Supporting a Loved One in Recovery

Walking Hand in Hand After Alcohol Recovery
August 8, 2017
|   Updated:
October 29, 2021

It has been proven that individuals in treatment for alcoholism will have a higher success rate with outside support. In fact, it is one of the most important factors in maintaining long-term recovery. That being said, many friends and family members don’t know what to do in order to support the person struggling with addiction. The answer to this one is pretty simple: just ask.

Inpatient Treatment Support

If your loved one is in inpatient treatment, this may be the first time they’ve had to think about who they want to be outside of their addiction. Their counselor and their peers in treatment will help with this. But they may contact you about visiting them in treatment, possibly in a joint counseling session, or as part of a social or family day. You may even be able to take them on day trips as they progress, depending on the length of stay. The extent of your involvement will be up to the person in treatment. You should always wait for an invite; don’t show up unannounced.

You can also send your loved one supportive cards, letters, and packages. Keep in mind facility staff will search all items, and anything containing alcohol (including perfume and hand sanitizer) will be confiscated. And it goes without saying you should not send other banned substances.

Outpatient Treatment Support

A person in outpatient treatment may have different needs than someone in inpatient treatment. They may need a ride to a support group meeting, financial support so they can find an apartment, or just someone to spend time with when they feel triggered to drink. Your loved one could also tell you they don’t need anything, even so try to check in on them regularly, and be supportive by lending a listening ear. Many alcoholics feel isolated and alone, but don’t want or know how to express these feelings. Isolation can often lead to relapse, so do your best to be there for someone in treatment.

Other Ways to Support Sobriety

Be Available to Listen

If the person doesn’t want to discuss their treatment with you, it can be hard not to pry, but trust that your loved one will share when they are ready. Some find it easier to relate to others in treatment at first, which is where peer support groups like Al-Anon come in handy. This, however, doesn’t mean the person won’t need your companionship. Knowing that you’re available if needed can be an invaluable resource for them. If the emotional distance is too troubling, you may find solace in a recovery support group of your own.

Encourage Sobriety

Another way to help is not to contribute to the problem. Many people, even with the best of intentions, engage in behavior that can cause stress for the person in recovery. Some of these behaviors include, but are not limited to:

  • Keeping alcohol out or in sight when the recovering person visits their home. Make sure to put any alcohol out of sight, disposing of it completely if necessary.
  • Meet in restaurants or bars. Find places to meet where alcohol is not served, or at least isn’t the venue’s focus.
  • Calling people from the recovering person’s former addictive lifestyle to meet up. Surround them with people who are supportive of their recovery; not former drinking buddies.
  • Assuming that your loved one can have “just one beer” or “drink moderately”. For some people one drink can cause a slip up that leads to a full-blown relapse..”
  • Spreading gossip about the person attending treatment, even if done so out of pride. It is best to let them share the information as they wish.

Educate Yourself on Addiction and Recovery

Another great form of support is education. Learn all you can about what treatment looks like from every angle. You can even call the treatment center and ask for general information about their programs. Some have compiled recommended reading lists for family members. However, the staff will not give you specific information on your loved one as they are bound by a code of ethics.

Support Your Loved One’s Recovery

What this all adds up to is that people in recovery need compassion and understanding. Let them decide how you can encourage them in whatever form is the most helpful. If you are prepared to give them what they need, you will be contributing to what will hopefully be a successful long-term recovery.

About the Author

Kathleen Esposito is a certified addictions counselor in the Pacific Northwest. She helps individuals recover from drug, alcohol and gambling dependencies through group and individual therapy and regularly speaks at treatment centers.

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