The problem of relapse remains the major challenge in recovery. Because addiction alters the brain, the recovering addict may deal with drug-related memories, strong drug cravings, and diminished impulse control. This leaves them vulnerable to relapse even years after being abstinent.

Addiction may require repeated treatments for long-term abstinence to be achieved. This is a hard reality for families to face. Once we convince the addict to go into treatment, we may feel a wave of relief. We think that finally the nightmare is over and life can go back to normal. But we must be careful not to hold unrealistic expectations from treatment. There is no cure for addiction. For the addict, and for those who choose to stand by him or her, recovery can be a lifelong battle.

Once your loved one accepts treatment, it is important to be prepared for the possibility of relapse. So what can the family do to improve the odds of their loved one’s recovery?

1. Get educated on addiction and the recovery process. It’s difficult to help another person if you don’t understand the problem. This includes understanding what your role has been in enabling him or her.

2. Provide a sober environment. If alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal drugs are available in the home, the odds of staying clean are slim to none. The entire household must be abstinent.

3. Seek support for your own physical and emotional health. Each person must put the primary focus on themselves. Support groups like Al-Anon are just as important once the addict goes into treatment. Sobriety can cause new strains on family relationships, and this can be a challenging time for everyone. The healthiest way to handle these changes is for each person to stay focused on his or her own path.

4. Support your loved one’s involvement in continuing care. It is not uncommon for family member’s to grow jealous of the recovering addict’s commitment to their recovery program, such as AA. Families must not forget that this is an extremely important part of their loved one’s recovery.

5. Work on forgiveness. While it’s true that trust is earned, we can easily push the addict back into old patterns if we’re still holding onto resentment and punishing him or her for past mistakes.

Addict’s seem to get the concept of “one day at a time”, but families tend to struggle with this. We want a contract, a promise, or a guarantee of a perfect future. We want the Norman Rockwell painting, but that is a lot of pressure to put onto our loved ones. To expect their sobriety to solve all of our problems, and make the entire family whole, is a tall order. The addict must take their recovery “one day at a time”, and families can learn to do the same.

Although recovery can be a rough road, it does not mean that relapse is inevitable. In fact, a promising statistic is that over half of the people who get treatment eventually reach a state of sustained recovery. But it is important to understand just how vulnerable the recovering addict can be, even after years of sobriety.

While none of us chose this path consciously, a deeper love exists for the families that make it to the other side. In many ways we are lucky, because our eyes get opened to the simple joys in life that others may take for granted. The sound of laughter in our household becomes music. A Sunday afternoon together doing absolutely nothing is bliss. There is a bond that can only come from surviving a battle together. It is stronger and more profound than can ever be imagined. There is hope for our families. There is life after addiction.

Author's Bio: 

Lisa Espich is the author of "Soaring Above Co-Addiction: Helping your loved one get clean, while creating the life of your dreams", chosen as one of the top ten best non-fiction books at the 2011 Los Angeles Book Festival Awards. Visit her website at Be sure to download the Free Guided Meditation on her homepage!