What Is a Blackout Period in Recovery?
If someone you care about has recently decided to seek addiction treatment, you may find yourself wondering what a blackout period means.
Not to be confused with the memory loss that can accompany heavy drinking or drug use, a blackout period is simply a temporary break from communicating with the outside world.
About the Blackout Period
The term blackout period is used to refer to an introductory period when a client first arrives at the addiction treatment center. During this time, clients are not allowed to communicate with the outside world. They are directed to focus their entire attention on the task of getting sober. In addition to not making or receiving phone calls, they will likely be restricted from using the Internet, watching television, and/or reading newspapers.
Important benefits of the blackout period include:
- Pause to reflect. We all like to think that we can multitask, but the truth of the matter is that it’s very difficult to focus on more than one problem at a time. The blackout period allows the person in recovery time to focus solely on setting the foundation for sobriety without worrying about obligations to work, family, and friends.
- Provide space to deal with withdrawal symptoms. The blackout period occurs during the initial stage of treatment because this is when someone in recovery is feeling the most vulnerable. During the first days at rehab, your loved one is likely experiencing a range of withdrawal symptoms. This can include physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach upset as well as mood changes. Withdrawal symptoms will get better as time passes, but your loved one needs to focus on adjusting to a life without drugs or alcohol.
- Reset dysfunctional relationships. When someone is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, personal relationships can get trapped in a cycle of dysfunction. Lying, cheating, and codependency set up unhealthy behavior patterns that can be frustrating for both parties. The blackout period can be a way to reset these relationships, giving you a chance to start to communicate more productively.
- Eliminate excuses. When distractions are eliminated, all that’s left is the addiction and its aftereffects. When substance abusers can’t communicate with the outside world, they can’t blame their urge to drink or do drugs on a stressful job, family problems, or difficulties with friends. In this way, a blackout period forces them to confront the real roots of their addiction. This self-reflection sets the tone for further therapy sessions.
- Meet others who understand the pain of addiction. Struggling with drug or alcohol addiction leads to feelings of shame, isolation, and loneliness. However, when a client first enters treatment, he or she is surrounded by others who have experienced the same problems. Instead of feeling like they’re the only ones who’ve ever had life spiral out of control, clients can use the blackout period to learn how common addiction is.
Blackout policies instituted by drug and alcohol addiction treatment centers are not intended to be a punishment for the person in recovery or his or her loved ones. This is a necessary part of the healing process.
Letter Writing as a Way to Process Your Emotions and Offer Support
If you have a loved one in recovery, it’s understandable to be frustrated by the blackout period. You are likely feeling anxious and overwhelmed with worry about your friend or family member’s progress. These emotions are completely normal.
A great way to process your feelings while your loved one is in recovery is to write a letter that can be read after the blackout period has ended. Putting your thoughts down on paper lets you make sense of your emotions and better understand the circumstances at hand.
Your letter can offer support, express forgiveness, build confidence, and set the tone for productive communication throughout the recovery process. A handwritten expression of your love and support is also a special keepsake for your loved one, providing strength and encouragement as he or she navigates the challenges of building a sober life.
The Next Steps
Blackout policies vary according to facility rules and the individual circumstances, but most blackout periods last for a week or less. After this, clients are allowed to have visitors and make or receive calls.
If you wish to visit a loved one in rehab, you may be invited to take part in family therapy sessions. This provides an opportunity to discuss specific relationship issues, learn more about the causes of addiction, and better understand how you can support your loved one’s recovery process.