Ten Ways to Support a Loved One in Addiction Recovery
When it comes to addiction recovery, one of the most important things a person can do is surround themselves with supportive people. If you have a loved one who is currently in treatment or has recently completed treatment, it would be a good idea to figure out how you can help support them as they transition into their new life. Completing addiction treatment is an exciting and somewhat nerve-racking process. Everyone wants to hope for the best, but sometimes it can be hard not to fear for the worst.
As someone who has lived a life of long-term addiction recovery, I can say with great certainty that my family’s love and support have provided a significant contribution to my long-term success. If you have a loved one that is starting their journey of sobriety, here are my top ten tips for helping give them the support that can help them thrive.
1. Support but don’t enable
Learning the difference between helping and enabling is perhaps one of the most important things a person can do to help their loved one. Enablement can be unintentionally disastrous for someone who is either currently struggling with addiction or has had a drug habit in the past. If you are ever unsure if something you may be doing is enabling or not, then there are a few questions you can ask yourself to find out.
“Is what I am doing helping the person to grow and do better, or is it helping them to stay the same?”
“Am I allowing unhealthy behaviors to continue without consequences, or am I allowing my loved one to experience the consequences of their actions so that they may learn from them?”
Sometimes it can be so hard to allow our loved ones to experience negative consequences from their actions. While it is essential to be kind and empathetic, it is also crucial to let a loved one learn from their past mistakes. People who do not experience the consequences of negative behavior will be less motivated to discontinue it. Enablement may feel like being helpful in the short run, but it does more harm than good in the long run.
2. Establish boundaries
While establishing boundaries may feel like a form of “tough love,” they are one of the most loving things anyone can do for their relationship. Limitations are fundamental when it comes to addiction recovery. People in recovery need to know their limits when it comes to their sobriety and stick to them. It is not wise for someone in recovery from alcoholism to hang out at a bar with their friends. The main goals of boundary building should be to maintain sobriety and create healthy relationships.
3. Focus on communication
Communication skills often degenerate over the course of an addiction. People dealing with substance abuse issues often have a hard time confronting their feelings and expressing themselves. It is a good idea for the person who is beginning their recovery journey to develop their communication skills and for their family to work on developing them as well. A good treatment program will assist with this process in some way.
4. Make your home a safe place
It isn't fair to send someone off to addiction treatment and ask them to get better and then have drugs and alcohol in the house when they get home. If you want your loved one to have success on their sobriety journey, then it is necessary that you make the home a safe place for them to be. If you have addictive prescriptions in the house, it would be a great idea to invest in a small safe and keep them locked up and out of view.
5. Figure out limitations
Before your loved one gets home, it would be wise to discuss your expectations and their limitations that will be necessary to maintain their recovery. When they first get home, it would not be unreasonable for you to ask that they be home by a particular hour and stay away from negative influences. These may be uncomfortable conversations to have, but they will go a long way in rebuilding trust.
6. Make it safe for them to say no
Your loved one must know that is it ok for them to say no to things that make them uncomfortable. Enforcing limitations may mean missing out on certain events early in their recovery or spending less time with certain people. While it may feel like a sacrifice, in the beginning, it is better than trying to deal with things the person isn’t ready to deal with yet. Expecting a loved one who just completed treatment to attend a wedding with an open bar where everyone will be getting drunk isn’t supportive of their recovery. The more sober time they have under their belt, the better equipped they will be to handle these sorts of situations.
7. Lovingly communicate your feelings
It would be understandable that you may have some unresolved feelings and hurt from the damage caused during the active addiction phase. While it is vital that you can communicate with your loved one about these things to begin the healing process, it is also essential to be loving and empathetic. When someone is working hard to make real change, it is not very encouraging to constantly hear about past behaviors. It is beneficial to address past hurts and then figure out a way to leave them behind.
8. Establish reasonable expectations
When they first get home from treatment, your loved one may need some time to adjust to living a sober life outside of the rehab environment. It is essential to be patient with them as they make this transition. While you certainly want them to fulfill their obligations and keep up with their fair share of things, please understand that they need some extra patience in the early days.
9. Find your support system
Having someone you love go through addiction is very stressful and can be a somewhat traumatizing experience for yourself. Addiction causes far-reaching damage to family members. Because of the impact your loved one’s addiction may have had on you, it would be good for you to develop your own support system. Sometimes we all need someone to talk to or vent with to get through the challenging aspects of our life. It is essential to realize that there may be healing on your end that needs to occur as well, and if so, that is ok, and there is no shame in reaching out for help yourself.
10. Confront and evaluate your own relationship with addiction
If you suspect that you may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, now would be the perfect time to try and get control over the issue. If you don’t feel like you can stay sober around your loved one, it may be time to evaluate your own situation. If this is the case, the best thing you could do to help yourself is to reach out for help. Not only will it help the person you love stay sober, but it will also help set you up for success in your life as well.
Reviewed by Matt Hawk, BS, CADC-II, ICADC