Updated on March 26, 2024
7 min read

How Do You Support Someone in Recovery?

Many people recovering from addiction often struggle with sobriety, and some may even relapse. Because of this, it’s important to know how to support someone in recovery.

Helping someone through addiction requires empathy and understanding. At the same time, you’ll need to set boundaries to maintain your health.

Regardless, having a strong support system can greatly affect a person’s recovery journey. In this article, we’ll discuss what it means to support someone through addiction.

What Are the Core Components of a Good Support System?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), four components help those in recovery live a healthy life. These components are:1

  1. Purpose: This involves helping your loved one complete tasks to gain independence and responsibility (completing therapeutic programs, volunteering, managing household responsibilities, etc.).
  2. Health: Becoming involved with your loved one’s physical and mental well-being is an important factor in their recovery. This can involve developing healthy habits such as exercise and proper nutrition.
  3. ​​Community: Developing and cultivating connections through different empathetic social circles such as support groups, online forums, family relationships, friendships, etc.
  4. Home: Providing a safe and stable environment can significantly improve your loved one’s chances of recovery.

It helps to concretely name things you can do that relate to each component. For example, in terms of health, you can go on a similar diet and exercise routine as your loved one so they feel they have someone to commiserate with.

When it comes to community, you can be the person to volunteer to bring them to and from their counseling sessions or group therapy. You can also vocalize your support for them so they know they have someone they can lean on.

What Does It Mean to Support Someone in Recovery?

Supporting someone in recovery means being empathetic, compassionate, and patient. This involves helping them through their struggles while keeping them accountable for their actions or behaviors.

According to SAMHSA, support systems or networks offer hope and encouragement for someone in recovery. This involves providing strategies and resources to help a person change. 

Support can also come from various sources including:1

  • Family and friends 
  • Peer support groups or community members
  • Faith groups
  • Partners 

A solid support system can provide a greater sense of belonging, empowerment, and social inclusion.1 Without proper support, a person in recovery is at risk of isolation and depression. Both of these conditions can increase the risk of relapse.

However, it’s important to remember that you are also taking on a pretty heavy emotional role as a support system. Don’t forget to establish boundaries and know when to reach out to equipped professionals in situations you feel are out of your depth, like relapse or intense withdrawal.

How Can You Provide Emotional Support During Recovery?

Supporting someone through addiction recovery can be challenging, but there are things you can do. Here are a few ways you can provide emotional support to someone in recovery:

  • Provide a safe space: It’s important to provide a safe, non-judgmental environment by listening to them and being there when they need help
  • Educate yourself: Learning about addiction can help you better understand your loved one’s physical, emotional, and mental needs 
  • Be empathetic: Providing compassion and understanding can help them feel safe and secure
  • Offer encouragement: Encourage them to get help, complete programs, and celebrate their accomplishments or milestones
  • Avoid triggers: Avoid getting them into situations that can trigger substance use; you should also avoid having alcohol or drugs at home 
  • Don't enable them: Don’t fix everything for them and allow them to take responsibility for their actions regardless of the consequences
  • Take care of yourself: Supporting someone through addiction can be taxing, so it’s important to take care of yourself; you can also join a support group like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon
  • Be patient: Addiction recovery is a complicated process, and your loved one may struggle through the recovery steps

It’s also important to remember that the emotional toll may also weigh you down. It’s okay to find your own support, counseling, or outlet when taking care of someone recovering from addiction. You don’t have to take on the burden by yourself.

What Are Some Practical Ways to Help Someone in Recovery?

Aside from supporting their emotional needs, you can also help your loved one in practical ways. These include:

  • Seek professional help: Addiction is a complex disease that requires professional help and guidance, so it’s important to know when to seek help.
  • Offer transportation: Offering to drive them to therapy, counseling, or support groups can be helpful so your loved one doesn’t feel as anxious.
  • Help with household tasks: Recovery can be overwhelming and simple tasks might be too much for them; helping them out can alleviate some stress.
  • Encourage healthy habits: Encourage them to exercise, eat healthy, and get enough rest.
  • Have a concrete plan: Provide therapy or counseling options that are convenient, accessible, and affordable.

Make sure that all of these things are well within your means, budget, and emotional bandwidth. If you’re personally struggling with supporting your loved one and feel it’s becoming too heavy, remember it’s okay to take breaks, practice self-compassion, and seek out support of your own.

How Can You Encourage Healthy Choices in Recovery?

Promoting healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices is important for a person in recovery. Encouraging them to take care of themselves and get back on their feet is great for them in the long run, as long as you do it at a good pace.

Here are a few ways to encourage healthy choices:

  • Positive reinforcement: Avoid criticizing or pointing out mistakes, instead you should praise positive behaviors and choices to help improve their self-esteem
  • Lead by example: Start improving on your health and lifestyle choices together to set an example
  • Research: Provide helpful resources on support groups, therapy options, and other essential information for mental health and recovery
  • Foster open communication: Allow them to express themselves and their feelings without judgment or unsolicited advice

One way you can promote a healthier lifestyle is to implement those changes in your life as well. If you do it together, they may feel more comfortable knowing that someone they love is also making those same positive changes.

You can start slow by taking the same walk paths or starting a healthier diet together. Classes, exercise, or even just committing to waking up at a certain time together can also reinforce the idea they’re not alone.

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Why Are Boundaries Important in Recovery Support?

Setting boundaries is essential for both you and your loved one. This can be an emotional time for your loved one, so respecting their boundaries and giving them some space is important.

Conversely, setting healthy boundaries can also be good for your mental health. As mentioned before, supporting someone recovering from addiction can be physically and emotionally taxing.

Respecting their boundaries shows that you trust their judgment, which can help boost their confidence. Meanwhile, having your own boundaries prevents you from enabling their behaviors and even negatively impacting your relationship with this person and your mental health. 

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How Should You Respond to a Relapse?

Relapsing is often a part of the recovery process, and it can be difficult to handle properly—for both you and your loved one recovering from addiction.2 Knowing how to deal with a relapse can help you prevent future setbacks if it happens again.

It’s important to remember that recovering from a relapse is always possible and has been done before. Here are a few things you can do if your loved one experiences a relapse:

  • Seek immediate medical help if they’re experiencing unusual symptoms
  • Ensure they’re safe
  • Contact other people in the support network
  • Stay calm
  • Avoid being judgmental or accusatory language
  • Reassure them that relapses are normal
  • Encourage them to think of this as an opportunity to learn about their triggers
  • Encourage them to seek professional help

While relapses can happen, you and your loved one want to prevent them as much as possible, so try to anticipate any warning signs such as isolation, lashing out, and romanticizing the experience they had while they were abusing their addictive substance. Recognizing these signs is key to avoiding relapse altogether.

Addiction recovery can be a long and complicated process, especially in early recovery. Because of this, it’s important to provide support and encouragement for your loved one.

The core components of addiction recovery are purpose, health, community, and home. These provide a safe space and motivation for someone in recovery.

A healthy support system can help prevent isolation and depression, which can lead to a relapse. Fortunately, there are various ways to help and encourage an addicted loved one.

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Updated on March 26, 2024

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