How to Repair Relationships After Addiction

Happy couple after recovery

Some say that it is the relationships that we foster with each other that are the very fabric that makes us human. Without a doubt, our relationships can be the difference between misery and happiness. Our relationships have the potential to bring us great joy, but they also have the potential to bring us great sadness as well. Throughout life, we will likely encounter a variety of relationships, and our success or lack there-of in them will often be a key player in our happiness at any given time.

What Recovering Addicts can Do to Repair Their Relationships

When a person gets off of drugs and alcohol, going to a treatment center sometimes feels like the only thing they must do, the “big move” so to speak, to get one away from drugs and alcohol and into a sober life. Sometimes it feels like all one has to do to make lasting change is to go to rehab, and that’s that. The concept here is that going to rehab is a magical, push-button fix for removing all traces of addiction from the person’s life.

This is not the case.

In fact, a better representation would be to say that going to rehab is actually just the first step in one’s road to recovery. Going to a treatment center and getting clean is an impressive first step, yes, but that’s really all it is. A first step. There’s still a lot of work to be done, a life to rebuild, a future to recreate, and relationships to repair.

Over the course of one’s time spent using drugs and alcohol, it’s pretty likely that they will have burned some bridges and created some pretty significant problems with their family members and loved ones. These relationships should be repaired.Here are some tips and advice for doing just that:

Daughter gives present to mother.
  • Bring good things into the lives of those who you love. A recovering addict is someone who probably brought a great deal of hardship into the lives of his or her family members or loved ones. In repairing those relationships, instead bring help, good deeds, care, love, gifts, assistance, and your own time even as an offering of reparation and peace.
  • Listen more, speak less. The family members and loved ones of recovering addicts likely spent a lot of time observing and not speaking, watching in misery as their loved one destroyed his or her life. Now while in recovery, let the family say anything and everything that they need to say. It might be painful to hear at first, but it needs to be said, it needs to be heard.
  • Give it time. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does the repair of harmed and damaged relationships. Too many recovering addicts come out of treatment, expecting their families to go back to the way things were beforeaddiction came into their lives. It usually takes more time than that. Give it that time, and let the healing process take its natural course.

That is nowhere near a complete list of all of the strategies and techniques that a family could employ to repair the damaged relationships that they might have with their family members and loved ones. There is much more that they could do in this arena, and as every situation will be different, the above bits of advice can always be tweaked to fit anyone’s unique situation.

What the Family Members and Loved Ones can Do to Repair Relationships

Couple walking on the beach.

Everything in life and in relationships is a two-way street. There is no one-way side to this. When we have a family member or loved one who manages to overcome their drug or alcohol habit, the focus here should be on repairing that relationship and on doing whatever we need to do to remedy and rebuild that relationship. Not only does this help aid the recovering addict in building stability and peace of mind, but it also helps the entire family rebuild, as a family.

For those of us with a family member or loved one who is in recovery, here are some pieces of advice on what we can do to repair that relationship:

  • Be there. That’s the most important thing the family can do, right off the bat.A recovering addict will still need help and will still need support in their recovery journey, but they are not likely to ask for it on their own. This is because they are likely to feel guilty. Being there for them, and offering your time and energy to them, even after all the drama of their addiction, is the best thing that you can do to repair that relationship.
  • Don't be judgemental or authoritarian, be very encouraging of the correct actions that he/she is doing; like finding a job, being in early every night, joining in family activities, remaining sober, etc. but at the same time do not tolerate bad habits (see 2 below “Set clear boundaries”) but use caring discipline to bring them back to the straight and narrow if they do something like skip school or work, come in late, go out of communication with you, etc. Good communication is and always will be the key tool we have in maintaining sobriety.
  • Set clear boundaries. When a person is in recovery, it’s important to support them, but not to mollycoddle them. Part of recovery is about recovering oneself as a self-sufficient and responsible adult. We have to make sure to repair the relationship, but we don’t want to be the ones doing all of the work to do so.It's a two way street after all. The recoverying addict needs boundaries set by others until he demonstrates he/she knows how to set and abide by, healthy boundaries of their own creations. Every group or family has rules for a group or family member and the recovering addict must abide by these rules, just like any other group/family member.
  • Involve the recovering family member or loved one in ongoing care and support. The single most important thing for any recovering addict to think with is that they continue working on themselves once they get out of rehab and that they make a concerted effort to maintain sobriety through self-improvement and self-care. Aftercare, ongoing education, life skills courses, volunteer work, anything that helps the person grow is what will ultimately lead to a successful and relapse-free experience. This is the best way to foster an environment where relationships can be repaired successfully.

That’s just a quick look at what the family members and loved ones of recovering addicts can do on their part, to repair the relationship and to bring the family unit back together again. There are certainly many variations of the above advice, all of which are absolutely customizable to fit with each family’s unique situation.

The important thing to remember is that everyone in the family, (the individual in recovery and everyone else), everyone needs to do their best to heal. This needs to happen so that they can repair their relationships with each other, and so that life can continue and the family unit can operate well once again.

Building a Better Future Together

Happy company walking in the forest.

Getting off of drugs and alcohol is a team effort. The more loved ones, family members, and supporters one has in this, the better off they will be. This isn’t to say that it is impossible to beat a drug habit on one’s own, but it is to say that getting off of drugs and alcohol and staying off of drugs and alcohol is much easier when one has help in doing so.

No matter the hardship that has been done by those who we love, and no matter the damage that we ourselves have caused, repairing those relationships is always possible, as long as it is what all parties present want to do. It is not an overnight process, it may take a while, but it would be time well spent. Do not rush it, Let (and make) it happen. That is the key. And believe me, it is worth it in the long run. Life has so much more to offer to all of us if we can cherish our loved ones and foster good relationships with them.


Clinical Review by Claire Pinelli, LADC, CCS, ICAADC, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.