How to Help Someone in Recovery & Support Their Sobriety
If a family member or friend is currently in treatment for a substance use disorder or in the early stages of recovery, it can be daunting to know your role in their journey. Recovery can be a long and often bumpy road, so understanding how to help someone in addiction recovery and supporting them throughout their journey can go a long way.
The Importance of Supporting Someone in Recovery from Addiction
Just because your loved one already went to treatment or is now in recovery doesn’t mean they no longer need your support. Many addiction treatment experts assert the value of holistic recovery in the rehab process and emphasize the importance of emotional healing and support from family members and friends.1 You are an important and recognized component of your loved one’s lasting recovery.
If you are concerned that a loved one is struggling with their recovery or is at risk for relapse, you should know that you don’t have to go it alone. Reach out to one of our admissions navigators at , and they can provide the information and support you need to care for your loved one and help them continue working toward sobriety.
What Happens When Your Loved One Comes Home?
Your loved one has been through something very difficult on many levels—emotionally, mentally, and physically. The transition from the structured environment of a treatment center to daily life can be a difficult one. In many ways, your loved one is starting over and has to build a new life. This process can be daunting and stressful. They also have to learn to navigate the many triggers that may arise, and the risk of relapse may be high.
Now more than ever, they need you by their side. There are several ways to support a loved one in recovery to help make this transition easier.
How to Support Someone in Recovery
Although your loved one may be the one in recovery, there are many ways you can take part in their journey and help. Learn more about how to support someone’s sobriety and recovery.
It can be hard to watch your loved one continue to use drugs or alcohol despite the harmful consequences that seem so obvious to you. By understanding the science behind addiction, you will be able to see more clearly why addiction is so challenging to overcome and how you can appropriately support your loved one as they navigate early recovery.
Many treatment providers offer educational materials to family members with information on how addiction takes form and how to recognize the signs. Take the time to explore these resources and ask questions. A deeper understanding of addiction will help you recognize and respond to the challenges and triumphs your loved one will inevitably face along the path to recovery.
In addition to educating yourself on the mechanisms of addiction, you should also know and recognize the signs of relapse and intimately understand your loved one’s relapse prevention plan (ideally created with help from the treatment provider). While relapse is often a part of recovery, swift action is paramount for helping your loved one get back on track in the event of relapse.
Encourage Them to Attend (and Stay in) Treatment
When your loved one eventually commits to rehab, it’s easy to believe the hard part is over. In truth, your loved one will likely struggle daily with the decision to stay in treatment. You can help them stay committed by encouraging therapy attendance and active participation. If your loved one’s treatment provider advises family therapy, accept the invitation to attend and be fully present for the sessions.
After treatment, your loved one will reintegrate into daily life and may find the transition taxing or overwhelming. Many experts assert that community is a valuable component of recovery and reintegration.2 Encourage your loved one to attend support groups and alumni events so they can develop a sense of belonging. They may even benefit from an outpatient program.
You can also show your solidarity by attending support groups together (if it’s permitted) and by being their “plus one” at sober events or family-integrated alumni events.
Set Healthy Boundaries
To continue to help someone in recovery, you’ll need to set boundaries. Be clear with your loved one about what you will and will not accept, and make sure your own mental and physical health are respected.
Often, the best way to support someone in recovery is to promise unwavering love but be clear that your help is contingent upon them staying sober, honoring your boundaries, or getting treatment in the event of relapse.
If you notice concerning behavior that makes you suspect relapse, say something. Approach the subject with honesty and be straightforward so your loved one understands the severity of the problem. While you may want to find excuses for various behaviors or avoid confrontation, silence only encourages your loved one’s denial or secrecy.
Create a space of honest communication by speaking out and offering a listening ear when your loved one feels safe to do the same. When honesty is praised, your loved one can confidently speak up to share their struggles with you as they navigate early recovery.
For many people in recovery, being in the presence of substances and other drug triggers can be anxiety-provoking and relentlessly tempting. Removing these triggers from your loved one’s immediate environment will help them focus energy on positive, healing thoughts instead of on willpower and self-policing.
Take care to remove drugs and alcohol from your home if your loved one spends time there. Ideally, it should be free from any intoxicating substances. If you have any prescription drugs, make sure they are safely disposed of or locked away. Offer to help your loved one clear their home of any tempting substances or drug paraphernalia as well.
In addition to mitigating at-home relapse risks, you can also help your loved one avoid social situations that may be triggering. These might include outings at bars or clubs where alcohol and drugs are prevalent. In situations when your loved one feels uncomfortable declining a night out, you can help them rehearse conversations or craft responses to invitations.
Find New Hobbies Together
One of the best ways to support someone in early recovery is by helping them find something they enjoy or are passionate about. Not only can it be a great foundation for long-term recovery for them, but also you may find something you enjoy as well.
Find substance-free activities to participate in together. Look for activities you both enjoy and those that will reinforce the idea that social connection and fun are still possible when you’re sober. Hiking, cooking, playing music, signing up for a class, or attending a movie or show can all be excellent ways to spend time together. You can also encourage them to establish structure and healthy habits through volunteer work, caretaking, or involvement at work or school.
Putting energy into these activities can also ease cravings and help your loved one manage their mental health. Doing so provides a positive outlet for negative emotions, can help to restore confidence and promotes loving connection.
Get Healthy Together
In addition to participating in fun activities together, you can also help someone in recovery by joining them in getting healthy. Long-term substance use can severely impact someone’s physical and mental health, but now that your loved one is in recovery, they can start healing.
Maintaining a healthy routine isn’t always easy when going it alone, so join your loved one. Go to the gym with them or get out and get active together. A yoga class or walking outside together may help relieve stress. If they live with you, try to eat healthy meals and get rid of unnecessary junk food. By committing to getting healthy together, you can keep each other accountable.
While there are many things you can do to provide support to someone in recovery from addiction, it’s important to remember that you cannot control the outcome. Don’t make the mistake of placing the responsibility of your loved one’s recovery on yourself. Ultimately, the responsibility for your loved one’s sobriety is all theirs.
Recovery involves both growth and setbacks. Letting go of the need to control your loved one’s journey of recovery will help them own their experience and develop resilience to cope with life’s adversities.
Don’t make the mistake of placing the responsibility for your loved one’s addiction on yourself. Let go, move past blame and resentment, and look forward to the future. You’ll feel more at peace, and your loved one will feel empowered to fully embrace the challenges of recovery, knowing that your support is within reach but not overbearing.
Take Care of Yourself
In any caregiving situation, you cannot truly help someone unless your health and happiness are accounted for and given priority. If your mental or physical health is suffering, you’ll only add to your loved one’s worries.
Make sure you are eating healthy, exercising often, and getting enough sleep every night. Find ways to reduce stress by meditating, attending a yoga class, or relaxing with whatever activity soothes you.
In addition, you may consider attending therapy or support groups to address any issues that may have surfaced as a result of your loved one’s addiction. Getting this type of help is essential to your own health, and it will help you establish coping mechanisms for the intense demands of helping a loved one navigate the journey from active addiction to recovery.
No matter the level of support you intend to provide for your loved one, it’s important to discuss with them what that support will look like. Make sure whatever care you plan to provide is in line with your loved one’s aftercare program and individual goals. By establishing the fact that you respect and honor their ambitions and purpose, your loved one will be more apt to accept your help and respect your advice.
What Do I Do If I Think My Loved One Relapsed?
If your loved one relapses, know that this is common and does not mean that they are back to square one. In fact, many people relapse multiple times on their way to long-term recovery from drugs. Try not to judge them, work to instill hope, and encourage any extra support or additional counseling they may need to get back on track.
If you need help in locating a recovery program for someone you care about, you can visit our addiction treatment directory or talk to someone about how to get into a program that suits your loved one’s needs.