I Want to Come Home: What to Say to a Loved One Who Wants to Leave Treatment Early

When your loved one is in treatment for substance abuse, one of the hardest things to deal with is the phone call you receive from them begging to come home. It’s impossible to ignore the pain in their voice and not be moved. You want to rush to the treatment facility and snatch them back so the pain can be taken away. But that’s exactly the wrong move. The best solution for your loved one is to remain in treatment. That’s the only way he or she has any hope of overcoming substance abuse. Still, you need to be prepared for what to say when your loved one says the words, “I want to come home.”

Know the Facts

Of course, a lot depends on what stage of the treatment plan your loved one is in when you hear those words. If it’s right after detoxification, just as the first phase of treatment is about to begin, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. In fact, this is when most individuals in treatment for substance abuse try to get out of going any further.

It could also occur later on in treatment, when some of the painful issues are being confronted during therapy.But, to be sure, talk with your loved one’s primary counselor or therapist about the facts – and any recommendations for talking with your loved one about his or her desire to come home right now.

What You May Hear from Your Loved One

Here are some of the most common statements people make when they want to convince you to allow them to come home. While the words may be somewhat different, the underlying emotions and feelings they represent are similar. They’re all excuses or lies and are designed to make you feel guilty or sad or convinced there’s no problem – so that you’ll allow them to come home.

• I’m clean now, so I don’t need to be here anymore.
• I promise I won’t use drugs or alcohol again.
• I’ve learned my lesson.
• I won’t hang out with my using friends anymore.
• Why are you punishing me?
• You don’t love me. If you did, you wouldn’t make me stay here.
• I hate it here. The people are mean.
• I don’t have any privacy.
• I can’t sleep here.
• I don’t belong here with all these low-life alkies and stoners.
• How could you send me to this place?
• Isn’t it enough that you forced me to go through detox? What more do you want from me?
• You made me come here. It wasn’t my idea, but I went through it (detox). So now let me come home.
• Everybody’s blowing this all out of proportion. I hardly did any drugs at all, and now I’m stuck here.
• I got a bum rap. It wasn’t even my drugs. I don’t know whose they were, but someone stashed them in my things. I was drunk, but that’s it.
• I only did drugs one time and now I’m paying for it.
• My reputation is ruined being here. You’ve got to get me out.
• I have to get back to work or I’ll lose my job.
• If I don’t get back to school I won’t be able to graduate (or I’ll fail the semester, or some other excuse).

Understand What’s Really Going On

Before you can talk constructively with your loved one about his or her desire to come home, you need to understand what’s really going on. What are the underlying reasons prompting this request at this time? It may not always be so clear or easy to understand – but you need to try. Knowing what’s at stake will help you better frame what you say to your loved one.

Fear – Detoxification may have been pretty scary, especially if this is the first time your loved one has gone through the process. The younger the person is, the more likely this is to be the case. Some individuals try to cover up their fear with a false sense of bravado or may even state that detox was a piece of cake. Don’t buy it. Getting drugs or alcohol out of the system is just the first step in a long process of undoing the damage done by substance abuse. Fear of what’s going to happen next can also prompt your loved one to say anything in order to be permitted to come home. Acknowledge that it probably is pretty frightening, since this is all new territory. But stress that things will get better over time. Encourage your loved one to keep going forward and to learning what they can that will help them when they complete treatment and return home – clean and sober.

Resentment – If your loved one felt pressured or forced to go into treatment – perhaps as the result of a family intervention – underlying resentment may be the reason he or she is demanding to come home. You will hear a lot of accusations about the unfairness of your actions if this is the case. Even those who aren’t aware they’ve built up an extreme resentment may show traces of this emotion in what they say to you. It’s hard not to want to blame those closest to us when we have to go through something that’s as unpleasant as detoxification – and loss of personal freedom and privacy. Reiterate to your loved one that you only want what’s best for him or her. Abuse of drugs or alcohol changed their behavior into action that is harmful to themselves and others. Treatment is the only way to learn how to overcome all the accumulated resentment and underlying reasons to use.

Refusal to go forward – Depending on how entrenched your loved one’s problem with substance abuse is, or the particular type of substance he or she has been using and how long and how frequently, it may very well be the case that they simply refuse to go forward with treatment. They probably know that if they don’t commit to sticking with treatment, it’s going to faill. At this stage, they may want to go back to using, despite what you or anyone else says. If your loved one tells you they’re not going to do anything to get better, this is an ultimatum they’re giving you. Don’t let this sway you. While they may very well believe what they’re saying at this point, it’s the old drug-using behavior and mindset that’s talking. They don’t know how to function without using substances, and need to learn new behaviors in order to successfully cope. This is uncharted territory – and some people just don’t want to go there. What can you say to such refusal? You can acknowledge that you understand it may be tough, but that you are deferring to the advice of the professionals in charge of your loved one’s care. And that means that you support the continuing treatment the professionals recommend.

Intend to continue using – Again, depending on how long your loved one has been using or abusing substances, he or she may not be ready to accept help and commit to getting and staying clean. If you hear them say that they’re just going to go right back to using, this is a clear indication that they have made their mind up about the matter. That’s at least what they think at this point in time. This may change, or it may not. Some people need to go through treatment more than once before they fully commit to being clean and sober. The statement may also mean they’re trying to guilt-trip you or punish you for sending them to treatment. Don’t let statements that your loved one intends to continue using to give into the demand to come home. You should be firm, but loving, in your insistence that they remain in counseling.

Self-discoveries are too painful – Therapy involves examining a lot of fears, beliefs, and emotions that may have been long buried. Looking at the past and delving deeply into underlying causes or factors that may have contributed to substance abuse are often painful. For some individuals, particularly in the early phase of active treatment, it’s too painful. They just want it to stop. They’d rather go back to their comfort level of getting drunk or high as a coping mechanism. You need to recognize that it will probably get worse for them before it gets better. Probing the deeply-held secrets and fears is necessary in order to help your loved one recognize and identify how those things held him or her captive and allowed substance abuse to take firm hold. It’s the first step toward learning how to adopt healthier behaviors and live without the crutch of alcohol or drugs. You can acknowledge that learning things about yourself that you didn’t know before or didn’t want to face can be difficult and painful, but that the end result will be well worth the effort. Tell them that you are fully supportive of their commitment to get clean and sober – and that means that you want them to stay in treatment to get the maximum benefit out of it.

Physical and mental condition may be impacting healing – Some abusers of substances have deteriorated physically to the point where healing the body impacts their progress in overcoming dependence on substances. In other cases, substance abuse may have precipitated or exacerbated a mental health disorder that requires simultaneous treatment – and can take longer. Physical and mental health disorders take a tremendous toll on individuals suffering from substance abuse or dependence. You’re likely to hear mixed messages from your loved one if he or she has to also deal with physical or mental health problems in addition to substance abuse. What you need to recognize is that they are in the best place to get the help they need. They are not able to do it on their own – and you aren’t equipped to help them get better either. The best solution is to convince them to give it time, and to remain in treatment.

Insecurity and other issues – Very often those in treatment are so unsure of themselves that they don’t feel capable of overcoming their substance abuse problems. When they say they just want to come home, they may be hoping that by coming back to you, everything will go back to normal and they won’t feel as lost or unsure of themselves. Back in familiar surroundings may seem like a good idea, on the face of it, but if your loved one returns home too soon, he or she has no skills yet to cope with the triggers and temptations to use. Better for you to reassure your loved one and mention that it will get better soon. Again, reiterate that they need to give treatment time and stress that each day they are in treatment, they are making progress toward overcoming problems with substance abuse.

Get Family Treatment

Another way to better deal with your loved one’s repeated requests to come home is to get family treatment. This will not only help you understand what’s going on with your loved one, but it will also help you learn about the disease of addiction and what you can do to support and encourage his or her recovery. There may very well need to be changes in your own thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes as well as changes in your own behaviors. Without family therapy or counseling, which may be on an individual and/or group basis, once your loved one returns home, it’s a strong possibility that relapse is just a short time coming. That’s because it can’t go back to the same old, same old. If the home environment isn’t conducive to healing, if family members continue to drink or do drugs, for example, or stress levels and tensions remain high, your loved one may feel defeated and unable to withstand the temptations and urges to use.

On the positive side, undergoing family treatment or therapy at the same time as your loved one is in treatment is one of the best things you can do to help support and encourage his or her long-term recovery.

Join Family Support Groups

Another recommended step you can take is to join 12-step family support groups. It’s often frustrating and confusing for family members and others to know what to do in every situation once the loved one returns home from treatment. Even when the loved one is still in treatment, how do you know what to say to them during visiting times when they beg to come home?

The men and women in 12-step family support groups can provide that lifeline to you during those tough times. These are people who have loved ones or friends themselves who are trying to overcome problems with substance abuse. They’ve come together, as an adjunct or offshoot of 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous, to name just two, to support each other and learn how to support and encourage their loved ones’ continuing efforts to remain sober.

The family group counterpart of Alcoholics Anonymous is Al-Anon/Alateen. Alateen is for younger members. Al-Anon/Alateen has been offering hope and strength for families and friends of problem drinkers for more than 55 years. By coming together and sharing their experiences of strength and hope, members together learn how to have a better life – whether or not the alcoholic continues drinking.

Narcotics Anonymous has a family counterpart group called Nar-Anon. This is a fellowship for those affected by someone else’s addiction. Like other family groups affiliate with 12-step groups, Nar-Anon is a 12-step program designed to help relatives and friends of addicts recover from the effects of living with an addicted relative or friend. They do so by sharing their experiences, hope, and strength.

Never Give Up

In the end, what you say specifically to your loved one who begs to come home from treatment will vary depending on circumstances, your own firmness and resolve, and your readiness to do what it takes to prepare the home for the eventual return following treatment. Use your own words, but keep what’s been mentioned here in the forefront of your mind. Recognize that this is a difficult situation for all concerned – but especially for your loved one in treatment.
It probably will be alternately frightening, demanding, painful, or uncomfortable for your loved one to go through all the phases of self-discovery, learning to identify and recognize triggers, learn healthier coping behaviors, and to begin to make constructive goals and craft a solid recovery plan. He or she will need a lot of love, encouragement, and support all through the process and going forward in recovery.

Recovery is a lifelong process. It isn’t something that just happens once and that’s it. Be prepared to be supportive of your loved one’s goal of ongoing recovery – and never give up. It may be the hardest thing you’ve had to do to wait and watch your loved one go through treatment – and not give in to the pleas to come home – but you need to summon the courage, resolve, and love to be able to see it through.

Give praise to your loved one for his or her efforts and progress in overcoming substance abuse – and say how much you love them. Remember that the family is one of your loved on’es two most important support networks, the other being his or her 12-step group.