22 Oct 9 Tips for Supporting Loved Ones Recovering From Addiction
Do you know someone recovering from addiction? It’s very likely that you do. They may be in your family, a friend or a co-worker. According to a survey done in 2016, one in 10 Americans older than 12 engaged in illicit substance use in the last month. The same survey showed that one in 15 Americans drank alcohol heavily during the last month. The stats have gotten worse as substance abuse continues to increase. That’s why it’s very likely that you know someone who is in addiction recovery. How can you support them? The answer isn’t always clear. There are often many obstacles to supporting someone with a substance use disorder. You have to find a fine line between support and enabling. Instead of catching them when they fall, you can simply be there to offer a hand for them to stand.
Keep These Tips in Mind on How to Support a Recovering Addict
Prioritize Your Own Care
Addiction is a chronic disease that affects both the addicted person and everyone around them. Close family and friends often feel the fallout the hardest as they may place the addicted person’s needs over their own. This constant concern, worry and anxiety can lead to depression and illness. If you’re close to an addicted person, it’s very important that you prioritize your own health first.
Don’t Forget That Your Loved One Is Still Human
Remember that addiction is a mental illness that results in distorted perceptions and behaviors. The person struggling with substance abuse prioritizes drug or alcohol use and seeking more than anything else. It’s normal to be frustrated and angry, and you might need to reduce your contact with them in order to avoid enabling. However, it’s important not to start seeing your loved one as less than human. Don’t treat them like a disgrace or an outcast. This outward shaming and humiliation will likely just drive them away and discourage them from getting help. Instead, try to find ways to communicate with them that will support and steer them towards treatment and recovery.
Educate Yourself On Addiction
One reason that people dealing with a substance abuser often feel a chaotic mix of emotions is that they don’t know very much about addiction and what it entails. Worry, fear and anger are common emotions. However, a lack of understanding leads to fear. You can help yourself and your loved one by learning about substance use disorder and how it’s treated. Resist nagging, lecturing or preaching to your loved one about how they could have done better. Addiction often sneaks up on people, and it’s not a conscious choice beyond the first use.
Seek Professional Help
It’s ok not to know everything. It’s ok if you don’t know exactly how to help your loved one during recovery. This is where professionals can come in. Many addiction treatment centers have programs directed at the loved ones of addicted people. Some treatment programs for substance use even directly involve loved ones in the process. For example, staged interventions and family group therapy are common treatment methods.
Don’t Use Your Love As A Weapon
If you’re in a close relationship with the addicted person, it’s important not to use that as a threat. Don’t say things like “if you really loved me, you’d stop using.” This is ultimately destructive behavior towards them, yourself and your relationship. Instead, try to impart your concerns gently. Tell them that you want to support them in recovery and that they’re not alone. Convey to them that you want them to live because you love them. However, don’t enable their addiction at the same time. If you have to reduce contact with them for your own health, then you should do so. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to let them experience the repercussions of their behavior. It doesn’t mean that you’re punishing them, but merely showing them that actions have consequences.
Understand That You Can Support Without Enabling
The fine line in being supportive is figuring out how to do so without enabling. Addiction often leads to a number of serious problems, including depleted finances and legal issues. It can also put people physically in harm’s way due to risky behavior. It can cause major health problems that further strain finances. It’s common for family members and friends to try to shield the addicted person from the worst of these consequences. Unfortunately, that usually has the side effect of exacerbating addiction. It’s important to understand that many addicts don’t get help until they’ve hit rock bottom. If you try to protect them from hitting this point, you might be prolonging their decision to get treatment. Instead, make it clear to them that you will only support their recovery efforts and nothing else.
Show Them Compassion
Addiction often tears down self-esteem for the addicted person. Many of them know that they are addicted and feel shame about it. When they get into recovery, it’s always possible for relapses and other obstacles to take place. This can further reduce their feelings of self-worth. Resist nagging them about their failures. Instead, remind them of their accomplishments and goals. The only caveat to this is not to invest endless energy in trying to fix or control them. Recovery is a personal journey and it happens differently for everyone.
Provide A Safe Environment
People in recovery often have to face down and cope with their triggers in order to stay sober. You can help them do this by providing a safe environment when necessary. This doesn’t mean letting them live with you but instead trying to create a safe environment when you see them. Common triggers include the following:
• Alcohol or drug use
• Stressful situations
• Loud environments
• Large social groups
• Clubs or bars
Many addicted people have specific spaces that they associate with their drug or alcohol use. For example, they might have been a social drinker. If you meet up with them during recovery, don’t go to a crowded bar or restaurant with a group of friends.
Don’t Give Up
Similar to educating yourself about addiction, make sure to also educate yourself about treatment and recovery. Many addicted people go to an addiction treatment center multiple times before they’re able to achieve lasting sobriety. Don’t get discouraged if your loved one goes through this while recovering from addiction. Realize that they are likely far more depressed and discouraged about it than you. Try to support and lift them up instead of wallowing in despair along with them. Encourage them to keep trying, and let them know that there’s no reason they can’t be successful. Recovery timeframes are not absolute.