Addiction Treatment (Drugs and Alcohol)

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What to Do With Drugs or Alcohol Around the Home

Addicts who are new to recovery may have serious problems when living with others who use or abuse drugs and alcohol. Some will experience trouble with sick family members who have to take medication as part of their treatment because prescription medications may have been their preferred substance of abuse. Some will have family members who drink on occasion and are not willing to part with their alcoholic beverages to accommodate the recovering addict. Still, some addicts may have spouses who continue to “socially” engage in drug use and who do not see their activity as a problem.

These and several other scenarios are typical for newly recovering addicts. Even long-term abstinence can become threatened when these situations arise during recovery.

The Risks

Even the best of intentions can be thwarted by a single instance of doubt and the availability of drugs or alcohol. Addicts need to establish a haven of safety where temptation is not a constant threat for their abstinence and most prefer their home to be free of drugs and alcohol.

Addiction is a habitual use of substances to escape emotional upset. When addicts become overly happy, sad, angry, lonely, tired, irritable, elated or stressed, their immediate response is to use or drink to either enhance or diminish that sensation. Quite often, there is little thought about using or drinking; it just happens. Most often, those addicts who relapse will talk about how they were “suddenly” drunk or loaded, with little or no forethought given. This is a very common situation.

Therefore, recommendations are often made to family members to remain alcohol and drug-free during the initial stages of treatment as a support process for their addicted member. If the addict is in a treatment process, the team at the facility will support the addict by requesting those who live in the home with the addict to keep all substances away from them.

If not in treatment, a newly recovering addict may not see the need for this measure. This can be a dangerous omission. Recovering addicts seldom recognize the threat of having drugs and alcohol immediately available to them. They do not recognize that a moment may come when they have no ability to stop themselves long enough to go to a support meeting, call someone to talk out their emotional upset or take any other actions to stop themselves from using that substance. Having immediate access is sometimes deadly. When they are in the presence of roommates, spouses and partners who actively participate in their old addictive behaviors, it is seldom seen that addicts can remain abstinent. They often revert to their familiar patterns of use and abuse.

Steps to Take

The obvious answer is to eliminate all drugs and alcohol from the home. If this is a possibility with those who live with an addict in recovery, great! If there are circumstances that make it necessary for the addict to live with others who drink or use drugs for any reason, the following steps can be implemented to maintain maximum safety for the recovering addict:

  • Place all medications, alcohol and recreational drugs in safe locations that can be locked. Keep the keys on the person to whom these items belong.
  • Make sure that all of these items are removed from the sight of the recovering addict. This will keep them from visual triggers about drugs and alcohol.
  • Make sure to use or drink these substances when the addict is not present. They do not need any ongoing reminders of old behavior patterns, even if the user or drinker does so in moderation or on the advice of a doctor or nurse.

What if It Backfires?

If family members or roommates refuse to be supportive in this fashion, it is likely that changes will need to occur in your living arrangements. Seldom can recovering addicts remain successful in the early days of recovery without the support of their loved ones.

Some members will successfully remain abstinent when spouses, parents, siblings or children use alcohol or drugs socially. Others must remain apart from the temptation until they become stabilized in recovery. Each case can be different, depending on many factors. Treatment professionals, sponsors, therapists and others who are engaged in the recovery process may suggest alternative living arrangements for those in early abstinence.

Many recovering addicts find that they no longer have the desire to spend time around drinking and drugs of any kind. When this happens, they may sever the relationships with those who do so. This is their decision.

Other Dangers Out There

Addicts who have loved ones who require medical care at home, especially when the loved one is gravely or terminally ill, may sometimes have to administer care and medication to that loved one. This can be emotionally, mentally and physically draining to them and other family members. Knowing the risks is important under these conditions. Asking for and receiving help is crucial. Therapists, doctors, nurses, social workers and others who work in healthcare settings of this kind are beneficial, as are the support group of recovering addicts, along with sponsors and friends. Talking about and processing the emotional stress of the situation is important. With a large volume of pain medication or other drugs available, it is imperative that addicts get strong support to navigate this tough time.

Addicts who undergo surgery or other medical interventions are frequently at high risk of relapse due to the nature of the medications they may be prescribed during this time. Including a friend or family member in the conversation with the doctor(s) about the nature of the medication(s) being prescribed is strongly recommended. If there is any possibility for developing an addiction, many recovering addicts make sure to give the medication to that trusted person to hold. They can then dispense the medication as prescribed, making sure the addict is not making that choice after being under the influence of the medication. There are many addicts in support groups who have undergone this situation without relapse. Talk to others with suggestions that may help you navigate this terrain.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW/ASW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 25 years, she has a CATC-IV credential. She is also a lecturer and workshop provider for meditation, mindfulness and issues arising in long-term recovery. Kelly is currently writing a book about the spiritual principles in 12-Step recovery.


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