Living with a recovering addict isn’t easy. There are challenges for people in this situation that no one thinks about until they are there, experiencing it for themselves.
Unfortunately, because you’re not in the shoes of the person in recovery, even the best intentions can’t help you navigate the situation without mistakes. That’s partly because everyone makes mistakes, no matter what, but it’s also because it’s so easy to trigger destructive behavior in addicts.
We asked past addicts, lifestyle coaches, sensitivity trainers, and similar experts on how people can train themselves to live with addicts in a way that avoids triggering them. Here are some powerful tips and tricks for avoiding triggers as you live with a recovering addict based on what these experts had to say—and based on our own experience in the field.
Encourage openness and sharing
Although it may seem best to never speak of drugs, alcohol, or the lifestyle ever again, it’s actually a better idea to keep things open and honest. Burying the problem never helps, and it can trigger a relapse just as easily as saying the wrong thing.
One expert comments, “It is important to encourage them to share openly about how your actions or how the household is ran affects them. Triggers are different for everyone and identifying them is best done by having an open discussion.”
Know the triggers common to most addicts
It’s important for a friend or relative to learn to navigate triggers well to properly offer support. Early recovery in particular is a very vulnerable time for addicts as they get accustomed to their new lifestyle.
An expert tells us, “Some may experience additional shame, loneliness, fear, or increased desire to use as they work on creating new patterns of thought and behavior.”
There are some common triggers to avoid that everyone should become familiar with:
- the presence of drugs (including prescription medications) and/or alcohol in the house
- giving them any more money than is absolutely necessary
- arguments about their recovery
It’s not easy to stay open and keep talking about recovery without arguing, but it’s worth your effort. “Negative emotions experienced in such an argument can trigger a newly-sober addict to react impulsively, internalize additional shame, guilt, or hopelessness, or feel like their efforts are not good enough,” remarks an expert. “While it is important to set boundaries and expectations, make sure they are realistic and that you are exercising patience.”
Help your friend or loved one avoid boredom
Many addicts report that boredom is a trigger for them. This is an area where supportive friends and relatives can really make a difference.
Help the recovering addict stay productive, busy, and on track with their recovery program, whether it’s visits to a therapist, a 12-step program, yoga, medications, or something else. Your actions will help them succeed, but they will also show them that you are invested in helping them get better.
Take it down a few notches
You’re living with someone in recovery because you care deeply about them—no one is disputing that! But that’s exactly why things can sometimes get heated. Unfortunately, that is itself a potential trigger.
“The addict is struggling with their own demons,” explains an expert. “Yelling, trying to protect or control the addict only exacerbates the situation and pushes the addict further down a spiral they’re already on.”
Instead, do everything you can to keep things down on a calm level. If you need to take a few minutes before responding to something, do it. Learn to defuse situations, rather than escalate them—for everyone’s sake.
Let it go
Recovering addicts do a lot of work; they need to come to terms with the things they did while they were using. It’s not an easy process.
While they were using, the addict learned to bury their emotions. They had to, to survive, but that started a stubborn habit they now need to break and caused an accumulation of feelings that they now must process.
It’s great to help your friend or loved one process, but not so you can grouse about what they did to you. If you can’t forgive them yet, you may not be the best person for them to live with. If you’re working through things too, that’s okay—but tell them. And when you’re able, let go of everything you can, because your friend or loved one was simply not in their right mind as an addict.
An expert remarks: “When the addict is in recovery, they are re-learning to get in touch with feelings that were buried. There is a tremendous amount of guilt from past actions. Family must remember that the addict did things when not of a rational mind. Reminding the addict of what they did is equivalent to rubbing salt in a wound.”
It takes courage and compassion to live with a recovering addict, and if you’ve read this far, you’ve got both. Learn how to avoid the triggers that can potentially lead to relapse, and the process will be that much smoother for you both. Good luck with your process, and please add your own advice in the comments.