When someone in the family has an addiction, the constant worry over their substance abuse can be unrelenting.
Are they safe? Are they using? Will they ever stop taking drugs or drinking alcohol?
And even if a loved one is in addiction recovery, there’s the endless worry of whether they will relapse.
How to support someone in recovery
Broadly, the advice from addiction specialists on supporting someone in recovery is to take care of yourself first.
All this makes sense if you look at the bigger picture.
For example, caregivers need respite when caring for an elderly or sick loved one.
Without that level of support, they would be in no position to advocate for vulnerable family members, and the same applies to families with loved ones in addiction recovery.
Supporting your loved one
Essentially, taking care of your loved one requires you to be at your best physically and mentally, and this will likely entail drawing on plenty of resources to help you cope.
There is no hard and fast rule when supporting someone in recovery from addiction.
Moreover, you may sometimes wonder how you can support a close loved one or family member on their journey to sobriety.
Whether you support a family member, close friend or partner – and whether they are still using alcohol or drugs – your support is likely to be invaluable.
Moreover, it may play a critical role in their recovery.
Support from friends and family is a critical aspect of addiction recovery.
Family therapist Nilofar Nekou says that having the support of friends and family is often critical for people trying to maintain sobriety.
‘’Your support may provide external motivation to stay sober and provide the right emotional support” (Niloufar Nekou, family therapist and clinical director of Alter Health Group in Dana Point, California).
A person in recovery is in recovery every single day for their entire life; therefore, it’s crucial for their families and friends to be understanding, kind, supportive, and not use alcohol or drugs in their presence.
One of the best ways to support someone in recovery is establishing trust, which builds the foundations for long-term sobriety.
It can be tempting to nag or criticise your loved one, mainly if they take a step backwards, but this may only worsen the problem.
Avoiding ”trust – destroyers”
Addiction specialists have said that families supporting people in recovery must try and avoid the following ”trust – destroyers”:
- Exaggerating, name-calling, and yelling
- Engaging in substance abuse behaviours yourself, even if done in moderation, may feel hypocritical or encourage your loved one to start using again.
- Criticising, shouting, or lecturing your loved one in recovery
Trust can take a long – time to establish, but it can quickly get shattered.
Therefore, you must take the time to establish a trusting bond with your loved one. When doing so, it might be helpful to consider the following:
Stress can worsen the problem.
Often, people turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with stress, and your loved one likely uses substances to escape their uncomfortable feelings.
If there is tension between you and your loved one, they are likely to engage in addictive behaviours more, and not less.
Trust is a two-way street.
If you want to be trusted, you must first learn to trust.
Developing mutual trust with someone is a two-way process and cannot be established if you (or the other party) put up with unwanted behaviour.
Consider things from a different perspective.
Those with a substance use disorder often feel as though their loved ones are nagging them or telling them what to do, making them feel as though they are being controlled.
As challenging as it might be, loved ones supporting people in recovery must try and avoid lecturing or nagging, as this can only lead a person with an addiction to want to use more.
Seeing things from the perspective of the recovering addict can be helpful and may give you an idea of how challenging it can be to abstain from substance use.
Six tips for supporting a loved one in recovery
1. Do not ”baby” your loved one through addiction recovery.
Addiction specialists say it’s generally not a good idea to ”babysit” your loved ones’ sobriety (Amy Liz Harrison, the author of Eternally expecting: A Mom of Eight Gets Sober and Gives Birth to a New life. .. . her Own).
Even if you have the best intentions, treating your loved one like an ordinary person is essential.
Mollycoddling a loved one through the recovery process might feel controlling and prohibit healing.
Supporting those with substance use disorders
Specialists say that the better approach is to ask someone how you can support them, make it clear that you are there for them, and be available to talk and listen when needed.
As your loved one rebuilds their life, one of the first things they’ll need to do is create new habits, and receiving unwanted advice from people who have not walked in their shoes may hinder this process.
2. Educate yourself on substance use disorders
There are various misconceptions and stereotypical myths surrounding drug and alcohol use, most of which are inaccurate and unhelpful.
Occasionally, we may unintentionally fall prey to some of these stereotypes.
For example, we may think that drug abuse or alcohol use disorders only happen to specific ”types” of people.
All this couldn’t be any further from the truth.
One of the keys to helping our loved ones through substance abuse recovery is to educate ourselves on:
- health issues caused by addiction
- potential addiction triggers
- the addiction recovery process
- the emotional and psychological changes caused by addiction.
Understanding addictive behaviour
Learning the principles of addiction and how substance abuse affects people can help loved ones relate to and support a loved one in recovery.
According to Nikou, families that support relatives in recovery are also better equipped to help prevent relapse.
3. Seek emotional support for yourself
As mentioned earlier, seeking support for yourself is imperative if you wish to help a loved one through their sobriety.
You can’t do everything by yourself.
Therefore, reaching out to a therapist, trusted friend or family member can be profoundly helpful when supporting a loved one in recovery.
Addiction specialists agree that maintaining friendships independent of your loved one and engaging in support groups designed for the friends and family of people with substance use disorders can be beneficial.
It may prove impossible to help someone in addiction recovery if you do not receive adequate support.
4. Set realistic expectations
There are various reasons why someone engages in substance abuse.
Much of what causes a person to become addicted to a substance or a particular type of behaviour is often due to unresolved mental health issues, such as trauma.
Ultimately, treating a person for an alcohol use disorder or drug problem involves many factors.
There is a common misconception that a person’s drug or alcohol habits are the primary sources of issues in their life, but so many more factors are at play.
False beliefs such as this can create much disappointment for families supporting relatives in addiction recovery since ”stopping” something like drinking or drug-taking isn’t the whole treatment.
Recovery involves many different aspects, including examining the root cause of addiction, the reasons for the person’s behaviour, and helping them shift to healthier strategies to cope with challenging emotions.
5. Communicate effectively
When helping addicts through the recovery process, it can be tempting for families to want to tell their loved ones how their addiction has made them feel and how their behaviour has affected their lives.
However, families must understand how to communicate with someone who has an addiction.
Individuals with an addiction will be more open and receptive to change if their loved ones communicate honestly and without sounding angry or threatening.
Addiction specialists say specific communication techniques can be invaluable when helping a loved one through recovery.
Replacing negative statements with positive ones
For example, replacing negative statements with positive ones such as: ”Wow, you’re so annoying when you drink” with ”I enjoy your company when you’re sober” can positively affect recovery.
In addition to this, using ”I”statements versus ”you” statements can also make a difference.
For instance, ”I get sad when you take drugs” is a better way of communicating with your loved one instead of ”You never think about how your drug use affects me.”
6. Set boundaries
Whether a loved one is in an addiction treatment facility such as rehab or at home, you must assert some healthy boundaries.
For instance, you may decide to reach out to other family members for help or assign a few days off a week from taking care of your loved one.
Boundaries help protect our energy, physical and mental health and resources.
Setting healthy boundaries can preserve your energy and alleviate some of the pressure of being the central pillar of support.
If you are struggling to cope or need additional support when taking care of a loved one in recovery, talking to a therapist about your feelings might be helpful.
Remember, your health and happiness are essential, too and setting healthy boundaries is an excellent way to protect yourself and your energy.
Further help and support.
If you or your loved one is struggling with addiction, our specialist team at White River Manor can help.
The first step to getting help for an addiction is often the hardest; however, there is hope, and recovery is possible.
Contact our specialist team for more information.