Returning home can be a trigger for an addict. Visiting childhood homes can leave even the healthiest of adults vulnerable to regress into adolescent emotions and behaviors. Familiar cues induce emotional memories, and we all return to the past to one degree or another.
When Jacob went off to a treatment center for opiate addiction & depression, he was sixteen. He expected to stay away 30-90 days and then return to his hometown, his high school friends, and his bedroom at his parents’ house. But his counselors at the treatment center recommended an aftercare program. Experience had shown them that 30 days was often not enough to ensure long term recovery. In total, he spent 18 months away from home. And then his father unexpectedly lost his job, cutting off the funding source for the program. Jacob left care abruptly and returned home. By then he was approaching his eighteenth birthday.
A recent article in the British Journal of Social Psychology entitled Breaking Good: Breaking ties with social groups may be good for recovery from substance misuse asserts that changing one’s social identity and social ties may be the best course of action for sustainable addiction recovery. So perhaps it should be no surprise that Jacob returned home, and in spite of his year and a half of abstinence, he relapsed within the first month. He had re-entered a system where he knew how to get prescription drugs with a simple phone call to an old friend.
Unfortunately, Jacob’s story is not unique. The return home after addiction treatment is an especially vulnerable time at any age, perhaps more so for teens and young adults who are driven to pursue social relationships and may not have formed solid self-identities or goals for the future. Treatment centers make recommendations upon discharge like, “Find Sober Friends” and “Move if Necessary.”
For young addicts and individuals who suffer from mental illnesses, going home can be an emotional trigger, a return to an old social identity, or can provide ready access to unhealthy resources like addictive drugs. Perhaps the recommendation from professionals should be that after recovery, you just can’t go home again.
Dr. Deuter is a psychiatrist who specializes in the care of emerging adults.