How to Support a Loved One In Recovery

Hug in sobriety visit

It can be nerve-racking to have a family member new in their pursuit of sobriety or returning from treatment. Some families have a hard time knowing what to do. While many families want to be supportive and trusting, they may have tried and failed to get their loved one help in the past, making their continued support difficult.

However, family support is critical to someone in the early stages of recovery, so much so that family support could make the difference between lasting recovery and relapse. We hope this guide will give you some information on how you can best support your loved one on their new sober path.

The relationship between your loved one and yourself should have been addressed while they were in addiction treatment. This way, they are in a controlled environment with professional support if they get upset. However, if this has not been done it is the first thing to do when they return—reestablish your relationship. Set aside time to talk to them as soon as they get home and let them know how happy you are with their progress.

There are many ways to view the complex dynamic that happens in a family. While some programs use the term “enabling” to describe some of the negative aspects of these relationships, the positive aspects are often overlooked. Communication is ultimately the best way to ensure that you are being supportive, while still encouraging responsibility and independence. “Enabling,” if there is such a thing, would then be to “enable” your loved one to continue to behave as they did before treatment.

There are certainly things a family member should not do, certain things that would result in the person newly home from treatment, reverting to their old behavior. Ultimately, the addict must learn, that no matter what is happening in the family it’s up to them to be responsible for their own behavior. Anything a family member does to allow an addict to continue the destructive behavior of the past should be avoided. A typical example of this would be giving the person money when they ask for it, knowing they will likely spend it on drugs. So if “enabling” can be damaging, how can a family member help?

Addicts newly in recovery may not be in good health due to not taking care of themselves and having a poor diet while they were using. Drugs will create deficiencies by burning up the nutrients in the body and slowing the absorption of minerals and vitamins. Providing vitamins and good healthy food is a simple way you can be supportive. The deficiencies created and malnourishment can contribute to the addict experiencing cravings so you want to do all you can to help them feel healthy. When a recovered addict feels physically unwell, they can begin to seek out solutions that are less than optimal, and this can turn to drug use.

Understanding how old behaviors, poor communication, and irresponsibility on the part of the individual can lead to drug cravings and ultimately relapse is an important way family members can help the individual stay sober. Often people in recovery speak of “triggers” and certainly there are cases where environments can result in past bad experiences creeping back into the present, cravings themselves are an early warning sign of a potential relapse—a warning to the individual that they need to alter their behavior. This could mean breaking up with a significant other, moving into a new place, or getting a new job. Making these kinds of changes and accepting responsibility for the behavior which is “triggering” the cravings is critical to avoiding relapse in the long term.

We often recommend a change of location after a person has completed treatment. However, this may not always be possible since the only option may be for them to return and live with family. If they are returning to their old environment when completing treatment, they should stay away from any old relationships they had with other addicts. Spending time with other addicts or even individuals who are new in recovery themselves is a slippery slope. When recovering and trying to stand on your own two feet, it is best to avoid these relationships. The stories of a recovered addict relapsing and taking down several others around them, causing an entire group to relapse, are all too common.

Learning to develop and maintain good communications with your loved one is another important way you can help them. Emotional upset, memories of past wrongs, and hidden harmful acts can create an extreme level of discomfort for someone newly in recovery. While they may have learned tools to help deal with these emotions, it’s likely that jumping into an argument with the family members who they wronged in the past is not the best start to a homecoming. Even if you are still mad over something they have done, attacking them will not get you the reaction you seek. No matter what apologies or explanations you feel you deserve, stay away from conversations about the person’s past use. Hopefully, the person will feel comfortable discussing it with you, but until they are ready it will likely only create further conflict.

Family talk

You want your loved one to see your relationship with them as a safe space where they can discuss what they are dealing with without judgment or ridicule. This will put you in a position where they feel comfortable enough to open up to you if they are having problems or cravings. This will give them an outlet, which can make the difference between being able to talk their way out of their stress and cravings and a relapse.

Another critical factor in early recovery is goals. This may be one of the biggest impacts you can make on your loved one’s recovery. Sitting down with them and going over what short and/or long-term goals they have can put their focus on the future and not the past. Then help them work out a plan on how they can achieve what they want. You can make a lot of headway by setting targets for them on achieving the steps of the plan and checking on their progress and encouraging them. Make sure to congratulate them when they achieve a goal or have been working hard. If they slip and are struggling to achieve it, do not get into berating them. Instead, find out what they are having trouble with and see if you can help either personally or by helping them find a resource to assist them.

I hope you found this article helpful. If you are still looking for treatment for your loved one, you can find information on our program on this site. In addition, if we are not a good fit, we will still help you find a treatment center that does. Please give us a call.



Aaron has been writing drug education articles and documenting the success of the Narconon program for over two years.