National Recovery Month by Dr. Jennifer Leggour, Psy. D.

National Recovery Month 2019 30th Anniversary logo

September is National Recovery Month which is an observance held every year to educate people that substance use treatment and mental health services can enable those with a mental and/or substance use issue to live a healthy and rewarding life. Similar to recognizing improvements made in other health fields, Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in behavioral health. The observance reinforces the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall well-being. It also reinforces the idea that prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover.

In recognition of National Recovery Month, this article is designed to help families and loved ones who are assisting someone with a mental illness or substance use disorder. It is important to note that these difficulties not only affect the individual, but everyone who is close to them. This journey can be heartbreaking, frustrating, and exhausting. It is therefore very important for family members to be educated, get support, and engage in good self-care. Here are some helpful guidelines from the Addictions and Recovery website:

1. Negative Feelings — It is normal to have some frustration and resentment toward the individual along with compassion and hope. The feelings might seem selfish, but they are normal. Mental health and substance use issues are stressful, even when handled well.

2. When to Talk — It is never too early to have a conversation with that person. If you wait too long, you will probably speak out of frustration rather than caring. Mention your concerns in a supportive way, and expect that they will be defensive. To reduce defensiveness, it can be effective to talk about how the issue hurts you rather than how it hurts them.

3. Things You Can Do for the Individual

  • First, educate yourself about the problem and understand that the person doesn’t want to be treated as if they are “broken.”
  • Many individuals can be withdrawn, so let them know that you will be available when they are ready to talk.
  • Understand that certain behaviors like avoidance or irritability are part of the issue – and it is not about you.
  • When you are frustrated, try not to accuse, judge, or engage in name calling. Recognize that it is a scary time for both of you.
  • Make sure you both take time to relax and have fun. Recovery is hard work.
  • Set boundaries that the whole family can agree upon. Do not use boundaries to punish or shame, and instead us them to improve the health and functioning of the family.
  • Allow the individual time for recovery – time for appointments, meetings, self-care, and fun.
  • Recognize and acknowledge the potential the individual has within them.
  • Behave as you would if your loved one had a serious illness – what would you do if they were diagnosed with cancer or heart disease?

4. Additional Things You Can Do for Someone with Substance Use Disorder — Provide a sober environment and do provide excuses or cover up for the individual. Do not shield them from the consequences of their addiction. People are more likely to change if they have suffered enough negative consequences. Do not argue or talk about things when they are under the influence. If you want to provide financial support, do not give them money. Instead, buy the actual things or services that they need directly.

5. Understand that Your Lives Will Change — Things will not go back to the way they were, and you will create a “new normal.”   Remember that there is a silver lining and your loved one’s recovery can be a chance for everyone to learn how to be healthier and happier.

6. Things You Can Do for Yourself 

  • The most important guideline is do not work harder than the person you are trying to help. If you do, you will become exhausted and the other person will resent you for pushing them too hard.
  • If the individual does not want to do anything to help themselves, then you can still do something by being an example of balance and self-care.
  • Take care of yourself and avoid self-blame. Remember you can’t control another person or make them change.
  • Get professional help – talk to a therapist or go to a support group. You may need as much support as your loved one.

7. The Three C’s of Dealing with Someone with a Mental Health or Substance Use Issue 

  • You didn’t Cause the problem.
  • You can’t Control the problem.
  • You can’t Cure the problem.

Only they can do the real work.