When it comes to recovering from addiction, one of the most important things a person can do is surround themselves with supportive people. If you have a loved one who is currently under treatment or who has recently completed treatment, it is a good idea to find out how you can help them transition into their new life. Completing addiction treatment is an exciting and somewhat nerve-wracking process. Everyone wants to hope for the best, but sometimes it can be hard not to fear the worst.
As someone who has lived a lifetime of healing addictions, I can safely say that the love and support from my family has been an essential contributor to my long-term success. When you have a loved one starting their journey of sobriety, here are my top ten tips on how to give them the support that can help them succeed.
1. Support, but not activate
Learning the difference between helping and enabling is perhaps one of the most important things a person can do to help their loved one. Enablement can inadvertently be catastrophic for someone who is either currently struggling with an addiction or has had a history of drug addiction. If you are ever unsure whether something you are doing is activated or not, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you find out.
“Does what I do help the person grow and get better, or does it help them stay the same?”
“Do I allow unhealthy behavior to continue without consequences, or do I allow my loved one to experience the consequences of their actions so that they can learn from them?”
Sometimes it can be so difficult to allow loved ones to experience negative consequences from their actions. While it’s important to be kind and empathetic, it’s also important to let a loved one learn from their past mistakes. People who don’t experience the consequences of negative behavior will be less motivated to stop. Empowerment may feel helpful in the short run, but in the long run it does more harm than good.
2. Set limits
While setting boundaries feels like some form of “hard love,” they are one of the most loving things anyone can do for their relationship. Limitations are fundamental when it comes to recovery from addiction. People in recovery need to know and hold to their limits to sobriety. It is not advisable for someone recovering from alcoholism to hang out in a bar with their friends. The main goals of border building should be to maintain sobriety and create healthy relationships.
3. Focus on communication
Communication skills often degenerate in the course of an addiction. People dealing with drug problems often find it difficult to face their feelings and express themselves. It is a good idea that the person on the path to recovery develop their communication skills and that their family work to develop them as well. A good treatment program will help this process in some way.
4. Make your home a safe place
It’s not fair to send someone for addiction treatment and tell them to get well and then have drugs and alcohol in the house when they get home. If you want your loved one to succeed on their path to sobriety then it is necessary that you make the home a safe place for them. If you have addicting recipes around the house, it would be a good idea to invest in a small safe and keep it under lock and key and out of sight.
5. Exploring the limits
Before your loved one comes home, it is advisable to discuss your expectations and their limitations, which are necessary in order to sustain their recovery. When they first come home, it would not be unreasonable to ask them to be home at a certain hour and to stay away from negative influences. These may be uncomfortable conversations, but they will go a long way in restoring confidence.
6. Make them sure to say no
Your loved one needs to know that it is okay for them to say no to things that are uncomfortable for them. Enforcing restrictions can mean missing certain events early in their recovery or spending less time with certain people. Even if it feels like a victim in the beginning, it’s better than trying to deal with things the person isn’t finished with. Expecting a loved one who has just completed treatment to attend a wedding with an open bar where everyone gets drunk does not help their recovery. The more sober time you have, the better equipped you are for such situations.
7. Communicate your feelings lovingly
It would be understandable that you may have some unresolved feelings and hurt from the damage caused during the active phase of addiction. While it is important that you can communicate with your loved one about these things in order to begin the healing process, it is also important to be loving and empathetic. When someone is working hard to make real change happen, hearing about past behaviors all the time isn’t very encouraging. It is beneficial to address past injuries and then find a way to leave them behind.
8. Set reasonable expectations
The first time they come home from treatment, your loved one may take some time to adjust to a sober life outside of the rehab setting. It is important to be patient with them as they make this transition. While you would surely want them to honor their commitments and keep up with their fair share, please understand that they will need a little more patience in the early days.
9. Find your support system
When someone you love goes through an addiction it is very stressful and can be a somewhat traumatic experience for yourself. Addiction causes widespread harm to family members. Because of the impact your loved one’s addiction may have had on you, it would be good for you to develop your own support system. Sometimes we all need someone to talk to or to hang out with in order to cope with the challenging aspects of our lives. It is important to realize that healing can take place on your side too, and if so, that’s okay and there is no shame in reaching out for help on your own.
10. Confront and evaluate your own relationship with addiction
If you suspect you may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, now is the perfect time to get a handle on the problem. If you feel like you cannot stay sober around your loved one, it may be time to evaluate your own situation. If so, the best thing you can do to help yourself is to seek help. Not only will it help the person you love stay sober, but it will also help you succeed in your life.
Reviewed by Matt Hawk, BS, CADC-II, ICADC