The Role of Family in Recovery and the Aftercare Process

The role of family in recovery for teens is without a doubt a major force in helping a young person find and maintain a path of sustainable sobriety. Moreover, beyond drug and alcohol abuse recovery, the family’s role in the aftercare process also is essential when facing mental health challenges. Thus, without the family’s support, a substance use disorder relapse or a mental health relapse becomes much more likely.

In addiction treatment for both teenagers and adults, the terms continuing care and aftercare indicate the stage of treatment that follows an initial period of more intensive care.  For example, when parents first address a teenager’s substance use disorder, they tend to send their child to either an overnight rehab facility for a thirty-day stay or sign them up for an intensive outpatient program (IOP) in their hometown.

Continuing care and aftercare programs take place after these initial programs are complete. Also, continuing care and aftercare often are seen as long-term options that continue almost indefinitely. Two examples are attendance at 12-Step Meetings and work with mental health professionals like therapists and psychologists.

Why is the Role of Family in Recovery Crucial?

Many parents and siblings are surprised to discover that they have a role in a loved one’s long-term recovery. Indeed, they view a rehab like a hospital, believing that once a teen returns home, they will be fully recovered. However, nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to substance use disorders, although rehabs and IOP programs help to start the recovery process by detoxing and stopping active drug use, they do not halt the ongoing progression of the disease.

Hence, in 12-Step programs, alcoholism and addiction are referred to as progressive diseases. In many rehabs, counselors drive home the message that relapse is possible. The vast majority of teens that go through the rehab process relapse within the first year. Once they return home, old triggers and signposts lead them to danger zones, opening a trap door that results in relapse.

As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains, “Families affect and are influenced by the recovery experiences of children, youth, and adults with mental or substance use disorders. As caregivers, navigators, and allies, family members play diverse roles and may require a variety of supports.”

When it comes to continuing care, the role of family in recovery is a major part of aftercare programs. 

Healthy Support and the Family of a Recovery Addict

Family members should try their best to assume healthy roles and behaviors that support the aftercare process. An example of a healthy family role is holding a teenager accountable for their actions. Negative, self-destructive behaviors should indeed be highlighted. Although the parent needs to be firm, punishment is not necessarily the correct response. Instead, understanding and treatment are better options. By listening to a teenager, you gain a greater awareness of why relapse happens.

At the same time, positive behaviors need to be recognized and rewarded. Yes, it’s true that in the most circumstances, people are not rewarded for doing their chores or showing up for school. However, if such actions indicate a positive shift in past behaviors before the initial stage of treatment, then recognition is warranted. No, parents do not have to stand up and clap at every little thing, but they do need to recognize the importance of positive feedback in fostering long-term healing in a recovering addict.

Parents in the role of family in recovery, have more power than they realize. Even if it does not seem that your teen respects you, in the vast majority of cases, love and respect are two sides of the same coin. If you talk calmly with a teenager, taking the time and listening as well, you will see a change in attitude. Thus, teens respond to parents who say they care and show it in their actions and shift in attitude.

Recovery Support Groups are Beneficial for Everyone

Support groups are vital to life in recovery, 12-Step groups offer personal accountability and spirituality to help maintain sobriety. They also foster a fellowship that leads to identification and connection. This helps teenagers feel less alone and alienated in the world.

However, 12-Step groups are not just limited to people in recovery. Started by Lois Wilson, the wife of Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon is a is a group offering family support for addiction.  Here, family members discuss their challenges with a family member and how substance use disorder negatively affects them and their families.

As an extension of Al-Anon, Alateen is a support group that focuses on teen family members who help each other heal from the trauma of substance use disorder within a family unit. What’s so striking about Alateen is that it focuses on a lot more than just parents with a drinking problem or substance use disorder. It truly helps teens learn how to navigate the substance use disorders of siblings as well.

Through Al-Anon and Alateen, family members connect to the recovery process and receive input from people that have walked their path before. On the FAQ page of Al-Anon Family Groups, a simple question begins the process: “How will Al-Anon help me?” In light of such a huge challenge, the answer makes a lot of sense:

“Many who come to Al-Anon/Alateen are in despair, feeling hopeless, unable to believe that things can ever change. We want our lives to be different, but nothing we have done has brought about change. We all come to Al-Anon because we want and need help. In Al-Anon and Alateen, members share their own experience, strength, and hope with each other. You will meet others who share your feelings and frustrations, if not your exact situation. We come together to learn a better way of life.”

Ultimately, by embracing the role of family in recovery, you help take make the aftercare process more effective After all, in the end, you want your teenager to succeed in recovery and lead a healthy, happy life.