How to Help a Loved One While They’re in Recovery
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How to Help a Loved One While They’re in Recovery


It’s almost hard to believe, but nearly one in every 10 Americans suffers from addiction. And for every person who struggles with substance abuse, countless others are struggling, too. Addiction affects everyone—not just the individual. Very often, they find themselves in addiction’s grasp almost as much as the person who’s going through it first-hand. Depending on the degree to which someone you love is caught up in addiction, you can experience everything from dishonesty, trouble with the law, theft, or simply wondering where your loved one is. People who are lost in active addiction often cause crisis situations for everyone around them and, unfortunately, there’s generally no relief for anyone until that person finds long-term sobriety. However, when a loved one finally begins to recover from addiction through treatment, there are many ways you can show support while you recover, too.

Addiction is a family disease. There’s no other way around it. Addiction puts a tremendous strain on parents, spouses, children and many other family members. So educating yourself is one of the very first things you can do to help yourself understand what you’re up against in terms of addiction. It’s time to learn facts about addiction rather than falling prey to myths or common misconceptions. When your loved one is in treatment, they’re learning about how to become a better person and how to live a healthier life. They’re coming out from under the long shadow of addiction where life has withered. But, fortunately, life hasn’t died. There’s still hope. The next thing you should do is take advantage of family therapy programs wherever possible. Programs like these are offered by treatment centers that understand the disease model of addiction. Family therapy programs provide support in order to help you address and heal from the issues that occurred during your loved one’s addiction. The National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCAAD) for one, recommends family therapy to help re-balance the family and promote constructive communication between everyone. In some cases, family therapy can prevent the children of addicted people from falling victim to addiction themselves.

More than anything, it’s important for you to understand your role in your loved one’s recovery. Many things are simply out of your control. No matter how painful that may be to grasp at first, it’s true. Your loved one has to get sober for them, not for you or anyone else. To that end, they have to be self-motivated and do their own recovery work. You can’t be responsible for doing another person’s heavy lifting when it comes to addiction recovery. You have to set boundaries and limits on your expectations as well as theirs. You can’t fall victim (again) to someone who has used you in one way or another. Very often, people enable others with drugs or alcohol without even knowing it. Giving a loved one money, for example, simply helps that person continue their use. The best thing you can do is stick to the boundaries you’ve established, no matter how much you may want to give in. It’s not an easy thing to do and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. It requires you to take a deliberate step backward from their lives while they sort out what’s next for them.

As your loved one slowly finds recovery through 12-step programs, you should know that there are 12-step support groups for family members, too. Al-Anon or Nar-Anon are helpful in reminding you that you and your family are not alone. After all, learning how to help support a loved one without falling prey to old behaviors or enabling them is a tricky balancing act. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are peer-led groups that can help you through the difficulty of it all. Members share their experiences of what it’s like living with a person in active addiction, which helps everyone understand where they’re coming from and what they’re facing. By the same token, you need to focus on your own needs. Maybe a 12-step group isn’t right for you. You may also consider a personal therapist, who can help you heal in a one-on-one setting.

Coping skills are also vital to the recovery process—not only just for your loved one, but for you, too. For most people, addiction has destroyed all of their routines and regiments. Exercise, for example, is a hugely important skill in recovery. In fact, it’s crucial for people who deal with an unusual amount of stress. It’s good for decreasing stress, anxiety, depression and boosting the immune system. When you take time to exercise, you’re taking time to care for yourself—something you probably haven’t done in a long time. In addition to exercise, developing good communication skills is important. When you’re able to express your feelings, opinions and concerns without worrying about what response you’re going to get from the other person, you’re one step close to having a happy and healthy home life.

When it comes right down to it, addiction is called a “family disease” because it directly affects the next generation. Children of people struggling with alcohol or drugs suffer in many different ways—chiefly, they may have feelings of loneliness, guilt, helplessness or low self-esteem. They may also be afraid of being abandoned or suffer from chronic depression later in life. Teenagers who live with alcoholic parents are more likely than others to have consumed alcohol in the last month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said. Young children typically demonstrate stress through a wide range of symptoms, including nightmares, bed-wetting and uncontrolled crying. Children react differently to growing up in a dysfunctional home, so it’s difficult to say how they’ll react. But as they get older, they may find it difficult to form friendships. They may also show depressive symptoms of hoarding, perfectionism, shyness and debilitating self-consciousness. And while the jury is still out on whether addiction is rooted in nature or nurture, all that matters in the end is that the cycle of addiction has been broken and healing can finally begin.

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