Seeing someone you love suffer through the painful cycle of addiction is heart-wrenching. It’s hard to see a loved one’s health and life unravel before your eyes because they’re consumed by toxic behaviours. However, your care and support are essential when your loved one is ready to tackle their addiction and make a move towards recovery. It is your care and support that may also lead them to choose a life of sobriety.
While addiction recovery is ultimately in the hands of the person in a recovery program or receiving treatment, there are ways that friends and family members can offer support to make long-term sobriety a reality for their loved one.
Recovery from addiction is a lifelong journey of growth and development. Detox and treatment are only the first steps. As an ongoing process, those in recovery require a strong network of supporters throughout their journey with which to share their trials and triumphs. Here are ways you can effectively support a loved one in recovery:
Learn about addiction and recovery
Helping to fight an enemy you don’t understand isn’t effective. By learning about addiction and recovery, you are better equipped to help your loved one through their process. When you understand how addiction affects the brain, it is easier to offer compassionate support through your loved one’s transition from active addiction to recovery. Learning about the signs of addiction, treatments available, relapse triggers and recovery in general, arms you with the tools and knowledge to effectively handle the challenges that your loved one will meet.
Find support for yourself
Addiction doesn’t just affect the addict, but also all those in the addict’s life. If your loved one has been struggling with alcoholism or drug abuse, you may have adopted a codependent role, unknowingly participating in enabling behaviors. This can be extremely trying and wearing on your own life and happiness, especially when someone else’s problems are internalized and taken on as your own.
Support groups, such as Al-anon are for those close to addicts who have their own recovery process to go through. Individual therapy can also help you work through the many emotions that loving an addict can bring about.
Oftentimes, people will feel shame about their loved one’s deteriorating situation and clam up or shut down without expressing their own feelings. But, when they do break their silence, they find others who have been similarly affected and who are able to offer a wealth of advice, empathy, and support from a place of common understanding. Finding a community that can help you is essential for being an effective supporter for your loved one. To take care of others, we must take care of ourselves first.
Say something. Express your concern
Talking about the problem can be healing both for the person trying to overcome addiction as well as their loved ones. Its about expressing how you feel without judgment or using accusatory language but sharing your concern. Your loved one will have their own shame and guilt about their past behaviors and using attack laden language or blaming them will deter them from sharing their trials, truths, and tribulations with you in the future. What they need is your support and love, not your judgment.
By cultivating an open dialogue, you are also securing your best chance that when your loved one is “ready” to talk, they’ll want to do so with you. Remember that addiction is not a moral failing or a lack of willpower.
Be available to listen to your loved one’s victories and struggles throughout the recovery process. Sometimes, most times, people just want to be heard. Actively listening to your loved one through their recovery process shows that you truly support their efforts and want to see them succeed in their sobriety. Additionally, when they are struggling with their recovery process or feel that they want to relapse, just talking it out can help the feelings pass. Encourage their efforts and remind them of why they chose their recovery path to begin with.
Learn about how you have been enabling the addiction and stop all enabling behaviors. You need to remain strong and set boundaries with your loved ones. If these boundaries are violated and you don’t set consequences, then your credibility goes out the window and you are inadvertently perpetuating your loved one’s addiction i.e. enabling their behaviors. When an addict realizes the consequences of their behavior are real, this ends up helping them recognize the seriousness of their problem – and it is at this time that most seek help.
Create a Safe & Sober Environment
After detox or treatment, the ongoing process of recovery begins. Temptations will arise and understanding triggers are useful for keeping relapse at bay for your loved one. You can help your loved one by removing any and all temptations, much like not keeping cookies stocked when you’re on a diet. By facilitating a safe and sober environment, you make it easier for your loved one to acclimatize to their new life in recovery.
Realize that changes don’t happen overnight. Recovery is an ongoing process that requires work on the part of the person overcoming their addiction. Many feelings and emotions have to be worked through and new behaviors need to be established. This takes time. True change happens gradually. Be patient with your loved one throughout the process and help them celebrate each step in their road to recovery. With every little progression that is made, cheer them on and let them know that you’re proud of what they’ve accomplished. This will help them solidify their decision about sobriety and help them continue down their path to healthy living free from addiction.