On the Other Side: What Your Loved Ones Are Going Through While You Recover

Once we’re in recovery, we have so many opportunities to turn our lives around. Support is one of the most influential components of recovery, and we now have the option to meet others in recovery as well as to work diligently with a therapist and other leaders in the recovery community. Such a transformative process doesn’t happen easily, however, as there are so many factors of our lives that must heal and grow as we continue along the path of restoration. If you have friends and family who’ve been by your side throughout your struggle with addiction, it’s highly likely that they’ve gone through a lot – and even though you’re in recovery, it may take them some time to heal from all the damage that’s been done.

How Families Are Affected By a Loved One’s Addiction

When we’re amidst addiction, we can’t see what other people see – we’re engulfed in using and because of this, we tend to hurt those we love the most. We lie, steal, abandon, and speak harshly to those around us, especially if they question our actions. We react in ways we wouldn’t normally react – and in many cases, we don’t remember our actions because we’re so enmeshed in the addiction. It’s a disappointing reality that we have to face in recovery – that our loved ones have become hurt, and they’ve gone through their own rollercoaster of emotions throughout the entire process.

In 2018, a parent shared their story of their 20-year-old daughter, Casey, who died of a heroin overdose. They explained on DrugFree.org in a video,

“It was my own form of addiction. It was worrying about her, 24 hours a day. We would talk about how people wait for that phone call – my phone never left my hand.”

Several years ago, a few researchers from West Virginia University studied the impact of addiction on friends and family members. They found that substance use disorders (SUDs) can affect families in a number of ways, such as:

  •    Changes in responsibilities as family members try to maintain the dynamic they previously had before a loved one was struggling with addiction
  •    Anger, stress and worry of how to help their loved one recover
  •    Guilt, as some family members believe they are what caused their loved one’s addiction
  •    Disconnected relationships with others as the family dynamic weakens over time
  •    Children may experience greater difficulties in school regarding attendance, concentration, obeyance, etc.

Even before treatment is sought, family members often feel like they are on a rollercoaster of ups and downs during a loved one’s struggle with addiction – which ultimately takes a toll on their mind, body and spirit.

What Families Go Through While a Loved One’s in Treatment

Recovery can give family members hope, but even then, it will take a lot of time and hard work to show loved ones that a person is serious about turning their life around. Robert Dupont, former House Drug Chief of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), told The Fix that the film, “Beautiful Boy” shows a beautiful depiction of what family members go through; he stated,

“The film shows the limits of treatment and family love in confronting the awesome and tenacious power of addiction…It brutally and relentlessly portrays the chemical slavery that is addiction and the sustained helplessness of both father and son as they struggle to escape addiction’s iron grip.”

Even once a person has reached treatment, many family members still fear that their loved one will return to their old, addictive patterns of behavior. Addiction prioritizes substance abuse – and even in recovery, relapse can occur – which, for some family members, can be incredibly worrisome as they feel unsure of how much more uncertainty they can handle.

Social Work Today explains that family members may even hold high expectations for recovery – which can make communication efforts while in treatment a bit challenging. The article explained that around holidays, some family members may feel as though life can return back to normal, only to be reminded that recovery takes time – and those in addiction recovery go through a lot of physical and emotional changes that require patience.

What You Can Do To Help Your Loved Ones

It’s best to acknowledge whatever emotional state your loved ones are in right now. Perhaps they need time – or they may be ready to stand by your side as long as you work hard towards healing and restoration. Either way, owning up to your mistakes can begin the path of restoration for your relationship with your loved ones; in addition to this, you can continue pushing yourself towards your recovery goals and honoring your family member’s wishes when it comes to your communication with them. Lastly, don’t give up. Time is an incredibly important factor in this situation, and as long as you continue focusing on bettering yourself and your life, you’ll find that everything else slowly falls into place.


Burning Tree West is a transitional college program dedicated to helping adults between the ages of 18 and 29 recover from addiction. Our campus is located in Tucson, Arizona, near the campuses of the University of Arizona and Pima Community College. Our program is designed to help young adults overcome addiction, build foundational life skills, and pursue their educational and career goals. Contact us today for more information.