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10 Ways You Can Help And Support a Loved One in Recovery

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

August 20, 2021 (Originally Published)

February 16, 2024 (Last Updated)

Table of Contents

Helping a loved on in recovery or with a current addiction is no easy task. Often times people don’t know what to say or how to support their loved one. But know, that you are not alone. According to data from the 2019 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), over 20 million people in the United States have a substance use disorder. Among these, 71% have alcohol use disorder, 41% had an illicit drug disorder in the previous year, and almost 12% had a dual diagnosis (addiction co-occurring with a mental health condition).

Given these sobering statistics, there’s every chance one of your loved ones will struggle with addiction and recovery. If so, today’s guide on helping them as effectively as possible should give you some inspiration.

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How to Most Effectively Support a Loved One in Recovery

1. Put yourself first

2. Keep your expectations reasonable

3. Learn as much as you can about substance abuse

4. Be compassionate in your care

5. Expect difficulties rather than rapid and dramatic change

6. Accept that recovery is a lifelong process not a single event

7. Never use your love and support as a weapon or threat

8. Encourage your loved one to engage with support groups if appropriate

9. Explore support groups for families of substance abusers if you’re struggling

10.  Be supportive without ever enabling your loved one’s addiction

1) Put yourself first

Sometimes supporting a loved one struggling with an addiction is cutting ties. Putting your foot down, and telling them you’re going to leave. Or telling your son or daughter, you will no longer support them financially, until they get sober. When someone is grappling with substance use disorder, the problem ripples far beyond that person and strongly impacts the family, too. It’s commonplace for family members caring for someone in the throes of active addiction to put the needs of that person above their own. This is inadvisable.

By neglecting your own needs, you’ll expose yourself to the risk of depression, anxiety, and physical illness. At the same time, if you feel run down and unwell yourself, you’re unlikely to offer your loved one the robust support they need in their hour of need.

So, it’s not remotely selfish to place your own needs uppermost. Indeed, it’s only by adopting this strategy that you’ll enable yourself to act as the rock your loved one needs right now.

2) Keep your expectations reasonable

For anyone who supports someone addicted to alcohol or drugs, sobriety is the overarching desire most experience.

Unfortunately, if you view rehab as a cure for addiction, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Recovery is a process rather than an event, and while detox is a vital component of recovery, it’s also just the first step down the long road to sustained sobriety.

You should also avoid imagining that cleaning up will instantly eliminate all problems from your relationship or your loved one’s life in general. Rehab is not a magic bullet.

3) Learn as much as you can about substance abuse

Addiction is a disease. When you’re dealing with any form of chronic illness, if you educate yourself about it as much as possible, you’ll be far better placed to deal with it.

Explore substance use disorder and addiction in broad terms. Investigate the best treatment options for your loved one if they have not already cleaned up.

Once you feel you better understand what motivates people to use drink or drugs, double down on your loved one’s addiction specifically.

Under no circumstances use this newly acquired knowledge to lecture or pressure your loved one in any way. This tactic seldom pays dividends when you’re dealing with someone battling addiction, anyway. If anything, it can provoke resistance, sometimes even outright denial. Instead, you should feel more confident discussing issues related to recovery and addiction, and you should develop a firmer understanding of your loved one’s motivations.

4) Be compassionate in your care

Very few people would blame someone afflicted with any form of physical disease, so there’s no excuse not to be compassionate when you’re caring for a loved one addicted to drink or drugs. The widely accepted contemporary view is that addiction is a disease, so anyone afflicted with it deserves a degree of compassion and understanding.

By educating yourself about education as above, it should make it easier for you to accept that your loved one is not necessarily being deliberately destructive in their actions, and that addiction is not a choice.

Set clear boundaries and ensure that they are respected, but remain as compassionate as possible while you aim to put some structure back into your loved one’s life.

5) Expect difficulties rather than rapid and dramatic change

Detox and rehab are tough, but this is just the beginning of an ongoing struggle for your addicted loved one. Once they leave the cocoon of a treatment center and re-engage with normal life, the struggle will continue.

Expecting – or even worse demanding – instant change is unrealistic and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

You should accept that relapse is a strong possibility. Between 40% and 60% of those engaging with addiction treatment will relapse at least once. If your loved one slips up, don’t add to the shame and embarrassment they’ll already be feeling. Instead, help them to double down on staying sober.

It is also possible that treatment, whether medication-assisted treatment or psychotherapy – may not work and might need adjusting. Be supportive of all blips and roadblocks rather than reacting angrily.

6) Accept that recovery is a lifelong process not a single event

We cannot emphasize strongly enough that recovery from addiction is gradual and not necessarily linear.

The relapse rate among recovering addicts is as high as two in three. As your loved one remains abstinent for longer, so the likelihood of relapse will decrease.

Perhaps the best advice we can give is to prepare for relapse, have strategies in place for dealing with your loved one relapsing, and then do everything you can to prevent them slipping up in the first place.

7) Never use your love and support as a weapon or threat

When your partner is abusing drink or drugs, resorting to statements like, “You’d quit if you loved me!” is almost always counterproductive.

Instead of using threats or pressure, undercut your statements with love. Stress to your partner that they are not alone, and that you will help them every step of the way on their recovery journey.

It’s a precarious balancing act trying to use love and compassion without straying into the territory of enabling your loved one’s addiction, but it’s a balance worth striking.

8) Encourage your loved one to engage with support groups if appropriate

Not everyone who completes a course of addiction treatment feels the need to engage with 12-step support groups like AA and NA. For many, though, 12-step meetings are a crucial component of ongoing recovery.

If your loved one finds these peer-support groups advocating total abstinence beneficial, show as much interest as possible in what your loved one wants to share about their experience. Encourage attendance and be supportive of their willingness to stay clean and sober at all costs.

9) Explore support groups for families of substance abusers if you’re struggling

Support groups exist for the families of those addicted to drink and drugs.

Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are the equivalent of AA and NA, but intended for those with addicted loved ones.

If you’re finding it tough helping your partner through active addiction and into recovery, you may find the emotional support and connectedness of these support groups beneficial. You have nothing to lose by attending a meeting.

10) Be supportive without ever enabling your loved one’s addiction

If your loved one has not yet engaged with addiction treatment, make certain you are not enabling their addiction in any way. Do not provide funds for drink or drugs, do not cover for the consequences of their behaviors, and never encourage them in any way to use drink or drugs.

You should also begin the slow process of easing them toward the right type of treatment program…

If your friend is newly sober, you can check out this article.

How To Support A Loved One Through Treatment

The fact that your loved one is in treatment speaks volumes about their strength and ability to overcome their problems. They should be commended and encouraged for their bravery and commitment to getting help. Some specific ways you can help during this time include:

  • Provide transportation for them if needed to get to therapy
  • Be a listening ear when necessary
  • Don’t judge or be harsh if they relapse
  • Attend family therapy with them
  • Help them with relapse prevention by learning their triggers
  • Avoid doing anything that would trigger them

There are many ways that you can learn how to support a loved one through treatment. Sometimes the person going through the therapy will provide you with ways to do it. They may tell you what they need to make it through successfully. Be supportive of their goals and learn as much as you can about their disorder and treatment needs.

Help Your Loved One Engage with Addiction Treatment

Maybe your loved one is still abusing drink or drugs and not yet committed to recovery. Feel free to reach out to our friendly team for more information about the many treatment programs we have available.

Using an evidence-based combination of medication-assisted treatment and psychotherapy like cognitive behavioral therapy and DBT, we’ll help you and your loved one reclaim the lives stolen from you by addiction. We understand that addiction is a family disease, and we can help you as well as your addicted loved one.

To get the conversation started, call the Renaissance Recovery’s California or Florida rehab right now at 866.330.9449



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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