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How to Support a Loved One in Recovery

Support a Loved One in Recovery
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National Recovery Month is in full swing this September as we continue to celebrate those in recovery, raise awareness around substance use disorder (SUD), and reflect on how we can help our loved ones. It’s estimated that more than 22 million people in the US live life in recovery. That’s roughly 9.1% of the adult population.

For those in recovery, the most common services utilized after treatment include mutual help support groups and outpatient treatment programs. While external assistance can be crucial in helping individuals navigate life after SUD, support and understanding from loved ones can help lay the foundation for a healthy, stable life. Unfortunately, stigma around SUD, misconceptions about what it means to be in recovery, and a lack of education or understanding can lead to unnecessary stress and tension.

Keep reading to learn 8 ways you can support a loved one in recovery.

Need help with addiction treatment? Please call Gaudenzia’s 24-hour Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357) or email [email protected]

How to Help Someone in Recovery

Even when your heart is in the right place, it can be difficult to navigate a healthy relationship with a loved one after drug and alcohol treatment. Luckily, taking the time to learn a few simple “dos and don’ts” can go a long way.    

Let’s look at 8 tips to support a friend or family member in recovery.

1. Educate Yourself on SUD and Recovery

Whether you have a family member, friend, co-worker, or neighbor in recovery, a basic understanding of what helps and what might feel triggering can help show your support. It can also signify that you’re a safe person to reach out to. Consider picking up a book on the topic, checking out trusted resources online, and learning about the stories of others in recovery. If you have specific questions, be open and simply ask your loved one! Just be sure to do so in a tactful, compassionate way.

2. Words Matter: Erase the Stigma

Language can influence the way we view or treat others and ourselves. When speaking with — or about — a loved one in recovery, remember to use person-first, de-stigmatizing language.

Person-first language, also known as people-first language, puts a person before their diagnosis. In other words, it describes what a person “has” and does not define who a person “is” based on a diagnosis. When using person-first language, we might say an individual has depression, rather than describing them as depressed.

When it comes to SUD and recovery, rather than referring to someone as an “addict” or a “junkie,” we can replace this with person-first, de-stigmatizing language, describing them instead as a “person with a substance use disorder.” Similarly, rather than saying a loved one is a “recovering addict,” we can say they are a “person in recovery” or “a person recovering from SUD.” Person-first language reinforces the complexity and depth that exists within every individual. Changing the way we talk about our loved ones in recovery can have a profound impact on how valued and supported they feel.   

3. Check in Often

While substance use disorder can be an extremely isolating experience, adjusting to life in recovery can contribute to feelings of loneliness as well. An individual in recovery must often create new social circles, and may feel misunderstood at home, at work, or in social settings. Make a point to check in on a loved one in recovery often, especially during emotionally charged times like the holidays, surrounding difficult anniversaries (like the loss of a friend or family member), or during upsetting world events. It’s also important to acknowledge milestones and achievements, like celebrating a loved one’s sober date.

4. Avoid Judgment/Confrontation

If you are concerned about a loved one in recovery, be sure to approach them in a non-judgmental, compassionate way. Avoid using accusatory or condescending language, or “parenting” the individual. Voice concerns by checking in, and start the conversation by asking, for example, “Are you okay?” rather than, “Are you using again?”. Offer help and support if they are struggling, but avoid completely taking over the process.  

5. Become a Healthy Habits Partner

Encourage a loved one in recovery to start or maintain healthy habits by engaging in healthy lifestyle choices yourself! Offer to be their gym buddy, take a class together, help them cook nutritious meals, or simply become their accountability partner and stay curious about their own interests/endeavors.  

6. Consider Your Own Therapy/Family Counseling

Substance use disorder does not occur in a vacuum. In fact, it is often said that SUD is a family disease. While you may not have an SUD yourself, unhealthy behaviors, inappropriate coping mechanisms, and ineffective communication styles can all contribute to challenges with SUD and imbalanced relationship patterns, like those of codependency.

Approaching recovery as a family can be one of the most effective ways to support a loved one in recovery. Starting your own therapy or trying out family counseling can be tremendously healing. It can even improve multiple relationships within your family system.

7. Create a Recovery-Friendly Environment

Take steps to create a recovery-friendly environment and reduce environmental triggers. Avoid keeping alcohol, medications (like prescribed opioids), or related paraphernalia out in the open. Instead of simply removing triggering items from your space, consider adding healthy, engaging items, like workout equipment, musical instruments, board games, books, or other creative materials.   

8. Socialize with Empathy

If you host or invite a loved one in recovery to a gathering where substances like alcohol will be present, let them know ahead of time so they can prepare. They may want to bring their own alternatives or arrange for independent transportation if they need to leave.

If you are the host, be sure to offer fun alternatives to alcohol. Arrange for activities that don’t involve substances, and provide access to private spaces where loved ones can take breaks from socializing. Be sure to let them know if any food items like desserts contain alcohol, and avoid — or tactfully intervene in — situations where others may encourage your loved one in recovery to “try a sip” or indulge “just a little” in a substance they no longer use.   

Supporting a Loved One in Recovery: Self-Care Matters

Taking steps to support a friend or family member in recovery is an important act of love and empathy. That said, self-care is crucial. Be sure to set and maintain your own healthy boundaries. Avoid enabling your loved one by taking over and doing the work for them, or by minimizing the consequences of their actions. Don’t forget to stay focused on your own well-being and pursuits in life. It’s important to seek your own support. This can be through counseling, group meetings, or reaching out for help when you need it.

If you or a loved needs help with addiction treatment, please contact our 24-hour Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357) or email [email protected] today.

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