Bethany Hatton: When a Friend or Family Member Needs Rehab

 Bethany Hatton talks us through the difficult and often mutually traumatic experience of having a friend or family member who requires rehabilitation.


How do you know when a loved one needs treatment for drug dependence or alcoholism? The answer may not always crystal clear.

People may be holding down a job and taking care of a home and family while using alcohol and drugs to cope with chronic pain or other issues that put them in deep distress. Indeed, it’s important to realize that not everyone with a substance abuse problem uses illegal drugs or is an obvious abuser. Drinking can escalate into alcoholism, and people can become addicted to prescription drugs they’re using legally. In these cases, it can be more difficult to determine when use becomes abuse.


Identifying Substance Abuse

Some common signs your loved one’s alcohol or drug use has become an addiction include continuing to use even after experiencing serious negative consequences, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Often, those grappling with substance use disorder will place the blame on others—including everyone from bosses, to law enforcement officers, to friends and family members―for these repercussions.

Other signals may include an increased tolerance for drugs or alcohol, loss of control (which can include repeatedly trying and failing to reduce or stop using drugs or alcohol on their own), cravings for the substances, or physical withdrawal symptoms if the person reduces or stops using.

Knowing What to Expect During Treatment

If you’ve seen some of these signs, it could be time to suggest your loved one seek treatment, and they certainly won’t be alone.

According to statistics cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 22.5 million people (8.5 percent of the U.S. population) age 12 or older needed treatment for an alcohol use or illicit drug use problem—including misuse of prescription drugs—in 2014, but only 18.5 percent of those who needed treatment got it in that year.

According to Swift River, “America’s opioid epidemic has increased the need for quality addiction treatment and safe opioid detoxification.” But medically supervised detox from drugs such as opioids or prescription narcotics is only the first step in addiction recovery. Indeed, treatment programs should include a holistic approach that addresses the patient’s physical, mental, and emotional health.

This can include being treated for common coexisting conditions including depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Depending on the diagnosis, your loved one's healthcare team can recommend psychotherapy, family counseling, and prescription medications that address issues related to substance abuse disorder or other conditions. Once a patient’s immediate needs are addressed, complementary therapies may include nutritional counseling, art therapy, outdoor exercise sessions, or classes that leads patients through guided meditation or other mindfulness practices, among others.

After Rehab

Rehabilitation facilities typically also offer transition and after-care services designed to reduce the likelihood of relapse. This may include individual or group counseling, regular contact with a counselor by phone or video, prescription medications, or connecting with a support group whose members may have overcome some of the same obstacles your loved one is facing, among other options.

You should also be aware that your loved one will continue to need support from family and friends to stay on the road to recovery after rehab. Some simple ways to encourage your loved one’s progress include offering yourself up as an exercise partner or assuring them they can always call if they need to hear a friendly voice.

The important thing to realize is there are many resources available to assist those who struggle with substance abuse and addiction, and there are friends and family who want to help them live a long and fulfilling life.