Rebuilding and Repairing Relationships After Addiction
Addiction is a chronic disease that can devastate the life of not only the person struggling but their loved ones. Family, children, partners, friends, colleagues, and others are often casualties of addiction, but part of recovery is repairing the damaged relationships left in the wake.
Taking steps to repair every relationship is different, and often depends on how the relationship was impacted by addiction. Some friends and family members set hard boundaries during active addiction, while others encourage codependence. Sometimes parents will reach out after their child gets clean, and other times they will be convinced that the recovery won’t last.
Unfortunately, loved ones are more often than not left with PTSD from the trauma their loved one put them through. In many cases, this comes from feeling helpless and expecting their loved one to die from their drug abuse.
Spending so much time imagining someone you love in a casket at their funeral can leave you with mental scars. Often, this will leave those who love you the most feeling jaded and cynical about your recovery. Only time and patience will really show your commitment to being clean and sober.
Addiction destroys all types of relationships, from partners to children to colleagues. There’s always hope to repair these relationships, however.
Spouses or Partners
Rebuilding romantic relationships in recovery can be especially challenging. Trust is the foundation of a healthy relationship, and that’s exactly what addiction undermines. Once destroyed, trust is very difficult to get back – but not impossible.
Someone in recovery will need to come clean about everything that’s been left unsaid during the addiction. Then, both the spouse or partner and the person in recovery need to set ground rules and boundaries to begin rebuilding trust and moving forward.
Relationships with Parents
Parents and grandparents are often someone’s first source of physical, emotional, and financial support. Children learn to lean on their parents and rely on them for support during challenging times, knowing they’ll always be there. Unfortunately, parents often have to turn their backs on their children to urge them into recovery. Even though it’s for their own good, the child may feel betrayed.
Conversely, parents and grandparents will often feel angry, hurt, or betrayed by an older child or adult child using substances under their roof, lying to them, or stealing from them. If parents provide financial support – or other types of support – and realize they’ve been supporting an addiction instead, that can be difficult to come back from.
Children with parents addicted to substances often have hurt and pain from the experience. While young children may not realize that their parent behaves differently from others due to alcohol or drug use, older children often do. And children of all ages recognize when their parent doesn’t show up for them, even if they don’t understand why.
Recovery is an important part of rebuilding a relationship with a child and starting from a point of honesty. The younger the child is, the easier it will be to get a fresh start in the relationship. With older children, it can take time and patience to rebuild.
Relationships with friends often involve broken trust and hurt from addiction. Some friends enabled the addiction, unintentionally or intentionally, while others may have tried to help their friend seek addiction treatment and been cut off.
Once someone enters recovery, they have to evaluate their friendships and evaluate the unhealthy ones. A person in recovery can rebuild healthy friendships and right past wrongs, but it’s important to realize that some friendships just won’t last. Some friends are associated with past drug or alcohol use and not conducive to recovery.
The key to healing from addiction and rebuilding trust is an addiction treatment program. Addicts in recovery in relationships must learn how to live a healthier life and take responsibility for past mistakes, including hurting loved ones.
Making Amends for the Past
Part of the process of recovery is getting in touch with those left behind and those who broke off relationships with you. For many people in recovery, having to face those that they’ve wronged can be challenging.
There’s a lot of shame and vulnerability with attempting to recreate relationships with people who have cut us off. Fear of rejection and the embarrassment of having to face the consequences of your actions can keep people from taking that step.
Working on understanding both sides of the picture is necessary to making amends and rebuilding relationships. Communication and putting everything on the table is significant to allowing everyone to feel heard and like they can move forward. Only then can loved ones address the root issues and overcome the divide that addiction exacerbated.
The truth is that some relationships aren’t mendable. It’s significant to recognize that not all relationships can recuperate from the chaos that we’ve inflicted during active addiction. Some damage is irreparable and accepting the consequences of our past behaviors is necessary growth.
We all lie, cheat, and steal, and we have to accept that we can’t always fix our past transgressions. Some of the people we’ve hurt don’t want to make amends with us, and learning to accept their points of view is significant. Some bridges are burnt beyond repair— all we can do is make peace with and grow from the experience.
Being Patient and Purposeful
Early in recovery, it can be hard to convince people that you’re serious about repairing what was broken by addiction. This is especially true for those whose family and friends have gotten accustomed to hearing excuses and false promises.
Family members will emotionally distance themselves from those in active addiction in order to keep from getting hurt further. If your family and friends aren’t receptive to your attempts to fix things, don’t let it discourage you.
It’s important to recognize that trust can take a long time to rebuild. Time and patience are the only things that can truly help rebuild a relationship that was scarred by the chaos of addiction. You have to do what’s in your power while accepting that they might not be as receptive as we would like.
Making amends, forgiveness, and accepting that trust will come with time to those who are patient. Staying clean in and of itself builds trust— one of the biggest amends is just living well and staying clean.
Accepting That Things Have Changed
One hurdle we have to overcome is accepting that rebuilding relationships involve changing them. The tenor of relationships change after addiction, and it’s okay that they never go back to what they were before.
In recovery, there’s a new kind of relationship being built and new trust being established. Parents often enable their children without meaning to, which needs to be addressed to prevent the relationship from falling apart again. Parents, friends, and family have to relearn relationships and boundaries that will encourage their recovery and not enable negative habits.
When it comes to repairing romantic relationships, you need to feel whole as a person before returning to romance. Being codependent and insecure in your romantic relationship can ruin it and ultimately hurt your recovery. Sometimes this means that the relationship you forged before getting clean will either fail or change into a new relationship.
Boundaries between friends and family are necessary and healthy, and healthy boundaries and honesty can help relationships heal. Accepting that things have changed for the better is important to rebuilding and repairing relationships after addiction.
Addiction treatment programs include a range of therapies that are tailored to the individual, including couples therapy or family therapy to address some of the relationship issues that occur because of addiction. Aftercare programs, including 12-step programs and other mutual-support groups, also work on how to repair relationships in recovery with tools like a relationships in recovery worksheet and coping skills.
There’s plenty of support for loved ones and guidance for being in a relationship with an addict in recovery:
- Al-Anon: Al-Anon is a worldwide fellowship that provides a recovery program for family and friends of people addicted to alcohol. It offers a range of resources, including local meetings and support groups.
- Alateen: Alateen is part of the Al-Anon fellowship. This program is designed for adolescent family members affected by alcohol addiction and focuses on the stress addiction puts on family members, rather than the addict themselves.
- Nar-Anon: Similar to Al-Anon, Nar-Anon is a 12-step program for family and friends of people struggling with drug addiction. The organization holds regular meetings.
- Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL): PAL is a Christian-run non-profit based on “people helping people through the woods.” PAL meetings are designed for parents struggling with a child addicted to drugs and alcohol.
- Families Anonymous: Families Anonymous is a 12-step program designed for family members of people addicted to drugs or alcohol or with behavioral health conditions.
- SMART Recovery Family & Friends: SMART recovery, or Self-Management and Recovery Training, is a secular alternative to spirituality-based interventions for families of people with addiction.
- GRASP: Grief Recovery After Substance Passing is a community designed to support people who have lost someone to addiction or overdose.
- NAMI Family Support Group: The National Alliance on Mental Illness family support group provides broad support services for people who have loved ones with mental health conditions, including addiction.
- Learn to Cope: This is a peer-led support network with education, resources, and support for family and friends who have loved ones affected by substance abuse.
- Recovering Couples Anonymous: Recovering Couples Anonymous provides support for couples affected by substance abuse to help restore healthy communication and intimacy.
Overcoming addiction is only part of the process. You also have to rebuild and repair your relationships with friends, parents, romantic partners, children, and others you may have wronged. At Recovery Unplugged, we take a holistic approach to recovery, including addressing the damage addiction does to relationships and recovery. Contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment options.
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