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How to Talk to Someone Just Home from Rehab

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Clinically Reviewed by:
Lindsey Rae Ackerman, LMFT

Written by:
Alex Salman, MPH on February 23, 2024

When a loved one comes home from residential treatment, it can be difficult to know what to say or how to act. Fresh out of treatment, a person in recovery will benefit from having a schedule and engaging in healthy routines. It’s up to the person in recovery to manage their time and figure out the best ways to avoid stress and relapse triggers. It’s also a time of adjustment for family members who don’t know what to do or say, which makes clear communication and expectations especially important for everyone. We’ve rounded up our favorite guidelines for how to engage with someone who is transitioning out of a residential treatment facility. 

Don’t Make Assumptions About Rehab

It’s easy for someone who has never gone to rehab to assume they know what the experience is like, but that’s likely not the case. Television shows and movies often portray certain stereotypes when it comes to detox and residential treatment programs.

Consider asking gentle questions that allow your loved one to paint a picture of what their time was like in residential treatment. Be mindful of the number of questions you ask to avoid overwhelming. You might try asking general questions, such as, “What was the hardest part of the program?” or “Was there a moment when you really felt like you were able to embrace your recovery?” These types of questions allow a person to answer thoughtfully and provide you with information you might not otherwise know.

Don’t Compare One Recovery to Another

You may know others who completed treatment for substance abuse and want to share how they achieved meaningful recovery. It’s natural to want to encourage a loved one to make positive choices, but he may see repeated comments about ways to fill time – or not fill time – as intrusive.

While recovery has some commonalities, each individual needs to find their own path. A person who has spent time in a residential treatment program has had access to different treatment modalities and has likely been given a plan for how to continue their recovery once they return home. 

Instead of giving suggestions, ask your loved one if they would like to share any plans or goals they have for their recovery as they enter this new phase. Listen to what they have to say and ask if they know of any ways you can help them. 

You may have a substance use disorder in your past and know what worked for you when you became sober. Keep in mind that your experience cannot be an exact blueprint for your family member or friend. Avoid telling them things like they have to attend a certain type of support group or perform a specific task because it proved successful in your own recovery. Let the person know you are happy to discuss what worked for you but do not present it as the only or best approach for them to take.

It can be helpful to keep comments upbeat. If you notice positive changes or choices, encourage them by letting them know.

Clearing the Air with Someone Home from Rehab

A person coming home from rehab may have been involved in a volatile relationship with you prior to their leaving. While it’s understandable that you may want to work through past disagreements or reopen previous discussions, be diligent in choosing the moments you do so. In time, everyone begins work on the problems that occurred during active addiction, but in early recovery, they need to focus on stabilizing first. Someone just coming out of weeks or months in treatment will need time to settle back into home life. Being bombarded with requests to rehash past talks and fights right away can be intimidating. 

Wait until your loved one has settled back into a routine to some degree, then approach them when you are both in a calm mood. Tell them you would like to revisit a conversation or disagreement you had before they left when they feel ready. Let them know you want to clear the air so you both feel understood and can move on, rather than just looking to have the same frustrating or hostile interaction again. 

Helping Your Loved One Home from Rehab Fill Their Down Time

One of the most difficult tasks for someone home from rehab is finding ways to fill their free time. They may be taking time away from work or school and don’t want to feel bored. Volunteer some ideas for things that might interest them, such as taking a class, learning a musical instrument, or doing volunteer work. If your schedule permits it and your loved one is accepting of the idea, you may want to join them in an activity.

Your loved one may start to participate in a social life again. While it will be natural to want to make sure they don’t end up spending time with old contacts who still drink or use drugs, be aware of not micro-managing them. Their rehab program has likely prepared them to reevaluate any toxic social relationships they have in order to avoid being tempted to relapse. You can ask your loved one if they have any friends who don’t focus their lives on partying they can get together with for lunch, a movie, or some other fun event. Ultimately, they have to make their own mistakes, choose their new direction in life, and make personal connections with others all on their own.

Your loved one needs the space and freedom to make good choices for themself without someone standing over them. However, if you see that they are beginning to hang out with old drinking or drug-using buddies, you can gently approach them and express your concern or remind them of their options, such as contacting their sponsor or a treatment team member, to talk about this issue. You can also suggest fun activities that don’t focus on drugs or alcohol and offer to take part in them with the person. Trying a new restaurant, spending a day at a museum or park, or taking a day trip can offer entertainment without a focus on drugs or alcohol.

Rehab Treatment in California

If you or a family member could benefit from residential or outpatient treatment, contact Clear Behavioral Health today to learn more about how we can help.

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