How to Set Realistic Expectations on Your Addicted Loved One

24. May 2016

For those of us who have never experienced addiction first hand other than having an addicted loved one, it’s difficult not to project our assumptions and misconceptions onto the people who are actually suffering. Moreover, we don’t usually realize how the stereotype that’s been created by the media colors our perceptions of people suffering from addiction, even when those addicts are our own loved ones. We go by what we’ve seen and heard to invoke expectations that are based on how we assume the addiction recovery process should go, but not only are these assumptions largely incorrect; they’re harmful to those who are trying to put their lives back together.

It’s as important for the general population to learn about addiction and recovery as it is for addicts themselves. There’s been such demonization of addicts despite the widespread knowledge that addiction is more similar to diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s than a moral affliction, and the only way to overcome this unjust stigmatization—that only makes it harder for our loved ones to get the help they need—is by becoming education on this very emotional topic.

When it comes to having an addicted loved one in recovery, the lack of addiction and recovery knowledge can result in having unrealistic expectations that put unnecessary pressure on people who are trying to prove themselves and win back trust and love, but who are likely to give up on recovery when they can’t meet these unmeetable expectations. Therefore, the following are eight simple, straightforward suggestions that will help all of us be more understanding, empathetic, and be better supporters to our addicted loved ones.

Understand That Recovery Is A Process.

The majority of people who have little to no knowledge of addiction recovery assume that addicts should approach it with all the enthusiasm and conviction one would have of any task that should be checked off one’s daily to-do list. However, the problem with this view is that addiction recovery is about as different from any to-do-list task as is possible. Recovery isn’t something that you complete. Moreover, the amount of effort a person puts into recovery has zero effect on how quickly he or she can get it done. This kind of thinking is not only incorrect, but it lends itself to unrealistic expectations of addicted loved ones. As such, we all need to be fully aware that addiction is a process rather than a task, and it’s a process that is never truly finished.

Appreciate That Process.

Once you learn that addiction recovery is a process, it makes a lot of sense. With there being so many different components to the recovery process, you realize that it’s extremely misleading to label recovery as a task that can be put onto a to-do list with one’s household chores or daily errands. However, the fact that recovery is a process rather than a check mark on a list should be reassuring. Instead of expecting an overnight transformation, the process allows you to witness the transformation bit by bit, over a period of time. This is important for reasons that will be mentioned below.

Focus On The Journey Rather Than The Destination.

Many of us have difficulty seeing the forest for the trees. We focus on the desired outcome and continue to compare the present with what it is we hope to achieve. However, that type of mindset is toxic to a process like recovery as it implies that an individual in recovery cannot succeed until he or she crosses the finish line. Instead, be aware of the checkpoints along the way. Be aware that getting sober is one major accomplishment that actually consists of many smaller, although connected and interdependent, successes.

Give Credit Where Credit’s Due.

As just mentioned above, recovery is a journey that consists of many successes that cumulatively amount to a person’s getting sober. It can be discouraging for a person to work his or her way through the recovery process while the people around him or her don’t acknowledge the progress that’s been made. Although the successes are small compared to the overall process, that doesn’t mean they’re without difficulty. Therefore, we should always acknowledge our addicted loved one’s victories, even the smallest ones, because the encouragement will provide fuel for continued progress.

father and son talking

Remember That There’s No “Quick Fix” For Addiction.

Similar to how an addiction doesn’t develop overnight, recovery doesn’t happen overnight either. Again, addiction recovery is a process. No matter what form of treatment or what resources a person uses to get sober, it’s simply not possible to reverse an addiction—which, if you’ll remember, is a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain—overnight with a quick fix. No such quick fix exists. Getting sober requires effort, determination, and oftentimes a variety of resources. Therefore, it’s very counterproductive to get frustrated with a loved one because his or her recovery is taking longer than you’d expected or anticipated. Be patient.

As Bad As You Might Feel, Your Loved One Feels Worse.

At an intervention, an addict’s family and friends confront him or her—in an unaggressive way, of course—by appealing to his or her emotions. They cite and explain some of the ways that the addict has hurt or harmed them and how they’ve had to watch the addict continue to deteriorate. The purpose of this confrontation is to overcome the emotional barriers the addict has constructed, getting the individual to feel the repercussions of his or her actions and accept that he or she really needs help. However, when the addict is in active recovery, this tactic is not only ineffective, but actually harmful. You may still be emotional about what you might have endured as a result of your loved one’s addiction, but remember that he or she is feeling undiluted emotion for the first time in what could be a very long time. As bad as you may be feeling, it’s almost a certainty that your loved one is feeling much, much worse, so there’s no need to add salt to the wound.

Recovery Doesn’t End After Rehab.

We’re already thoroughly aware that recovery is a journey rather than a task. Therefore, we know that the recovery journey isn’t over after the addict gets out of rehab; however, what you still may not know is that the recovery process never ends. It helps to think of addiction recovery as a state of mind or a lifestyle, something that an addict adopts and actively maintains for the rest of his or her life. After all, addiction is a brain disease, so it never really goes away. Recovery is more so a process of forcing the disease into remission, and remaining in recovery ensures that the disease stays that way. It’s important to be aware of this because every addict’s family and friends should never stop supporting his or her sobriety or helping him or her remain sober in any way that’s possible. The addict is in recovery for life and you should be his or her support for life, too.

This Isn’t About You, So Put Grudges And Animosity Aside.

It’s very common for addicts to hurt their loved ones—either intentionally or inadvertently—over the course of their addictions. Whether it’s physical harm or something like stealing from them, this naturally wounds the individual’s family and friends in a significant way. It’s not expected for an addict’s family and friends to simply “get over it” and in many cases it’s actually expected for there to be some hurt feelings that remain, but it’s crucial to remember that addiction recovery is about the addict, not about who he or she victimized or what he or she did in active addiction. There will be plenty of appropriate times to address the effects of any harm the addict caused others while on alcohol or drugs, but during the recovery process is definitely not one of those times. Allow the addict to focus on getting sober and addressing his or her own emotional needs before he or she must make amends for his or her wrongdoings. Otherwise, a person cannot possibly overcome an addiction with his or her loved ones demanding that he or she fix everything he’s done to them. In short, there’s a time and place for everything, but recovery is not the time nor the place for atonement.

Let Intervention Services Help Your Loved One Get Clean Once And For All.

If you or someone you love would like to speak with one of our recovery coordinators about addiction treatment or if you need helping with an intervention for a loved one, call Intervention Services toll-free at 877-478-4621. Whether it’s day or night, the journey from addiction to recovery is never more than a phone call away.