Perhaps you have spent years or even decades watching a loved one struggle with addiction to alcohol or drugs, but the time has finally come – he or she has decided to seek help to get clean and sober!  This is a cause for celebration all around, of course, but it’s likely that you are also thinking about the ways you can support this person on his or her new road to health and happiness.  There are many things you can do to help your loved one succeed, and to encourage his or her ongoing recovery.

Importance of Support

Early recovery can be a precarious and challenging time for all involved.  Most experts define “early recovery” as the time period that includes the first ninety days of sobriety, and it typically can last up to the end of the first year, but this may differ from person to person.  Some people may feel very confident early on in their recovery, and may remain successful from that point forward, but others may still be fighting a hard battle many months into the process.

It’s important to understand that the chance for relapse is quite high for most throughout that first year. An Australian study found that 52% of methamphetamine users who detoxed and got treatment relapsed within three months of their detox.   Another study by researchers at the Institute of Behavioral Research at Texas Christian University found that 23% of 1,605 subjects who had gone through a rehabilitation program for cocaine addiction were back to using weekly at the end of the first year.   And, perhaps most upsetting, a study published in the Irish Medical Journal discovered that 91% of subjects who had completed a detox program for heroin relapsed, and 59% did so in the very first week after the program.  Although one relapse doesn’t necessarily mean all is lost on your loved one’s journey to recovery, they can certainly be setbacks, and everything should be done to avoid relapses if possible.  As a supportive friend or family member, you can do a great deal to help an addict avoid things that may lead him or her down that path.

Clearly, it’s extremely important that individuals in the early stages of recovery are given maximum support by not only their counselors and support groups to avoid relapses, but by their family and other loved ones as well. Studies have shown that participating in group, family therapy, in addition to individual substance abuse therapy, for example, can help to more thoroughly support the recovering addict, and thereby give him or her a better shot at remaining on a healthy path.  An article published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine in 1999 further showed that the presence of enhanced friendship networks predicted reduced substance use at a one-year follow-up meeting that studied 2,337 male veterans who were treated for substance abuse.   The benefits of support from loved ones are clearly documented, and can obviously be a big help to anyone in the early stages of recovery.

Supportive Tips

There are many things you can do during the early recovery period for your friend or relative to show them that you are there for them, and that you are willing to create an environment in which he or she can continue to fight his or her battle and get healthy.

1. Change your own behaviors. Creating a safe and sober environment for your friend or family member is vital.  Removing alcohol from the home and locking up prescription medications can be a big help.  You should consider avoiding all drugs and alcohol yourself in order to set a good example and to keep their influence away from your recovering loved one entirely.

2. Don’t ignore warning signs. If you think your loved one may be headed for a relapse, chances are he or she actually is.  Certainly, you don’t want to be overbearing or appear to be a spy, but if you think your friend or relative may be using again or is even thinking about using, address the issue – don’t let it go.

3. Learn as much as you can. There are countless books, websites, and other resources available to you to learn about your loved one’s experience and struggles – so educate yourself!  Read as much as you can about addiction and recovery, and consider joining a support group run by Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or Families Anonymous; all three of these groups exist specifically for people in your situation.

4. Encourage and support participation in treatment. Very few addicts can quit without professional help; most benefit from structured detox and rehabilitation, followed by participation in support groups.   As a beloved friend or family member, it’s helpful if encourage these things.  Offer to help him or her research programs, listen to his or her successes and failures, and later, be available to drive him or her to group when needed.  These seemingly little things will mean a great deal to your loved one.

5. Actively listen. Your friend or family member will certainly have a lot to talk about, a lot to think about, and a lot to work through emotionally during the early days of recovery.   Be there for him or her.   Don’t just absentmindedly listen; be present in the moment, make eye contact, and offer a friendly hand or hug to show you are truly available.

6. Inspire healthy habits. Anyone in early recovery will suddenly have a great deal of time and energy on his or her hands that wasn’t there before, and channeling that into a new, healthy lifestyle can be a great move.  Showing your loved one new ways to be physically active, teaching him or her how to cook healthy meals, and demonstrating how to incorporate things like yoga and meditation into one’s daily routine can bring you closer together and help establish healthy routines for the future.

7. Encourage sober relationships. Unfortunately, it’s possible that your friend or family member had to sever ties with some friends who still use when deciding to get clean and sober.  This might leave some gaps in his or her social circle, and that can be tough.  Encourage your loved one to make new, sober friends and to seek relationships with others on the same path.  Until some of these relationships are solidified, be especially available for fun and support, to help your friend or relative to ward off loneliness during this transitional time.

8. Be patient. A move to a clean, sober, and healthy lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight.  There will be many challenges, obstacles, mood swings, and setbacks along the way.  As a friend or relative to a person in recovery, you need to practice extreme patience and mindfulness when offering support to your loved one.  It won’t be easy for either of you, but the outcome is worth the struggles, so hang in there.  Down the road, your friend of family member will remember all you did for him or her, and will eventually realize that their recovery would have been much harder without your support.  Good luck!