Finally, you’ve gotten your drug addict daughter or son into treatment. Whether they broke down and came to you, or you intervened to convince them to do so, this is a major hurdle you’ve jumped over. It’s such a big deal, in fact, that many parents or loved ones of the addicted (through no fault of their own) don’t think past this step. However, it’s just as important to keep addicts in treatment as it is to get them there. Now, it’s time to get real about treatment and to understand how important it is to complete the entire course of it. Here’s an inside look at what an addiction counselor wish you knew about your drug addict daughter or son.
1. Even if Your Drug Addict Daughter or Son Seems Ready for Treatment, It’s Still no Guarantee
Your adult child can have the absolute best of intentions. They can sincerely say, “This will be the time I will get clean and stay clean,” and mean every word of it. That doesn’t mean that he or she won’t wind up relapsing at some point after treatment.
That’s because addiction is a disease and it needs to be managed on a lifelong basis. Drug addicts will always be addicts (or prone to addiction), unfortunately, due to changes in the brain – but they can absolutely still get and stay clean for the rest of their lives.
RELATED: Find out why addiction is considered a disease.
Treatment from a qualified addiction counselor is aimed at getting the addict out of the vicious cycle of drug use, and then maintaining sobriety long enough to teach coping skills, discover underlying or co-occurring disorders and treat them, and establish a new life with new habits and new ways of dealing with stress. Old triggers are to be avoided, especially in those who are newly recovered.
Sometimes, people successfully complete treatment and maintain it for a period of time. Then, when bad times hit, as they inevitably do, these folks turn back to drug use to ease the pain or relieve the stress.
This does not mean that the treatment failed.
What it does mean is that sobriety must always be a priority in those who are recovering from addiction.
It’s also why maintaining a good support network through Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, the treatment center’s alumni group or similar is so key.
As an addict, you never want to stop focusing on your sobriety.
Remember, too, that the fact that your drug addicted child was able to stay clean for any period of time is actually good news. It means that they can do it again, and this time may be the one that lasts a lifetime.
2. The First Two Weeks After Detox Are Critical Because of PAWS
If your son or daughter had been using drugs or alcohol for a long time, he or she likely went to a detoxification facility first.
As you are probably aware, withdrawing from drugs and/or alcohol is no picnic. Not only does the addict feel ill, the effects of withdrawal can be serious. Thus, a medically supervised detox period is a must.
Usually, detox lasts for five to seven days, after which your son or daughter will be discharged to another facility for either residential or partial hospitalization care.
However, the first five to seven days is just the acute phase of detox.
After that, your son or daughter can experience PAWS, or post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
The symptoms are typically not severe enough to be in a 24/7 hospitalization setting, however, they can cause your son or daughter to:
- Feel irritable
- Experience anxiety
- Feel tired and drained
- Have problems making decisions
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Experience cravings for drugs and alcohol
The cravings for their old drug of choice can persist through this stage because they are physically and mentally seeking relief from the symptoms they are experiencing.
Although the length of time for PAWS varies, typically the first two weeks after detox are the roughest. This is when you, as a parent, may be receiving pleading phone calls from your son or daughter, asking you to come get them out of treatment, give them permission to leave (at worst) or simply listen to complaints about how they feeling.
However, if they can just stick with the treatment those first two weeks, chances are they will make it through the first 30 days, then the next 30 days and the next 30 days. Each step of treatment will build up their strength and help them when they re-enter the real world.
This two-week window is backed up by science.
According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) found “significantly increased risk of readmission among general medicine patients who leave hospital AMA [against medical advice] is concentrated in the first two weeks (15 days) after discharge.”
Even more interesting, being male and having a history of alcohol addiction were found to be a “significant predictors of readmission” within that 15-day period.
It is helpful to remember that, although your son or daughter is free to leave treatment at any time, they may still want to receive an “ok” from you over the phone before they do. This is your chance to encourage them to stay where they are, to put their needs above their wants, and to reap the benefits of a full course of treatment from an addiction counselor.
3. Believe It or Not, Addicts Lie
When your son or daughter was in the throes of active addiction, he or she couldn’t help but prioritize their next high over all else. It was more important than property, more important than their relationships and more important than even their own integrity.
Stretching the truth (or outright lying) to get that next fix was just a means to an end.
Unfortunately, that behavior can linger into early addiction recovery.
It takes time to develop new, good habits, including integrity.
So, just as you were suspicious when your son or daughter told you anything while he or she was in active addiction, you should likewise retain some of that skepticism in early recovery.
As long as there is a release on file, you can call the facility and talk to the addiction counselor yourself to alleviate your concerns.
If it’s a reputable treatment center (licensed by the appropriate licensing body, Joint Commission accredited, with many good reviews and a thriving alumni program, etc.); yet you’re getting a call from your son or daughter within the first two weeks asking if it’s ok for them to leave, it is most likely the PAWS talking.
4. Addiction Counselors are Deeply Caring People Who Look at the Long Game
Addiction counselors are always on the same team as your son or daughter. The addiction counselor wants them to thrive, to be happy, and to become a productive member of society.
The difference is that the counselor is looking at the long game, whereas your son or daughter may be looking at right now.
After all, that’s what addiction trained them to do. It’s all about how they were feeling in the moment. (And, if that wasn’t good, it was time to get high again).
As a part of focusing on the long game, some temporary pain and discomfort is inevitable.
If you want to lose weight, you feel some pain when you adjust your eating habits and start working out.
If you want to improve your financial situation, you feel some pain when you develop and start living according to a budget.
The goal – a healthier you, a bigger savings account or lower debt – is noble, and worth it in the long run. The fact is that there’s absolutely no way to get there without some temporary pain, be it mental or physical.
When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, there are usually underlying issues driving the addict to self-medicate. It could be a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, borderline or other that needs to be addressed. It could be a past trauma, or it could be underdeveloped coping skills.
Trained addiction counselors can help with all these issues. Most addiction counselors got into their line of work because they care very much about other people. Perhaps they themselves struggled with the same issues your son or daughter is facing. It’s very healing, after all, to help others to attain the same well-being you have achieved.
Make no mistake, though, treatment involves work. It involves facing some truths, some effort on the part of your son or daughter, and some discomfort through the process.
5. Your Worrying Isn’t Helping – and You Could be Part of the Problem
Now, let me say this right up front: Everyone is responsible for their own choices.
That includes your drug addicted daughter or son.
There is a concept though, of enablement, where well-meaning loved ones of the addict try to help. This is laudable and noble endeavor, however it can easily hurt more than help. This most often happens with a concept called enmeshment.
When your child was little, you were probably very protective… and rightly so. After all, children depend on their parents to keep them safe, fed, and warm (or cool, as is the case in Florida).
As the child grows, however, parental supervision and involvement should adjust. The child’s independence increases and parental involvement decreases. This is a necessary change, occurring so that the child can become a functional, healthy and independent adult.
If this doesn’t happen, once children reach adulthood, parents will be unable to separate their emotions from their adult children in a healthy manner. There can be an over-involvement (or enmeshment) in each other’s lives, preventing the child from functioning independently and being responsible for his or her own decisions.
What kind of problem does this present?
Not only does the child stay an emotional child, but the parent loses themselves in the child’s life. Then, when the adult child has a problem like addiction that the parent has no control over, it’s absolutely devastating. The parent can feel desperate, heartbroken, distressed (all normal emotions), but the enmeshed parent stays stuck in that state indefinitely. As a result, he or she cannot function in his or her own life.
It’s not a healthy way to live. After all, you can’t do anything to “fix” this problem; the child has to choose it for himself/herself.
The way out is to set firm boundaries between yourself and your adult child. Each needs to focus on fixing their own lives, and each becoming actively engaged in solving their own problems.
If your child is under the care of a qualified addiction counselor, that counselor can help the child through this process. Ultimately, again, your child has to choose to do the work – to work through the pain of detox, PAWS, and uncomfortable truths and establish themselves in recovery.
That’s why healing can be a family matter. A qualified addiction counselor or treatment center typically offers some form of family involvement, so that there is a healthy atmosphere for sustained recovery.
Most of all, remember that you are not alone. There are millions of others out there who are facing what you are facing. You’ll find plenty of resources for support, from Al-Anon to Facebook support groups.
With your son or daughter is in treatment, the first step is complete. Now, it’s up to the addiction counselor and your adult child to get the rest of the way to recovery – and beyond.
RELATED: A mother of a drug addicted son shares her story.