Supporting Family and Friends

How To Support Family or Friends in Recovery

Recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction is an ongoing, life long process. It goes best when a family or friend group can provide love, support, and understanding.  This isn’t always easy because by the time someone gets help, their family and friends are quite often exhausted.  An alcoholic or addict’s destructive lifestyle is like a tornado.  It leaves chaos in the life of anyone who gets too close.   Once someone has gone to treatment, many families and friends find themselves breathing a sigh of relief.  But like survivors of any trauma, the relief is short because there is still work to do. 

Knowing that an addict or alcoholic will eventually be back, some families and friends wonder what should they do now?  What’s most important?  In our experience, there’s a few key things a friend or family can do to support a loved one who goes to rehab.


Self-Care

First, it’s important to practice self-care.  So much energy can go to fulfilling an addict’s never-ending needs that many people forget about their own needs.  While your loved one is in treatment, it’s time to care for yourself. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and reconnecting with friends are a few ideas of things you can do to help re-energize yourself.

Clean Living Space

Next, we often find that an important task is to literally clean.  If your loved one has been living with you, this is also an act of self-care.  If they have been living somewhere else, going into their space, and doing some basic cleaning can be an eye-opening experience.  Either way, it helps an addict to have family and friends support them by providing a safe space.  It’s crucial to get rid of any alcohol or drugs in the space, as well as any paraphernalia.  Check for hidden items throughout the living space and throw out any garbage.

If someone else in the house needs prescription drugs, alcohol, syringes, medicines, or anything else related to drugs or alcohol, make sure this is safely stored where the recovering addict can’t get to it.  This is important because these items are triggers for relapse.  It’s up to an addict not to drink or use drugs but removing temptations can help an addict stay focused on recovery.

Some alcoholics and addicts can become so ill in addiction that their living space may be dangerous to enter.  If there are large amounts of mold, urine, feces, blood, rodents, bugs, used needles, broken glass etc., please consider getting professional help.  Though rare, there are cases where people had to ask the city for hazmat support to clean up very unsafe apartments.

Set Boundaries

A third important measure is for your own self-care and to reduce the risk of relapse.  This is the setting and enforcing of clear, yet fair, boundaries for the recovering addict in your life.  It helps to get your loved one to see this as something that’s good for everyone.  If you can begin to discuss these details while your loved one is still in treatment, the counselors at the facility can help mediate and provide guidance if necessary.

After years of a troubled relationship, it can be hard to decide which boundaries are helpful.  An example of an important boundary might be that your friend or family member successfully complete treatment if they want to move (back) into your home or get other financial support. Another crucial boundary is that your loved one continue to stay sober to be able to around the family or friend group.  In addition, quite often families will implement curfews, allowances, or chores for the addict or alcoholic that returns home.  All these boundaries are intended to encourage accountability and rebuild trust.

Learn about Addiction

Quite possibly, the most beneficial thing you can do to support someone through their recovery is to learn more about the disease of addiction.  You can do this by reading books, reading articles online, and watching documentaries.  The addicted mind is hard to understand.  However, learning as much as you can about the changes that happen in the brain, and how drugs affect people in the long term can help a lot. Understanding what to expect and what helps long term recovery will benefit you in the months and years after treatment.  You may find that you’re able to have more meaningful conversations with your loved one about their actions and experiences.  This can be life changing.

Get Support

Finally, many addiction specialists highly recommend that the family and friends of addicts and alcoholics get their own form of support and counseling.  This is because living with someone in active addiction isn’t easy and creates a lot of strong feelings.  Some people may choose to see their own individual counselor while others might choose to go to a support group.  Some of the more popular free support groups are Al-Anon and Nar-anon.  There are many others that exist, too, especially with the recent rise of addiction problems in the US.

Not only does this help someone work through the past, but it also helps as new challenges arise.  Recovery is an ongoing journey and returning home from treatment is just the start of a long process.  Everyone close to addict or alcoholic needs time to heal and grow after addiction. Finding support for this task can make a big difference in the lives of family and close friends of addicts.  Support groups especially have the bonus of bringing together people who are going through very similar things.

Support Your Friend or Family Member by Loving Yourself

So, while there is a big sense of relief once your loved one heads off to treatment, make sure to stay focused on what you can do to benefit your own life and your loved one’s life.  Blame, pain, resentment, and selfishness have been hurting everyone involved in the situation for a long time.  The key to long term recovery is for everyone to heal from the chaos of active addiction.

One of the best ways to help an addict or alcoholic in recovery is to help yourself.  That’s why we highly recommend self-care, including counseling and healthy boundaries for anyone who wants to support an addict in recovery.  Furthermore, learning about addiction and helping prepare a safe space for your loved one can make a difference in the return home from treatment.

Active addiction leads to a lot of hurt and lot of wasted energy from an addict and those close to them.  Treatment is a time of great relief and optimism for most people.  Many people go into the beginning of recovery with the best intentions, and doing the things outlined above can help develop the foundation needed for an addict and their loved ones to build the great life they have been waiting for.

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