What to Expect When a Loved One Goes to Rehab

Last Updated: March 20, 2024

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A person’s addiction impacts many lives in addition to their own, especially those of their family members and friends. It can be difficult to watch a loved one struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, and their behavior can often cause significant pain.

When someone struggling with a substance use disorder decides to go to rehab, the healing process can begin for both the individual and their loved ones. However, it’s important to understand that recovery is rarely an easy process. It will involve facing past mistakes, learning new ways of support and preparing for the possibility of a relapse.

It can be helpful to learn what to expect when your loved one attends substance abuse rehab, as well as how to prepare for their return and life in recovery. This guide will outline the treatment process and provide resources for support.

Effects of Addiction on Family

Addiction causes someone to seek and use a drug despite negative consequences. It is a disease caused by chemical changes in the brain brought on by drug use, so it’s difficult to “just stop” using drugs once addiction sets in. Ending use can also cause incredibly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, which leads people to relapse even when they want to quit.

This compulsion to continue using drugs causes many problems in a person’s life, affecting relationships and productivity at home, work and school. Families often see this behavior firsthand.They may be lied to, stolen from, abused or mistreated as a result of a loved one’s addiction. Addiction can easily create an environment of distrust and dishonesty in the home where families often feel hopeless, scared or unable to speak about their concerns.

Rehab centers keep these aspects of addiction in mind during treatment and provide resources designed for the friends and family members of clients. Whether it’s through family therapy, support groups or aftercare services, families are given tools that help them support a loved one throughout their recovery.

The Treatment Process

The addiction treatment process may vary in length and intensity, but the main steps of treatment typically include:

  • Addiction assessment: The client is given a drug and alcohol evaluation to gauge the severity of their addiction and create a personalized treatment plan. Clients are also screened for the presence of co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety. Treating all aspects of a person’s mental health gives them a better chance at a successful recovery.
  • Detox: After the assessment, the client begins a drug and alcohol detox. This process involves allowing substances to leave the body naturally so addiction treatment can begin. Clients may be given medication-assisted treatment to help relieve withdrawal symptoms, as medically appropriate.
  • Addiction therapies: The bulk of treatment involves individual and group therapy sessions that address the root of a person’s addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective types of therapy. It involves adopting new, positive ways of thinking that replace old, negative thoughts that lead to drug use. Clients also participate in activities for holistic addiction treatment, such as art, music, exercise and yoga therapy.
  • Aftercare planning: The idea of going back to daily life can be frightening, as rehab is a safe, supportive environment that is free from triggers. Some clients fear they will fall back into old habits and react in the same negative ways as before, which is why aftercare planning is so important. Aftercare offers resources that support long-term recovery, such as follow-up appointments, support groups, sober living homes and other services. Clients are given an aftercare plan to follow before leaving rehab.

Communication While in Rehab

When a client arrives at rehab, they typically undergo a 72-hour period where they are not allowed to speak to people outside the facility. During this time, the client and their care providers are singularly focused on a safe and effective detox period. After this, clients will have dedicated phone time on specific days each week. Family and friends are welcome to write letters to their loved ones in rehab as well.

Family support can be valuable when someone is in rehab, but a facility counselor will need to determine whether communication will be helpful for the client’s situation. In some situations, contact can do more harm than good by introducing outside stressors into what is supposed to be a healing environment.

Family Involvement in Addiction Treatment

The family’s role in addiction treatment is to help support their loved one’s recovery. This can be done through a variety of methods, but they won’t always be easy. In fact, some families may need to transform their own behaviors in order to help facilitate an effective recovery.

A few ways families can get involved include:

  • Family therapy: Some treatment programs bring the family into therapy sessions, where the counselor mediates for a person in recovery and their family. These sessions can help heal relationships that were damaged by addiction. Other family therapy activities focus more on the family members and their own behavior regarding a loved one’s addiction. These may help them improve communication skills, adopt new ways of thinking and find strategies for supporting long-term recovery.
  • Boundary setting: Some families endure additional pain because they unintentionally enable a loved one’s addiction. For example, they may have chosen to ignore the addiction even though it was damaging the addicted person’s life and the lives of those around them. Families must learn how to set boundaries with addicted family members, and support groups and counseling resources can be valuable ways to learn how.

Seek Support for Yourself

A family’s mental health is just as important as the mental health of their addicted loved one. There are many support groups for families of drug addicts, including organizations like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. These organizations offer specialized family support groups that bring families going through similar situations together to talk about their experiences, things they’ve learned and how they help support an addicted loved one.

Supporting a Loved One After Rehab

For a person in recovery, life after rehab can be a volatile time where they must learn how to deal with day-to-day life without using substances to cope. It can be easy to believe that a person is cured once they receive treatment, but there is no such thing as a cure to addiction. Recovery is something that must be maintained, and there may be setbacks in the form of relapse.

Stumbles are common in recovery, so it is important to know what to do when a family member relapses. Fostering open communication and remaining nonjudgmental are important parts of family support in recovery. By having an open and supportive environment, people in recovery are more likely to speak up when they are going through a difficult time and ask for help without giving in to temptation. If drug or alcohol relapse does occur, this does not mean their treatment was for nothing — instead, it is a learning opportunity to figure out how to prevent it in the future.


Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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