When your loved one starts their journey to recovery, it’s normal to feel a bit tongue-tied. What do you say? How can you possibly help? You want to be supportive but don’t want unnecessary friction by saying the wrong thing.
The recovery journey, including for family and friends supporting a loved one, can sometimes be messy and full of trial and error. Your approach doesn’t always have to be perfect but should be consistent and unconditional.
Strong, supportive relationships are the pillars of recovery. These tips can help you feel more confident in supporting your loved one with their sobriety.
1. Establish Trust
Addiction causes most relationships to become fragile, so it is completely normal if you and your loved one have a complicated history. If your loved one has already betrayed your trust, regaining and maintaining it can be challenging at first. However, establishing trust both ways is an important first step in helping someone with addiction think about change. “If trust is established and the patient does not fear judgment, they will be more likely to turn to family when issues or urges of relapse arise,” said Brittany Brosky, Therapist at our Cornerstone of Recovery campus.
Trust can easily be undermined, even when you are trying to help, so it is good to keep a few things in mind as you are thinking about talking to your loved one about their addiction.
- Different perspectives. While you may only want to help, they might think you are trying to control them. The feeling of losing control or being trapped can trigger a negative response. Consider how your actions will be perceived from multiple perspectives, including theirs.
- Eliminate stressors, including relationship tension. Addictive tendencies often arise as a-means-to manage stress. If the atmosphere in the household is tense, they may turn to their addictive behavior more, not less.
- Trust is bilateral. Building trust is a two-way process. You cannot establish trust when you allow or ignore unwanted or dangerous behavior, and your loved one will not feel trusted if their actions are continuously questioned without evidence.
- Understand the importance of consequences. Those in active addiction may live in a state of denial until their addictive behavior forces a negative consequence. While you might want to protect your loved one, resist the urge to shield them from negative consequences. They will feel more confident in their ability to problem-solve in the future if they can overcome temporary obstacles on their own.
2. Show Unconditional Love and Non-judgmental Support
Feelings of judgment and shame can quickly interfere with your loved one’s recovery process. Tell them that you respect and will wholly support their efforts to stay sober. Be generous in sharing how much you love and care for them.
The recovery process is a long journey, and being realistic, it will have setbacks. At some point, your friend or family member may experience “recovery fatigue” or lack the motivation to continue treatment or attend meetings. It’s natural to feel anxious and discouraged if they do, but it’s important to meet them where they are while providing encouragement as they work through roadblocks. Just as it is important to set boundaries yourself, it is just as important to respect your loved one’s boundaries. Where it is normal to feel an occasional lack of control throughout your loved one’s recovery process, having too much control could indicate codependency and insinuate you do not trust them.
- Focus on building trust. They will be more likely to listen if they feel trusted and validated.
- Practice active listening without judgment. Let them speak their mind without fearing what you might think. Avoid overreacting if your loved one becomes honest about something that surprises or angers you.
- Respect their privacy. Don’t pry but remind them that they can talk to you about their recovery journey and any issues they may be facing.
- Assume you don’t need to tell them how you feel. It is important for you to express your feelings to exercise transparency in the home and lessen the chance of formed resentments.
- Criticize. Negativity can negate any progress your loved one has made.
- Live in the past. Your loved one is making positive and brave changes to move forward, and these changes need to be recognized and not minimized.
- Expect immediate change. Recovery takes time, and setbacks happen.
3. Create and Cultivate Healthy Habits
Healing is holistic, so your loved one’s physical, mental, and emotional health are essential to recovery success. It is crucial for your loved one to feel the sense of structure that concludes following a healthy routine. Work with your loved one to develop a menu for weekly meals, promote nightly walks or a gym membership, and become a confidant if your loved one needs to share struggles or successes. You can even try meditation or yoga to clear both of your minds.
- Plan group activities to make healthy habits a social activity.
- Help them choose activities that interest them to form healthy habits.
- Push them past their limits. Heavy exercise past their ability will not help their recovery journey.
- Force them to do activities only you want to do.
- Focus on weight loss without their consent. Remain body positive and work on supporting healthy habits instead.
4. Establish an Environment that Supports Sobriety
You may not have thought much about how your home life affects your loved one. But the early stages are critical. Past triggers can cause a relapse. You may have once enjoyed a late-night beer together, but that can’t happen now. Ask your loved one over time if they are comfortable with you having a drink or alcohol in the house. If they are not, consider removing alcohol from your home entirely.
In the early stages, you’ll want to avoid inviting your loved one to events or celebrations that will have their drug of choice. If alcohol or drugs are unavoidable at an event, prepare a plan of action with them. Offer to leave the event early with them if the substances become too triggering.
“It may be possible over time to drink in front of your loved one—but to their discretion,” cautioned Brosky. Alcohol can be triggering for your loved one, especially in early recovery. “Please remember that although your loved one may say they do not have a problem being around alcohol does not mean they are being truthful,” continued Brosky. Alcoholics commonly hold onto shame about their behaviors and want to avoid hindering their family more than they have.
5. Set and Maintain Boundaries
As much as you want to be a supportive resource for your loved one, everyone needs to set limits. Setting boundaries is healthy and essential to the recovery process. It can seem difficult when your first inclination is to drop everything and help your struggling loved one.
Boundaries protect your family and your well-being. It also prevents you from engaging in enabling behavior with your loved one. Boundaries allow you to stay healthy and engaged in the recovery process.
6. Expect Roadblocks
There are many reasons why your loved one may avoid getting additional help for their addiction. Your loved one:
- May not want to admit they have relapsed.
- May fear consequences if they have to return to treatment, such as losing their job or place to live.
- May experience feelings of failure and fear of judgment from their support system.
- May feel uncomfortable discussing their issues with addiction with a stranger, such as a mental health professional or sponsor.
There is no fast and easy way to help a person with an addiction. Overcoming addiction requires a great deal of effort and support. If someone doesn’t want to change their behavior, trying to persuade them to get help is unlikely to work. “It is important for you to identify behaviors in which you enable your loved one—whether this is financially or emotionally,” stated Brosky. It is essential to focus on yourself and allow your loved one to feel the consequences of their actions.
7. Seek Treatment and Support for Yourself
Addiction is a disease that affects the entire family. As your loved one begins their healing process, you should start yours. Your loved one’s return to a home environment will have some trials and frustrations. You need the understanding and ability to work through negative emotions and communicate effectively. It’s also crucial that you get the support you need to cope, too.
Take the time to:
- Find and attend family support groups, such as Al-Anon or Alateen, or through your loved one’s treatment provider. Support groups are a great place to interact with peers who understand what you are going through.
- Participate in family counseling and even in individual therapy.
- Educate yourself on the disease of addiction. Many programs, such as Bradford’s Family Program, help you learn the science of addiction, allowing you to approach your loved one from a place of understanding instead of anger, shame, and stigma.
If your loved one is suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction, you can call us 24/7 at 888-SOBER-40. You will be connected with one of our compassionate Care Coordinators that will help guide you through the first few steps of starting the recovery process. It is never too late to begin the journey to sobriety.