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How to Support a Loved One in Recovery

If a family member or friend is struggling with addiction, your first question may be: how can I help them find treatment and recover? The recovery process may seem daunting; however, there are many ways you can support your loved one while maintaining your own health and wellbeing, including:

  • Educating yourself about addiction and recovery.
  • Setting healthy boundaries and avoiding enabling your loved one.
  • Continuously encouraging your loved to enter and remain in treatment.
  • Minimizing environmental temptations and triggers.
  • Learning to let go.

The Importance of Support During Recovery

people giving support holding handsIt’s overwhelming and disheartening to watch someone you love sink into the grip of addiction. The person you care for becomes someone you hardly recognize—someone who ignores your honest concerns and seemingly favors substance use over your connection.

It’s tempting to turn away and let your loved one walk the path alone; however, your support, no matter how rejected or discarded, is a crucial element to their recovery.

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 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, and they can provide the support and information you need to care for your loved one and help them stay health and continue working toward sobriety. Call .

Supporting vs. Enabling: What’s the Difference?

In order for long-term recovery to occur, it’s crucial that you cautiously approach your supportive role to ensure you do not enable your loved one’s addiction. If you over-involve yourself, take responsibility and ownership of your loved one’s decisions, and make excuses for their substance use, you’re enabling.

Support differs from enablement in the following ways:

  • It offers help, but not at the expense of your own needs.
  • It maintains honesty and does not excuse unacceptable behavior.
  • It maintains love and balance devoid of the resentments formed when you attempt to shoulder your loved one’s responsibilities.

If you’re an enabler, you are perpetuating your loved one’s addiction. You are protecting an atmosphere in which the addicted person can continue to behave in damaging ways without facing the harsh reality of those decisions.

You may think that piecing things back together after your loved one makes a destructive decision will help them get back on track, but you are only helping them to remain stuck in the patterns of addiction.

It’s tempting to turn away and let your loved one walk the path alone; however, your support, no matter how rejected or discarded, is a crucial element to their recovery.

7 Ways to Support Your Loved One

Fortunately, there are many ways you can take part in the recovery journey without enabling your loved one’s addiction. Below are 7 ways you can support your loved one’s pursuit of a healthful recovery.

Educate Yourself

It can be dumbfounding to watch your loved one continue to use drugs and/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 the path from active addiction to recovery.

woman researching onlineMany 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). Swift action is paramount for helping your loved one get back on track in the event of a lapse.

Encourage Them to Attend (and Stay in) Treatment

During active addiction, your loved one may reject the idea of treatment multiple times. It’s important to continually encourage them to seek help no matter how many times you hear “no.”

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.

You can also show your solidarity by attending support groups together (if it’s permitted) and by being their “plus one” to sober events or family-integrated alumni events.

Set Healthy Boundaries

In order to maintain a supportive, non-enabling role in your loved one’s 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.

A boundary-setting conversation may sound something like: “I love you, therefore I cannot support behavior that destroys you. I’m here anytime you need my help to seek treatment, but I cannot offer you money when you are using.Remember that showing love does not always mean providing unconditional help, money, or housing. Often, the best way to show support to someone you care about is to promise unwavering love but be clear that your help is contingent upon their getting treatment and honoring your own boundaries.

A boundary-setting conversation may sound something like: “I love you, therefore I cannot support behavior that destroys you. I’m here anytime you need my help to seek treatment, but I cannot offer you money when you are using.”

Equally important is following through with whatever boundaries you set. For example, if you tell your loved one that you will not pay bail for a DUI charge, it’s important that you maintain your stance if your loved one is arrested for driving under the influence.

Be Honest

two people sitting down to have serious conversationIf you notice concerning behavior that makes you suspect drug abuse or 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 and seek help.

It’s important to not only be honest with your loved one but with yourself. Denial won’t help, and the longer you suppress your concerns, the more time the situation has to fester and get worse.

Avoid Using Substances Around Your Loved One

For many people in recovery, being in the presence of substances can be anxiety-provoking and relentlessly tempting. Removing substances 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 or locked away. Offer to help your loved one clear their home of any tempting substances, 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.

Engage in Healthy Habits Together

A sobriety-based lifestyle is crucial for your loved one’s recovery. You can help to establish healthy habits by finding substance-free activities to participate in together.

people hiking togetherLook 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, enjoying a meal at your favorite restaurant, and attending a movie or show can all be excellent ways to spend time together.

Putting energy into healthy 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.

In addition to participating in fun activities together, you can also help your loved one develop healthy habits by encouraging them to establish structure through volunteer work, caretaking, or involvement at work or school. Remind them that discovering purpose and achieving goals does not need to be put off until other problems are solved, and that participating in meaningful activities is a key part of recovery.

Let Go

While there are many things you can do to provide support, 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 addiction 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 of 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.

If you need help in locating a recovery program for someone you care about, you can visit our treatment directory or talk to someone about how to get into a program that suits your loved one’s needs.


  1. Kelly, S. M., O’Grady, K. E., Schwartz, R. P., Peterson, J. A., Wilson, M. E., & Brown, B. S. (2010). The relationship of social support to treatment entry and engagement: The Community Assessment Inventory. Substance Abuse: Official Publication of the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse31(1), 43–52.
  2. Polcin, D. L. (2009). Communal Living Settings for Adults Recovering from Substance Abuse. Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery4(1), 7–22.

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