Updated on March 26, 2024
7 min read

What Makes a Strong Recovery Support System?

Recovering from addiction can be harrowing and isolating—but it doesn’t have to be. The love and support of those who care for you can bring warmth and strength to your recovery journey, even during difficult times.

A solid support system is an important factor in long-term addiction recovery. They can help prevent isolation and depression, which can reduce the likelihood of a relapse. They can also encourage you and motivate you to continue your recovery journey.

A good support system can care for you and keep you accountable for your actions. But what makes a healthy support system? In this article, we’ll explore what it means to build a support system.

Who Should Be Part of Your Recovery Support System?

The people in your support system should be understanding, empathetic, trustworthy, and compassionate. It should include people who are good influences, care for you when you need it the most, and are open about communicating their boundaries.

You should ask these people outright if they’d be willing to help you in your journey and if they’d be open to you relying on them for extra support. Supporting someone recovering from addiction can be taxing, so make sure you clearly explain what you will need. 

While your support system can be great for your recovery journey, remember that they aren’t there to solve all your problems for you. Understand that some people won’t be up to the task as well.

You should consider the following when building your support network:

1. Family and Friends

Opening up to family and friends about addiction can be daunting, but these people are often the ones most willing to help you recover and stay sober. These people often want the best for you—recovery included.

Studies show that when a family member has an addiction, it can lead to various negative consequences. These problems can include stress, health issues, financial problems, and more.1

It may be helpful to consider family therapy, as uncovering family dynamics and potential conflict within the family can be helpful. The reason for addiction may even be rooted in family issues, and by addressing it, you open the doors to understanding, healing, and healthy familial relationships.

2. Sponsor or Mentor

A sponsor or recovery mentor can help you through addiction recovery. When choosing a sponsor, it’s important to find someone reliable, trustworthy, and understanding.

They can help you in different ways, including:

  • Offering friendship and support
  • Teaching you coping strategies
  • Helping you manage cravings
  • Supporting you through a relapse
  • Hold you accountable for your actions

Sponsors are typically people who have recovered from addiction as well. Because of this, they can offer advice based on experience and provide a unique perspective on recovery.

According to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) surveys, about 80% of its members currently have a sponsor. Approximately 72% gain a sponsor within the first three months of joining AA.2

3. Therapist or Counselor

A therapist or counselor plays an active role in your recovery from beginning to end. They provide a safe, non-judgmental space for you to explore your relationship with substance abuse.

They often work with doctors and other health professionals to create an addiction treatment plan tailored to your needs. They also offer a wide range of therapeutic techniques to help you manage cravings, triggers, and other problems you might face in recovery.

Therapists and counselors are also equipped to deal with the psychological and emotional weight you may be carrying. While friends and family are there to support you, they may not have the coping mechanisms or skills needed to handle the intense emotional swings involved in addiction.

4. Support Groups

Support groups provide a community of people with similar experiences. They can help you feel less alone when you’re struggling with addiction and offer different perspectives.

These groups also allow you to share your stories or experiences, benefiting your emotional health. Some examples of support groups include:

5. Your Doctor

Your doctor will know what medications you should take during recovery. Additionally, they can monitor how well you’ve been improving and how much you should be tapering.

However, the most important part of having a doctor is for an emergency crisis. During recovery, you may experience withdrawals or strange other symptoms. 

In this case, having a doctor on call can be lifesaving. It can also be good for your loved ones because a doctor can inform them about what they must do for you. 

Can Therapy Be Part of Your Support System?

As mentioned before, therapy is an essential part of the recovery process. By going through therapy, you can explore your thoughts and behavioral patterns related to addiction.

You can discover the root of your triggers and how they affect substance use in therapy. It can also address any underlying issue or mental health disorder (co-occurring disorders) that contribute to your addiction.

A study showed that half of psychotherapy patients improved after eight sessions. 75% got better after six months.3

Can Support Groups Aid in Recovery?

Support groups are a powerful tool for maintaining sobriety. They offer a safe space to share your experiences and challenges, surrounded by people who understand what you're going through.

This sense of community and understanding can be incredibly comforting in early recovery, helping to fight feelings of isolation. Listening to others' stories of addiction and recovery can also foster a sense of belonging.

There are many support group programs available, including online options, each offering unique approaches and strategies to help you on your journey.

Those who participated in peer support groups had reduced relapse rates from 24% to 7%.4

Why Are Boundaries Crucial in a Recovery Support System?

Setting boundaries is essential for both you and your loved one. This is because recovering from addiction is physically and emotionally taxing—not just on you but on those who love you as well.

Having boundaries can benefit your mental health and that of your loved ones in numerous ways, including:5,6

  • Allowing you to prioritize your needs and practice self-care 
  • Protecting you from toxic behaviors that can affect your recovery
  • Maintaining healthy and respectful relationships by setting clear expectations for support
  • Preventing codependency
  • Avoiding certain situations that may trigger a relapse

Overall, boundaries help establish healthy connections and protect your emotional well-being. They’re important so you and your loved ones continue to express mutual trust and love while understanding that they are there to help you and not go on your recovery journey for you.

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How Do You Maintain Healthy Relationships in Recovery?

Here are some tips to help you maintain healthy relationships within your support system:

  • Open and honest communication: Be clear about your needs, boundaries, and struggles
  • Practice mutual respect: Be mindful of your support system’s feelings and avoid judgment or criticism
  • Set realistic expectations: Avoid setting unrealistic expectations for yourself and your loved one and be clear about what you think is achievable
  • Express gratitude: Show your appreciation for those who help you through your recovery
  • Be understanding: Understand that everyone has their own struggles and not everyone can offer the same level of support all the time

How Do You Ask for Help When You Need It?

Asking for help can be challenging, but it’s essential in maintaining a healthy support system. Here are some tips to help you ask for help when you need it:

  • Find a comfortable place to talk about your feelings
  • Be clear, direct, and honest about your needs
  • Be patient with your loved one and understand that change takes time
  • Work together to find solutions and develop a plan that works for everyone
  • Focus on positive reinforcement and avoid criticisms

Additionally, you should reach out to your doctor or therapist immediately if you’re experiencing an emergency. 

Building a strong support system is an important part of maintaining long-term sobriety, especially in early recovery. Your support system can provide the necessary support and guidance to keep you healthy.

Some sources of support, like therapy or support groups, can also teach you various techniques to manage cravings and triggers. They can also help you through a relapse.

However, it’s important to set boundaries and communicate openly with your support network. This can help set realistic goals and avoid overwhelming you and your loved ones.

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Updated on March 26, 2024
8 sources cited
Updated on March 26, 2024
  1. Kourgiantakis et al. “Family-focused practices in addictions: a scoping review protocol.” BMJ Open, 2018. 
  2. Kelly et al. “Recovery benefits of the “therapeutic alliance” among 12-step mutual-help organization attendees and their sponsors.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2017.
  3. Understanding psychotherapy and how it works.” American Psychological Association, 2023.
  4. Lander et al. “The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice.” Social Work in Public Health, 2013.
  5. Tracy et al. “Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 2016.
  6. Odell, C. “How is Life Tree(ting) You?: Trust, Safety, and Respect - The Importance of Boundaries.” Stanford University.
  7. Treatment and Recovery.” National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2023.
  8. Tracy et al. “Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 2016.

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