Don’t Quit Five Minutes Before the Miracle: A Guide for Parents of Young Adults in Transitional Living

July 14, 2023

In many cases, the recovery process begins after a crisis. As parents, we go into survival mode because our primary concern is ensuring the safety of our loved ones. During the initial stages of treatment, we feel immense gratitude simply seeing them out of harm’s way and removed from potentially life-threatening circumstances. However, arresting the crisis is only the first stage of recovery. 

The true recovery process involves addressing the underlying issues that fuel unhealthy coping mechanisms while simultaneously making fundamental lifestyle changes. At Alpha, our goal is to help clients and their families achieve sustained recovery, which necessitates a holistic, long-term approach. As we witness our loved ones start to change, both parents and clients can become anxious to accelerate the process and “get back to life.” This blog will explore how Alpha’s four-stage approach supports clients and families, what each stage focuses on, and the emotions that may arise.

How Does Alpha Support Clients’ Life Goals?

While the desire to go back to school, move home, or jump into independence is natural and should be encouraged, the consequences for short-circuiting the treatment process can be severe. Research shows that clients that leave treatment early are twice as likely to relapse1. Often, it is in working through the difficult moments that true growth occurs as clients build internal resilience and utilize their newfound external resources.  

At Alpha, we have developed our program based on decades of experience to systematically address both surface-level and underlying issues while safely supporting crucial development milestones such as school, employment, and independence. We utilize a one-year, four-stage process to achieve these goals. Stages will take about three months to complete but may vary depending on individual progress.

Stage 1: Embrace

Goals during this stage: The primary goal is to build rapport, a sense of safety, and trust. Clients complete a thorough biopsychosocial history and are welcomed into the community. The focus is on building relationships with peers and staff while establishing new communication patterns with family. Clients become acclimated to expectations and work through the emotions that may arise during the transition into the new environment.

How clients may feel: Many times, clients are hesitant to be vulnerable, and it takes time to open up. Especially for young adults, building relationships with peers and engaging in activities is crucial for them to see the enjoyable aspects of recovery. It’s common for clients to experience setbacks during this stage. The prospect of doing the soul-searching work of recovery in an unfamiliar environment can be very overwhelming, and it is extremely common for clients to consider leaving the program. As they participate in activities, become acclimated to the program, and get to know the staff and their peers, clients become more comfortable, but may still have ups and downs.

How parents may feel: After the rollercoaster of the previous few weeks, months, or years, most parents find themselves quite emotionally exhausted. Having put your feelings to the side to “do what needed to be done,” emotions can surface in various forms. Anger, sadness, relief, longing for connection, and denial are typical as parents come to terms with a new reality that is far from the plans we had. Both clients and their parents may have a desire to end the program early, such as allowing your loved one to come home. It’s vital that the client receives a firm and loving message that the entire family is committed to seeing the treatment process through. 

What can parents focus on?

  • Establishing your own recovery program through Al-anon, therapy, spiritual communities, etc.
  • Learning about the recovery process by reading books, listening to podcasts, and talking to other parents with experience.
  • Complete the Family History Worksheet and get to know your loved one’s care team.
  • Establishing new communication patterns with your son. We suggest no more than one weekly phone call.
  • Practicing setting boundaries, such as encouraging your loved one to lean on their new support system for help managing day-to-day challenges.

Stage 2: Empower

Goals during this stage: Clients learn about their emotional system, emotional regulation tools, and relational patterns. In this stage, clients participate in less clinical programming as they engage in the community at large through work, school, and recovery involvements. Through these lived experiences, clients and clinicians gain ample data about the client’s strengths and vulnerabilities. At this point, clients may have several new responsibilities, so the focus becomes balancing priorities and learning to use their resource network for support.

How clients may feel: It is not uncommon for clients to feel a tremendous sense of social pressure to “get back on track” with their peers. Sometimes, clients overestimate their ability to manage many responsibilities and, once back in school or work, may feel entirely ready to venture out on their own. By this point, clients have built strong connections with their peers and are taking a more active role in the community, welcoming new participants and partaking in group activities. 

How parents may feel: Not unlike the clients, parents also may be anxious for their loved one to make progress with developmental goals such as finishing school. Hopefully, you feel encouraged as you witness tangible markers of progress in your loved one’s life. It’s important for both parents and clients to remember that these behaviors are incredibly new, and recovery should remain the primary focus.

What can parents focus on?

  • Practicing effective communication by expression your goals for your son while allowing them to express their own goals.
  • Beginning to think about tangible markers of progress your son can work toward, such as paying you back money they may owe you, achieving a certain grade in a class, or maintaining a job.
  • Establishing and maintaining new communications patterns with your son rather than fixing, managing, or reacting.

Stage 3: Embody

Goals during this stage: Maintaining consistency in constructive daily habits is crucial for sustained recovery. It is through this consistency in new behaviors that clients begin to shape their identity as healthy young men. Leadership and service to others becomes a focus as clients recognize the broader impact of their recovery on those around them. In some cases, families may begin working with staff on a discharge plan to prepare for increased independence.

How clients may feel: Having put months of sustained effort into their recovery process, clients are truly experiencing the positive impact of their determination. They can look at their lives and see tangible examples of change, such as restored relationships, a broad social network, and marked progress in academic or career goals. As they prepare for next steps, clients can become impatient and may rush discharge planning. It’s crucial for clients, parents, and staff to work closely together during this transitionary stage to avoid undermining the hard-won progress.

How parents may feel: You will be excited and grateful to see how far your loved one has come! While some parents may be anxious for their son to move into independent living, others may fear disrupting the newfound stability. Faced with another transition, parents may notice their old patterns of fear or control resurfacing. It’s important to communicate all feelings and work closely with your loved one and his team.

What can parents focus on?

  • Identifying your boundaries and expectations prior to your son moving into independent living. How much money should they contribute? What level of involvement do you expect them to maintain in recovery? 
  • Initiating discussions about discharge planning with your son’s therapist.
  • Practicing letting your loved one share their wins, challenges, and questions with you as you take on an advisory parental role, rather than feeling the need to get involved.

Stage 4: Emerge

Goals during this stage: The entirety of the treatment experience prepares clients to practice self-directed recovery. At this point, individuals have firmly established routines and are well on their way to achieving the life goals they identified early in the process. Clients demontrate autonomy by navigating many day-to-day challenges independently and are adept at using their support network when needed. At this point, parental support is age-appropriate as young adults have gained the skills necessary to manage increased independence. 

How clients may feel: Whether living independently or within the Alpha residence, clients are faced with navigating significantly more autonomy. Without the structure of the early stages of treatment, they may reexplore their personal identity and how recovery fits into their long-term plans. While many clients thrive in newfound independence, it’s not uncommon for others to regress without the structure they’ve become accustomed to. Having become leaders among their peers, it’s important to remain humble and ask for help when needed during this time.

How parents may feel: By now, likely one year or more into the recovery process, you will be struck with the profound changes in your life. The crisis that led to treatment feels distant as you observe your loved one leading a full and independent life. Though there are still ups and downs, they are manageable challenges rather than overwhelming crises. With practice, you are able to enjoy parenting a healthy adult, rather than an unwell adolescent, choosing appropriate times to get involved.

What can parents focus on?

  • Focusing on your own life by enjoying hobbies, pursuing your career, and nurturing relationships.
  • Being your son’s cheerleader! You worked hard to help them get here, so enjoy watching their lives unfold.
  • Continuing to reduce your financial support, giving your son the opportunity to be fully self-supporting.


One of the most common precursors to relapse is short-circuiting the recovery process. Both clients and families can be anxious to progress rapidly, placing emphasis on external markers of success. However, it’s vital that everyone recognize that recovery is an inside job. To avoid repeating old patterns, clients and families must take the time to address the underlying conditions that prompted the addiction or mental health crisis in the first place. 

At Alpha, our goal is not simply to arrest the crisis but to prepare clients and families for a lifetime of recovery. This requires a long-term, methodical approach in which clients learn to apply self-care strategies in a consistent and self-directed manner. In the difficult moments, we can be tempted to rush the process. However, those challenging moments are when real growth occurs as new, unexpected lessons and opportunities arise. It can be touch, but as they say in the rooms of recovery, “don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.”