When a loved one struggles with addiction, it can be difficult to know how to support them, especially during early stages of recovery. Addiction can cause a variety of feelings to emerge, and the accompanying emotions can be complicated for numerous reasons. Often, loved ones have an up-close, intimate look at the true nature of addiction. The physical, mental, and emotional damage it causes can be difficult for the addict and those around them to overcome. While the prospect of recovery can provide some with a sense of relief, many must also wrestle with feelings of anger, betrayal, and hurt, especially if this is not the patient’s first attempt at achieving sobriety. This mixed bag of emotions is understandable considering the complexity of addiction. There are many facets to it and recovery is often a process that requires loved ones to address their own needs as well.
Being an ally to someone in recovery is not always easy. For those who have never struggled with addiction, it can be difficult to understand many aspects of its effects. Some things, such as the highs and lows of recovery, as well as the nature of their relationship with the person in recovery, can be difficult to decipher at times. While it is impossible to predict what will be the best practices to implement with a loved one in recovery, there are guidelines that can help a person become a reliable sober ally.
- Prevent enabling behaviors: Sometimes it can be easy to excuse someone’s actions or behaviors because of their status in recovery. It can also be hard to try to put a stop to those behaviors due to the fear of its impact on the relationship. While taking action can be difficult, it is important to do so with the person’s best interests at heart. In most cases, a person is more likely to regret not stepping up or taking action as opposed to taking a stand.
- Educate yourself: Addiction can be difficult to understand. It affects everyone differently, and without a basic understanding of how it works and affects a person, it can be hard to have a meaningful conversation about addiction. The more educated you are on the topic, the better able you are to articulate the reality of a situation, and the more likely you are to make a connection and help the person.
- Being an active listener: A person struggling with addiction may express feelings or actions that they feel are justified. Some of these justifications may not make sense, but it is important to be an active listener and allow them to feel validated in their expression. The more likely you are to listen to them, the more likely they are to listen in return. By learning how they view specific situations, you become better equipped to address them during conversations.
- Express your concerns: It is important to speak up when you begin to notice things that concern you instead of waiting until a person hits rock bottom. Remember that these conversations are most productive when a person is not under the influence of substances.
While you are not required to modify your lifestyle to match that of a newly sober person, you can support them by respecting their needs and educating yourself. There are a plethora of resources available online, in support meetings, and through local organizations. One of the most beneficial actions someone can take is outlining boundaries. Every person has different needs, and establishing boundaries can ensure you are providing the right type of support. Some questions you may address in establishing boundaries may include:
- What are your triggers?
- Are there specific people, places, or things you need to avoid?
- How can I help you?
- Would it help if you were unable to see drugs or alcohol while out?
One of the best things you can do to help a person, especially in early recovery, is to make plans that do not involve drinking or substance use. There are plenty of fun activities you can do together that do not involve alcohol or drugs. Some examples include:
- Going out to dinner
- Making art
- Taking classes
- Volunteer work
- Attending concerts or sporting events
- Visiting new local areas
As important as it is to respect the needs of a loved one, it is equally important for you to take care of yourself. This may mean taking a break or getting some space to reflect. This will allow you to recharge and achieve a fresh outlook on the situation. Additionally, it is important to recognize that change will not happen overnight. Recovery is a life-long process and requires constant work and dedication. Many in recovery will experience relapse at least once in their journey. Recognizing that relapse is a part of the recovery process can help you become a better ally and support system for your loved one. Being equipped to handle the highs and lows of recovery will help you better manage your health as well as your relationship with others.