September is National Recovery Month, a time to help raise awareness and understanding of mental health and substance use disorders and to celebrate those in recovery from addiction. Approximately 22 million Americans struggle with addiction to alcohol and drugs on a daily basis, and another 100 million family members and friends share their pain. Loved ones of an addicted individual suffer just as much, if not more, than the addicted individual themselves. Therefore, for those who have a loved one in recovery from addiction, we first and foremost hope that you have your own support and find healing as well. On this website you can find resources, articles, and support for family members and friends; however, this specific article is devoted to how best to support your loved one in recovery.
1. Check in on them and actively listen.
Especially in the age of COVID-19, when many are experiencing feelings of loneliness, it is more important than ever to check in on your loved ones and see how they are feeling and doing. We all need and want to be heard and listened to. Be sure to be interested and engaged when your loved one is sharing something with you. Demonstrate concern and paraphrase them to ensure that you are understanding them and show that you are listening to them. Even if you may not agree with them, affirm their feelings.
2. Reduce friction and unnecessary arguments.
Family stress can contribute to a drug or alcohol relapse, and/or exacerbate underlying mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Do your part to develop healthy communication and open dialogue in order to help facilitate constructive support. Try to spend meaningful and positive time together and try to stay away from unneeded or unwanted topics of discussion.
3. Encourage healthy habits.
Whether it be open communication, proper sleep hygiene, exercise, eating healthy meals, or abstaining from alcohol, drugs and nicotine, show your support by living a healthy lifestyle yourself. This has many benefits beyond supporting your loved one, as this will help improve your own mental, physical and spiritual health, and can also be a source of bonding and healing between you and your loved one in recovery.
4. Don’t judge.
Individuals in recovery from drugs and alcohol often have dealt with a great deal of guilt and shame in their past and may still be holding onto negative feelings about self. They do not need to be made to feel worse by being judged. Instead of judging, accept them, love them, and appreciate them for who they are. They have probably come a long way.
5. Encourage and support them.
Show your loved one encouragement and support by demonstrating how proud you are of their recovery. A few simple words of encouragement and support can go a long way. Also, encourage them to attend mutual help groups, addiction recovery treatment, therapy, and other recovery related outlets.
6. Practice patience.
Know that nobody changes overnight. While an individual may be in recovery, they still might engage in unhealthy behaviors or make poor decisions. Recovery is much more than abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and healing and growth will take time. Furthermore, relapses or other setbacks do happen. If they do, continue to show love, concern, and support, and always practice patience with yourself and your loved one.
7. Educate yourself on addiction and recovery.
Know that addiction is not a matter of willpower, nor is it a moral failing. Addiction is a disease that hijacks the brain’s reward system, disrupts the part of the brain responsible for impulse control, and creates neurally embedded associations and memories with the individual’s addictive behavior, resulting in miniscule things triggering them that may not even enter the conscious mind.
Unfortunately, relapse rates are high. Approximately 40% to 60% of individuals relapse within the first 30 days of leaving an inpatient drug and alcohol treatment center, and up to 85% relapse within the first year of recovery. As such, never be fooled into thinking one is “cured” of their addiction. Rather, it is a lifelong process.
Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and harm-reduction or moderation management strategies can be effective, and not all individuals will achieve complete abstinence, at least not in the early stages of their recovery, and that is ok. Also, learn the signs of relapse including red flags to look out for that one might be headed towards a relapse, as well as signs and symptoms that one is under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
8. Set healthy boundaries.
Oftentimes poor boundaries are formed during active addiction and may continue into recovery. It is important that all individuals take inventory of any enabling, co-dependency, or other such unhealthy behaviors. This is for the benefit of all individuals involved.
9. Reduce environmental triggers.
Avoid keeping alcohol or drugs in the home and abstain from using alcohol and drugs yourself. If you do drink alcohol, make sure to not do so in the presence of your loved one in recovery. If you have prescription medications keep them locked up and out of sight of your loved one in recovery. Help them avoid social situations where there is a risk of relapse or support them by going with them to help keep them accountable.
10. Learn to let go, engage in self-care, and find your own support.
As noted at the top of the article, it is so important to find your own source of healing. Proper self-care and support will not only help you, but will also demonstrate recovery related behaviors to your loved one in recovery. Traditional support for loved ones can be found through mutual help groups such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, SMART Family & Friends, and other such groups as well as via family support groups provided by various inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment centers or addiction specialists, or via seeing a therapist specializing in addiction and family dynamics.
For more information on addiction treatment, therapy and mental health, sober coaching, sober companions, or to inquire about our private concierge therapy services and/or our teletherapy services (online therapy/virtual therapy) in New York City please contact our undisclosed therapy office location in the Upper East Side of NYC today at (929) 220-2912.