  • Sharing your feelings and struggles with a confidante (family member, friend, or other person in a mutual support program).
  • Accepting that it is not your responsibility to manage the person with the SUD. It is your loved one who must manage their behavior, substance use, and recovery.
  • Acknowledging the SUD problem in your family rather than covering it up or ignoring it.
  • Focusing on other family members, not just the one with the SUD.
  • Getting help for children who show school problems, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, or other issues that could be a product of the SUD.
  • Staying active with friends and the community so life does not evolve around the SUD.

Recovery is not one-size-fits-all. More severe cases may take several episodes of care over years to achieve and sustain recovery. Those who adhere to treatment for a SUD and follow their recovery plan often experience more benefits than those who do not. The most important steps in one’s recovery journey involve recognizing, seeking, and being supported—internally and externally—through every part of the process.

For more information on where you and your family can receive support, visit our website or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).