When someone is beginning their road to recovery, family and friends often feel unsure how to help in the process. You want to support that recovering addict, but you don’t know what to say. Perhaps you haven’t dealt with addiction, so you aren’t sure how to relate to their situation. What can you do to support your loved one in their recovery journey? Here are some ways to encourage someone to stay on the right track.
Understanding their experience
The first step to supporting is understanding. After someone has gone through treatment, recognize how stressful and powerful their recent experience has been. They may still be struggling with fears, cravings, and memories that they had to process during treatment. As a peer or family member, remind yourself that addiction is a lifelong battle. “Making it” through treatment doesn’t eliminate an addict’s desire for their addictive substance or prevent them from relapsing. If they went through a residential treatment program, they were immersed in a safe environment to help them detox and transition to a healthier state. When someone is returning to “real life,” they may be susceptible to temptations and feel worried that they will fall back into old patterns.
Understand that all these thoughts may be running through the addict’s mind. While you may not be able to empathize, you can sympathize with the pain that person is experiencing. Going through treatment doesn’t make anyone invincible. As a loved one, what the addict might need most is your concern and compassion as a listener.
What do I say?
Relieve yourself of any pressure to have perfect answers. An addict is probably wrestling with painful questions and thoughts, and it’s not your responsibility to solve everything in perfect words. What you can do is praise them for their courage and their progress. Someone who has just gone through treatment may be dealing with feelings of insecurity or vulnerability. As someone close to them, you are in position to encourage them for going to treatment and celebrate the wins along the way.
Let the recovering addict know that you would like to hear about their experience if they are comfortable sharing. Asking open-ended questions can help break the ice and unpack what they’re processing. If they are not ready to share, offer that you would like to hear their thoughts in the future when they feel ready to talk about what has happened. Reminding them that you care and want to hear their stories can help them feel supported when they want to open up.
How can I help?
Sometimes simply asking how you can help can open the door for an addict to share their needs. In some cases, it might be a huge help to keep someone on track with doctor appointments, counseling sessions, or taking medication. People can feel overly confident when they have recently returned home following residential treatment, and they may think they can handle everything alone. This can lead them to feel stressed or overwhelmed. Helping them manage their schedule or uphold their commitments can keep them from losing ground.
Another way you can help is by encouraging your loved one to participate in continued outpatient care or in peer support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Even if you find it challenging to relate to their situation, you can still support them by helping them find others who have been through what they are experiencing.
For more ways to help an addict through recovery, see our recent blog on setting boundaries to avoid relapse.