Drug and alcohol addiction affects millions of families in the United States. Getting on the path toward addiction recovery, particularly after years of substance abuse, is no small feat.
Early on, it can be challenging to know where to start in mending relationships hurt by drug or alcohol use. Addiction can claim months, often years, of a person’s life.
Making up for lost time with family, like recovery itself, can be a long-term process. Fortunately, there are several ways to start.
How Does Substance Abuse Hurt Relationships With Family?
Mending relationships with family after years of substance abuse begins with understanding how it’s affected those around you, including children, siblings, and parents.
Substance abuse can affect family members in a multitude of ways—some of which can take time to meaningfully address and overcome.
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Effects Of Substance Abuse On Children
Children of parents with a drug or alcohol addiction can be affected by parental drug abuse in ways that can affect a child’s development, self-esteem, and their own substance habits.
Chronic addiction can cause detachment, loss of trust, and a sense of alienation from a loved one with addiction. Mending these effects, or even forging that initial connection with a child, may take time.
Effects Of Substance Abuse On Parents
Watching a child struggle with a drug or alcohol problem for years can be immensely painful.
Parents might question themselves, their role in their child’s addiction, and whether they can trust their child’s progress in recovery after a long-term struggle with addiction.
This can create several challenges in the treatment and recovery process. Even so, there’s also significant room for parents to play an important and supportive role in their child’s healing.
Making Up For Lost Time In Addiction Recovery
Making up for lost time after a years-long struggle with drug or alcohol abuse can seem like an intimidating road ahead. And sometimes, it is.
At the same time, one benefit that recovery can offer people with a former addiction is time—time to make amends, create positive memories, and strengthen relationships.
What exactly this process looks like might depend on certain factors related to your family’s experience with addiction.
- the nature of your relationship (e.g. parent, child)
- duration of substance abuse
- consequences of the substance abuse
- closeness to your family
- their interest in rebuilding a relationship with you
Achieving recovery from addiction is a long-term process. So, too, is rebuilding relationships with loved ones hurt by your drug abuse or drinking habits.
Here are some ideas for where to start:
Spending Time Together
One of the simplest, yet most powerful actions a person in recovery can do to help make up for lost time with a family member is to simply be there and have a positive presence in their life.
For some, this might not be simple. This can be a challenge for family members who are estranged, or for people who are incarcerated or did things while addicted that caused profound hurt.
Having the opportunity to have a presence in a person’s life, however, is no small thing, and there’s several ways someone can go about this.
Some ideas for spending time together in recovery include:
- talking on the phone or over video
- going on a walk or exercising together
- going out for a meal together
- doing activities together that you both enjoy
- exploring new interests or hobbies together
- attending your loved one’s events (e.g. baby shower)
While you can’t change the time that you spend away—either physically or emotionally—you can take advantage of the time that you have today and make those moments count.
Addiction is a problem that thrives in isolation and secrecy.
As a result, part of the process of overcoming years of addiction is making the decision to be transparent with others, honest, and taking accountability for your mistakes. This by itself can speak volumes.
Allow yourself to be open to having frank conversations. Try to be understanding if they have a difficult time opening up or trusting that you’re being true to your word.
Set Realistic Goals And Expectations
A years-long battle with addiction can be hurtful for everyone impacted, including children, spouses, and parents.
When attempting to make up for lost time, it’s important to recognize that this may take time, and to set goals for amends that are realistic and achievable.
- be patient
- accept what you can and can’t control
- have realistic expectations
- understand making amends is a long-term commitment
- ask your loved one what they need from you
- using guilt or shaming tactics
- making someone feel obligated to see or talk to you
- forcing forgiveness
- making assumptions
Making assumptions about how long it will take to truly make up for lost time, or expecting wounds to heal right away, can set families up for hurt, confusion, and disappointment.
Recognize that healing, and making amends, can be messy. It’s complicated, and it might require learning as you go, both for yourself, and on your family’s end as well.
Commit To Healing For The Long-Term
Overcoming addiction doesn’t happen in a day. Neither does making up lost time.
Making a commitment to recovery, and mending relationships over the long-term, is crucial to rebuilding relationships that have been strained as a result of addiction.
Be honest with where you’re at. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
But if you truly want to make up for lost time, it’s very possible your family may need that confirmation—through words or action—that you’re in it for the long-haul.
What Role Can Family Play In Recovery?
Family involvement in the treatment and recovery process isn’t a given. Family members aren’t obligated to participate in their loved one’s journey.
With cases of chronic addiction, it can take time for family to find the will or motivation to meet their loved one where they are in making amends and building a strong foundation in recovery.
This isn’t true in all cases. Many loved ones of those with an addiction ardently wish to see their family member well and will help support them in this process through active participation.
What this could look like:
- attending family counseling
- learning more about addiction and recovery
- offering transportation to treatment
- attending family support groups
- providing emotional support
How Long Does It Take To Mend Relationships In Recovery?
Making up for lost time with family in recovery is a long-term process. There’s no deadline, but there’s also no set timeline for each and every person.
In the meantime, allow for patience. Be open to set-backs. And honor the boundaries of those who need space figuring out their own thoughts and feelings about where you are in your journey.
Start Your Journey Towards Recovery Today
Making up for time that’s been lost to addiction begins with getting help. Fortunately, there are a wide range of alcohol and drug treatment options available for people across the United States.
For information about finding a drug or alcohol recovery program, call our helpline today to speak to one of our treatment specialists.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Resources for Families Coping with Mental and Substance Use Disorders
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — How can family and friends make a difference in the life of someone needing treatment?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine — The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice