The 6 Best Ways to Support a Recovering Addict
As a friend or family member of a recovering addict, you know first-hand that addiction affects not only the people with the disease but those around them. As your loved one transitions to a sober living lifestyle, you may be wondering how to best support him or her in this life-affirming choice.
Addiction is understood to be a chronic disease and, just like asthma, hypertension, and diabetes, living a sober life requires ongoing treatment, support, and lifestyle changes. Having made the brave and productive step of seeking treatment in a sober living facility or an intensive outpatient treatment program, ongoing recovery is a journey not only for the addict but for their loved ones as well.
You play an essential role in supporting your loved one’s early sobriety when you:
1. Learn About the Recovery Process
Recovering from addiction may be one of the greatest challenges an individual can face, but supporting a loved one on this road carries its own unique roadblocks and rewards. Starting by taking the time to educate yourself about the recovery process will give you the tools you need to encourage and empower your loved one.
Learning about the causes of addiction, the triggers of relapse, the philosophy of a 12-step program, and how to restore relationships will allow you to guide and support meaningful change for your family’s future. The addict’s entire family and network of supportive friends will benefit from improving their understanding of the recovery process, and witnessing their dedicated effort to better understand addiction is inspiring to the one struggling with it.
2. Find Support for Yourself and Your Family
Depending on your relationship with the addicted individual, you may have a habit of taking on more than your share of responsibility for household chores, childcare, and financial management. Your natural desire to ease the transition of your loved ones from sober living rehab back into the home can cause you to focus so much energy on supporting their needs that you neglect your own.
It is more productive to find the support you need to engage in changing old habits and creating a new, stronger relationship which avoids any enabling behaviors of the past. Also, seeing your commitment to personal improvement and therapy will help your loved ones to keep up with their own treatment schedules.
There are many outpatient family or group therapy programs available to those in your situation. These programs will:
- Teach successful communication skills, including active listening.
- Encourage expressing your feelings without casting blame.
- Help you cope with the physical and mental stressors as they develop.
- Teach healthy intervention skills to defuse stressful situations.
- Identify emotional triggers and change destructive cycles.
- Provide opportunities to develop supportive sober friendships of your own.
3. Maintain a Safe, Sober Environment
Recovering addicts who live in sober homes have a safe place for early recovery. You can protect your loved one from triggers and reduce the risk of relapse by going through the house and eliminating visual cues like paraphernalia, smells of alcohol or drugs, and even music, games, or movies that normalize drug use.
You can empower them to make the right decisions by:
- Encouraging your recovering friend or family member to avoid places, people, and situations associated with using.
- Talking openly about what they are experiencing and asking what changes you could make that would help eliminate triggers.
- Offering transportation to meetings, treatments, and sober activities.
- Abstaining from using drugs or alcohol yourself, at least in their environment or presence.
- Familiarizing yourself with common household intoxicants and eliminating them from your home.
Which Substances Should You Remove from the Home?
The best home environment for recovery is free of any intoxicating substances. While you may have kept alcohol on hand for social events and special occasions in the past, your support in removing it now is essential. Replacing a drug addiction with alcohol abuse (or vice versa) is all too common.
In addition to drugs of abuse and alcohol, you may want to proactively clear the house of cold medicine, possible inhalants like strong glue, alcohol-based extracts, and prescription medications. Providing the ideal environment for clean and sober living helps prevent relapse and offers the best chance for long-term sobriety.
4. Lead by Example
One of the best ways you can help your friend to be sober is to be a sober friend. Even if you’ve used substances socially in the past, explore opportunities to demonstrate that intoxicants aren’t necessary to enjoy life.
Suggest and participate in sober living activities like these to replace old habits and build new memories together:
- Go to the gym, ride bikes, join a yoga class, or play a sport together.
- See a movie, visit a museum, or attend a play.
- Plant a garden or flower bed together and tend it regularly.
- Explore mutual interests like crafts, photography, or car restoration.
- Host a potluck dinner, BBQ, or ice cream social with sober friends.
- Share adventures like river-rafting, hiking, or rock-climbing.
5. Be Aware of the Risk of Relapse
As with all chronic diseases, addiction has a high rate of recurrence or “relapse.” It is important to be aware of the warning signs and to have a plan of supportive intervention while keeping in mind that a relapse is not a sign that treatment has failed. Rather, it indicates that more or a different treatment is needed.
The Warning Signs of Relapse
Some of the warning signs of relapse to watch for include:
- Suddenly becoming evasive, defensive, irritable, or withdrawn
- Noticeable changes in sleeping patterns
- Loss of interest in new hobbies, friends, and activities
- Re-appearance of visible withdrawal symptoms
- Reminiscing about or romanticizing past drug use
- Reconnecting with people who use drugs or alcohol
- Avoiding or skipping meetings or therapy sessions
- Paying less attention to appearance and self-care
Taking Action if Warning Signs Appear
A relapse might be prevented, and can certainly be limited or contained, by taking supportive action immediately. If you see the warning signs, consider these steps:
- Ask other friends and family members if they share your concern.
- Approach your loved ones in a compassionate, non-judgmental way.
- Suggest that they attend a meeting or call their therapist/sponsor.
- Take them to therapy or contact their sponsor yourself.
- Recommend that they return to outpatient or inpatient drug rehab.
- Keep reminding them that you support sobriety and more treatment if needed.
6. Practice Patience and Forgiveness
Friends and loved ones of recovering individuals may have valid feelings of pain and anger based on past experiences. Understanding the disease of addiction and engaging in supportive therapy groups can help you let go of both blame and guilt, which stand in the way of healing relationships.
If it becomes necessary, a return to rehab is an opportunity to practice your forgiveness and patience. Relapse rates for addiction are the same as those of other chronic diseases.1 Admitting to and addressing a relapse by returning to treatment is a necessary act of courage you can choose to fully support.
Your loved one may feel they have failed or let you down and experience guilt and depression following a relapse. You can take a decisive step by changing your role in the cycle by seizing the opportunity to strengthen your relationship by offering your forgiveness and encouragement in this hour of need.
The Signs of Successful Recovery
We’ve focused largely on the warning signs of relapse and challenges to recovery so far. How can we determine when recovery is proceeding well and healing is happening?
Recovery is succeeding when people are able to:
- Deal with life’s problems and stresses without the use of drugs or alcohol.
- Establish boundaries which separate their own problems from those of others.
- Be completely honest with at least one person.
- Restore their physical and emotional energy by natural means.
- Focus on new aspects of life and building better relationships.
Compassionate and Caring Support Makes a Difference
Supporting a friend or loved one in recovery is a journey of understanding. As you learn more about the disease of addiction, your ability to play a supportive role in the recovery process grows stronger. While you cannot do the work for someone else, your education, friendship, and forgiveness are valuable assets in rebuilding what has been damaged.
At RECO Institute, we offer therapeutic sober living communities and outpatient follow-up care through our partnership with RECO Intensive. We understand the importance of a natural support system as our clients move out of sober living in Delray Beach and begin to recreate their world.
Our commitment, like yours, is to help your loved ones transcend the disease of addiction and embrace a brighter future. If you care for people who need treatment for substance abuse, reach out to us today and help them find the tools they need to build a better tomorrow.