Supporting Loved Ones in Addiction Recovery

Ioana Cozma
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen
Written by Ioana Cozma on 18 July 2023
Medically reviewed by Dr. Jenni Jacobsen on 05 June 2024

Addiction recovery is a long journey and one that can be difficult to go through without support. As the partner, friend, or family member of someone recovering from addiction, you can help your loved one through this period by educating yourself, being empathetic, and getting professional support. This guide shows you all the practical advice, plus specific tips for partners, parents, teens, and friends fighting addiction.

Supporting Loved Ones in Addiction Recovery

What is addiction recovery?

Addiction recovery refers to the arduous process of overcoming drug or alcohol abuse, with two main goals:

  • Address the underlying causes of addiction.
  • Help people achieve and maintain sobriety through healthy coping mechanisms.

To achieve these goals, the process of overcoming addiction entails three stages:

Tips for helping a loved one in recovery

Support is invaluable to help your loved one recover from their addiction and regain control of their life. Here are some actionable tips.

1. Consult a therapist

While the person recovering from addiction will almost certainly be involved in some form of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, it may be beneficial for you to attend therapy as well. This can help you cope through difficult times, learn how to be supportive, and explore your own emotions around the person's addiction.

2. Ensure you have the right support first

Helping someone navigate their addiction and the complex issues that caused it can be as mentally and physically draining for you as it is for them.

This journey for you both:

  • Will evoke a range of stressful experiences and past traumas.
  • Is an ongoing, long-term process.
  • Requires dedication, patience, and empathy from all involved

Handling the addiction recovery process efficiently from your end allows you to remain a steadfast rock for the person you’re helping.

So, consider:

3. Learn more about substance addiction

Substance addiction is a difficult disorder. Your best intentions and love are not always enough to help people conquer dependency.

You should educate yourself to:

  • Learn different ways of taking drugs, such as snorting, injecting, or boofing, so you can identify if they have been using again
  • Identify signs of substance use disorder
  • Learn their triggers
  • Hone your language and interactions
  • Empower yourself with effective tools (i.e., planning, menial activities, or cognitive behavioral therapy)

4. Make a plan

People in recovery thrive in structured environments and often require plans and organization to navigate their recovery.

So, based on your own therapy and research, you can help your loved one make a solid recovery plan. You can help them:

  • Structure their days so they avoid unoccupied periods, from waking up to meal prepping.
  • Find the right support groups and programs according to their needs.
  • Find activities and interests that redirect their urges into constructive behaviors.
  • Become empowered through reading, helping others, or developing new skills.

5. Don’t force anything

Even if you have the best intentions, it’s essential not to force anything.

  • Avoid manipulative language such as, “If you really loved me, you would give it up.”
  • Don’t trick them with surprise visits to a psychologist.
  • Don’t organize interventions.
  • Don’t yell, cry, or beg.
  • Don’t persist.
  • Don’t remind them about their past.

According to former substance users, confrontations are effective when they:

  • Come from trustworthy, important people
  • Occur in the early stages of recovery, particularly after an intense event
  • Offer hope
  • Offer practical help

Helping a partner in recovery

Helping a partner in recovery is different from simply being a supportive friend or family member.

  • You have different dynamics: Sharing a home can be more challenging, but it also gives you more insights into their cravings, triggers, and strategies to avoid relapse.
  • You play a more significant role: You may have to attend support groups or therapy sessions together.
  • Couple relationships may add to the difficulty: A non-judgmental and empathetic approach is essential, but it may be tougher on you both.

Helping a teen in recovery

When helping a teen in recovery, you must pay attention to:

  • Age-specific challenges: Peer pressure and their developing sense of identity, accompanied by stubbornness, can make addiction recovery harder.
  • Developmental stage: Teens’ brains are still developing, so you must offer them more sensitive recovery support. You need to be non-confrontational and ensure they have solid peer support.
  • The other family members: Your teen’s recovery will affect their parents and siblings, who also need empathetic support.
  • Trends: You must find out popular substances among teens and trends they take part in, such as the BORG drinking trend.

Helping a parent in recovery

Helping a parent in recovery has better outcomes by reinforcing abstinence. To maximize your results, consider:

  • Role dynamics: You may need to bring them more proof and count on specialized help, especially if you are still perceived as the child.
  • Communication style: Your parent may respond to another communication style. For example, a professional can convince them more effectively.
  • Ingrained biases: Your parents might have specific biases regarding your relationship or substance abuse, particularly alcohol. They might not realize they have a problem in the first place.

Helping a friend in recovery

Friends in recovery might be easier to help because they are likelier to listen to you. And their situation evokes less personal trauma compared to a parent or child.

Still, consider:

  • Friendship dynamics: Although your friends can be more open and honest than your teens, they can challenge your boundaries and privacy.
  • Support style: While your partner or teen may need you to take on practical responsibilities, supporting a friend might entail limiting yourself to emotional support.
  • Confidentiality: Friends may have different expectations around privacy, so be clear about what information you can and cannot share.

Resources:

  1. (2020, October 14). The Five Stages of Addiction Recovery. Recovery at the Crossroads.
  2. (n.d.). The Role of the Substance Abuse Counselor in Addiction Recovery. Wake Forest University.
  3. Cherney, K. (2019, March 7). How to Cope When Someone in Your Household Lives with Addiction. Healthline.
  4. Finch, A. J., Jurinsky, J., & Anderson, B. M. (2020). Recovery and Youth: An Integrative Review. Alcohol research: current reviews, 40(3), 06.
  5. Jahan AR, Burgess DM. Substance Use Disorder. [Updated 2023 Apr 29]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:
  6. Jessup, M. A., Ross, T. B., Jones, A. L., Satre, D. D., Weisner, C. M., Chi, F. W., & Mertens, J. R. (2014). Significant life events and their impact on alcohol and drug use: a qualitative study. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 46(5), 450–459.
  7. Laudet, A. B., Savage, R., & Mahmood, D. (2002). Pathways to long-term recovery: a preliminary investigation. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 34(3), 305–311.
  8. McCrady, B. S., & Flanagan, J. C. (2021). The Role of the Family in Alcohol Use Disorder Recovery for Adults. Alcohol Research, 41(1).
  9. Melemis S. M. (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 88(3), 325–332.

Polcin, D. L., Mulia, N., & Jones, L. (2012). Substance users' perspectives on helpful and unhelpful confrontation: implications for recovery. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 44(2), 144–152.

Activity History - Last updated: 05 June 2024, Published date:


Reviewer

Dr. Jenni Jacobsen has a PhD in psychology, and she teaches courses on mental health and addiction at the university level and has written content on mental health and addiction for over 10 years.

Activity History - Medically Reviewed on 17 July 2023 and last checked on 05 June 2024

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen

PhD

Dr. Jenni Jacobsen

Reviewer

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