Helping Your Loved One Stay Sober: 9 Practical Tips

January 31, 2024

4 mins

Jackie Rosu


Many successful recovery journeys involve a support network. If you’re wondering how to support someone’s recovery, you likely want to do everything possible to help.

Many successful recovery journeys involve a support network. If you’re wondering how to support someone’s recovery, you likely want to do everything possible to help. But substance use disorder (SUD) is a devastating disease that changes every aspect of the patient’s life. When helping others, you must first consider your well-being and tread carefully. Too much “help” overtaxes you, enables your loved one’s bad habits, or unintentionally rushes them through a delicate process. 

These 9 tips will help you formulate a plan better to assist your loved ones through their sobriety journey. For effective help, establish clear boundaries, educate yourself, and keep an open mind. Sobriety is a lifelong commitment, but support is not—you must make sure you meet your own needs first.

  1. Take Care of Yourself 

Before you address someone else’s well-being, you must handle your own. Consider the instructions flight attendants give for oxygen masks. Adults should put their masks on before they help their children. A parent can’t help their child if they fall unconscious before they put one on a panicked child. Helping someone in recovery works the same way. 

Boundaries and communication protect you when you support someone else. Establishing explicit boundaries ensures you know what you will and won’t do to help. There’s no ambiguity or false expectations. Healthy boundaries protect you from burnout or unintentional manipulation. Clear communication keeps you both open and honest with one another. You’ll know what you will and won’t do, how you feel about one another, and your thoughts on their disorder. An open approach like this is the first step toward accepting one another. With acceptance comes progress. 

  1. Accept and Listen 

Substance use disorder patients already feel shame, which slows recovery. Accept them as they are, including their mistakes, and communicate that acceptance to them. 

Acceptance does not mean freedom from the consequences of their choices. You should push them to improve, but you may need to relearn how to drive progress. Praise and encouragement for healthier decisions work better than criticism and punishment for mistakes. Disapproval can damage communication and lead to lying or concealment behaviors, while acceptance raises self-esteem.

If you live with your loved one, create a sober home life to supplement their sobriety-positive relationship with you. 

  1. Keep a Sober Home—and a Sober Life 

When you eliminate alcohol or drugs in your home and lifestyle, you demonstrate support with actions and prove that change is possible. You also eliminate potential triggers that can cause relapse. In some cases, something as innocuous as seeing a substance can trigger a relapse. 

Social activities that don’t involve alcohol are another helpful way to improve your sober life. New hobbies and interests help distract from cravings and can repair your relationship as you spend time together. This time together may help you remember more about the person underneath the disease—and remind you that alcoholism is a disease. 

  1. Recontextualize Substance Use Disorder as a Chronic Brain Disease Disease 

Consider the modern psychiatric diagnosis of alcoholism—as a “chronic brain disorder.” it doesn’t represent a behavioral problem, a moral failing, or a conscious choice to dive into drugs and alcohol. Drug and alcohol misuse changes physical and chemical structures in the brain. These changes lead to intense, involuntary cravings when the brain goes without drugs or alcohol. 

You might feel tempted to use every tool in your emotional toolbox to help them when they have cravings or struggle to function in everyday life. But consider that many support techniques do more harm than good.    

  1. Avoid Manipulative “Support” 

“If you loved me, you wouldn’t drink.” Statements like these are guilt trips, a form of emotional manipulation to convince someone to change their mind through shame. When you guilt-trip your loved one, they feel ashamed and that they let you down. Shame lowers self-esteem, which, as discussed above, is an obstacle to long-term recovery. But remember that letting them do what they want is not an option. When you “enable” your loved one, you empower them to obey their cravings without reservation. 

  1. Learn to Support Without Enabling 

“No” is a complete, reasonable, and neutral sentence. You don’t support someone with SUD by giving them everything they want and hoping they get better. You can’t let them avoid the consequences of their actions; otherwise, they can’t learn from their mistakes and grow. 

Forms of enabling include: 

  • Giving them money and covering expenses (which helps them buy alcohol) 
  • Making excuses for missing work or school 
  • Justifying their behavior  
  • Bailing them out of jail or covering legal fees 
  • Putting their needs before yours  

You can give conditional support; establishing those conditions is vital to setting boundaries. Limit how much you contribute to keep yourself sane and healthy, and let your loved one grow on their own. 

  1. Let Them Make Mistakes 

You can’t and shouldn’t do everything for your loved one. You might feel tempted to live their life for them and keep them safe and healthy at all costs. This natural inclination comes from a place of love. But if they don’t make mistakes, they can’t realize how bad their situation has become and the importance of change. Progress has many ups and downs and is a process that takes time. 

  1. Have Patience 

When someone chooses sobriety, they choose an exhausting process that lasts their entire life. Expect mood changes, sudden outbursts, relapses, and other major setbacks. Someone truly committed will continue the fight, and your support in those dark moments reminds them of their goals and commitments—which helps them get back up.

Members of someone’s support network often find more information and resources for them in these dark times. A path forward helps people with substance use find a direction when they struggle after a setback. 

  1. Direct Them to Free Online Resources, like Never Alone Programs 

We make support groups and other options available to caregivers and families of people with substance use disorder, as well as the patient. Both sobriety and supporting someone sober are difficult undertakings that no one should have to handle alone. If you support a loved one who struggles with substance use disorder, you have options. Direct them to Never Alone Recovery’s free online support group to take some of the weight off your shoulders. 

Join the group at 7 PM CST each week for addiction recovery. You and your loved one can meet sympathetic people who’ve traveled the same path and understand the struggles encountered along the way. 

You can always gather more information if you aren’t prepared to take that step. Follow Never Alone Recovery’s Facebook and Twitter for additional educational material, links to helpful services, and announcements. 

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