By understanding what is involved in living with a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, you can be better prepared to assist with recovery and offer support to decrease the chance of relapse.
If you’ve lived with a drug addict or alcoholic, you know that addiction doesn’t just affect the addict – it affects friends and family as well. The same goes for recovery.
One of the most important things that a family needs to be aware of when living with a recovering alcoholic or addict is the importance of maintaining an alcohol- or drug-free environment. Instead of going to the bar all day together replace drinking times with new suggestions such as
Going to the beach or Play a sport together.
Go to the movies.
Work on a garden.
Take a yoga class.
Go kayaking or for a hike.
Make a bonfire.
Try out a new restaurant.
Visit a museum.
Staying sober does get easier and there may come a time when you feel safe being in the presence of those who are engaging in activities that once felt natural to you, but are no longer part of your paradigm. Be gentle and patient with yourself in the process. Reframe what alcohol and other substances mean to you. They are not necessary to have a life that is filled with laughter and joy, family and friends.
Guidance for Loved Ones
A person in recovery can’t have “just one.” One drink, hit, or pill could very well lead to relapse.
Accept your beloved without judgment – Since many recovering addicts feel judged by their families and friends, try to refrain from criticism and negativity as much as you can. Instead, express love for your loved one and stay positive to their decision to maintain sobriety.
Actively listen – Some recovering addicts need people to listen to them, so be available to listen to your loved one’s victories and challenges.
Be patient – Recovery is a complex process. People often make mistakes in recovery, so it’s important for your loved one to know that their family and friends still support them even when they mess up.
A Damaged Neurotransmitter System Needs Time to Heal.
The damage addiction has done to neural pathways involved in reward, pain relief, stress management, learning and memory can have effects that last long after quitting the substance of abuse.
Among the challenges addicts in recovery experience is an increased sensitivity and reactivity to stress and addiction triggers the people, places and things that reminds the mind of drinking and using, causing to crave their substance of abuse. Their emotional reactivity can manifest as heightened anxiety and confusion. All of these symptoms can be correlated to the internal shift that is occurring in the brain’s reward center and the neurotransmitter system, as many problem drinkers and substance abusers block glutamate.
A number of scientific studies have revealed the complex workings of our brain’s motivation and reward center and how neurotransmitters, often referred to as the brain’s “feel-good chemicals,” are released when we desire something or experience pleasure. Our brains produce numerous natural neurotransmitters that play crucial roles in our health and how we feel. The brain also changes its production of these neurotransmitters in response to certain substances or stimuli, and this is why many experts now recognize the role neurotransmitters play in addiction.
What Happens When Alcohol or Other Drugs Enter the Scene?
For people who have a predisposition for addiction, the circuitry in the brain’s reward center changes in response to certain substances or stimuli, triggering a seek-and-reward mechanism. Over time and with repeated exposure, the person begins to crave more of the substance or activity that produces the positive feelings or relief from negative feelings. Additionally, engaging in spiritual activities has been shown to increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, which may explain the success of some 12-step programs that emphasize the spiritual aspect of the recovery journey.