The Role of Friends and Family in Recovery

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Everyone needs a support network of friends and family in order to stay sober. The bigger, the better. (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

Everyone needs a support network of friends and family in order to stay sober. The bigger, the better. (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

At Amethyst Recovery, we very much believe that recovery is a group effort. Not just in the sense of the other addicts and alcoholics that our patients will meet if they stay in our sober living facilities, but also in terms of the friends and family that the patient knew before entering treatment to begin with. Perhaps some of these relationships have been hurt, but many people who enter treatment do so with no shortage of people in their lives who care about them and want to see them get better.

The problem facing these friends and family members is that, despite the good nature of their intentions, many of them are not sure how to help. Many may fear that if they try to help too much, they will come across as overbearing. There’s also a bit of fear, and many will hesitate before getting too close to a person who has hurt them in the past. After all, just because the problem appears to be resolved does not mean there is no chance of a relapse. But whether friends and family try to get uncomfortably close or maintain their distance, their words and behaviors will still have an effect on the addict or alcoholic in recovery.

For this reason, friends and family who wish to be a positive influence on the addicts and alcoholics in their lives should learn a few simple basics regarding the best way to show their support. The following three tips are rather broad, and some of the specifics may change depending upon the person and their drug of choice. Nonetheless, following these guidelines should help the friends and family of addicts and alcoholics support the ones they love without leaning too far toward enabling them.

Do Your Research

Spend some time looking up relevant information. There’s no shortage of it out there. (Undrey/Shutterstock)

Spend some time looking up relevant information. There’s no shortage of it out there. (Undrey/Shutterstock)

If the friends and family of addicts and alcoholics truly wish to be there for them, they must understand the nature of the disease. A better understanding of addiction can be gained through basic research, but you may wish to specifically tailor your research to see how their particular drug of choice has affected them. Someone who smokes cannabis will not be affected in the same manner as a person who chews fentanyl patches. Learn how their substance of choice has affected their mind and body, and you will come to see just how arduous their struggle has been.

 

With an understanding of their addiction, some of their past behaviors may begin to make a bit more sense. The signs of addiction that they have exhibited, such as social detachment and mood swings, will be cast in a new light. And this is important, because friends and family must be able to recognize these signs later on in the event of a relapse. If they become restless, irritable and discontent, it does not automatically mean that they have relapsed—but it does mean that friends and family should be on the lookout.

In the event that the addict or alcoholic in your life suffers from one or more co-occurring disorders such as anxiety or depression, you are going to want to research these as well. It is not your job to hover over them and make sure they are taking any medications that might have been prescribed, but you should know for your own benefit what sorts of symptoms they will exhibit as a result of their co-occurring disorders. Traits that you might see as signs of a relapse may actually be normal for certain people whose behaviors are affected by mood disorders.

By knowing more about the addict in your life, the drug to which they are addicted, and how this addiction has affected them, it will be much easier to be there for them when they need you. Not only that, but you will also know when your intervention in their affairs is unnecessary. Friends and family can be pillars of support for addicts and alcoholics, but only if they are well-informed on the addict they are supporting and the disease they are helping that person combat. Once you know this, the rest is a matter of simple judgment.

Know When to Be There

Everyone needs a bit of support from time to time. (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

Everyone needs a bit of support from time to time. (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

Obviously, there will be times when the help of friends and family is specifically requested. At these times, you will have to use your best judgment. If you believe that your help is truly needed, then do what you can. But if you cannot offer your assistance without passing judgment on the addict or alcoholic in question, then this may not be a case in which you should be helping. For instance, you would not drive an addict to their dealer’s house because they say they need to make financial amends. But if they need a ride to a meeting and you are available to offer one, then the matter may be vital to their recovery.

Sometimes, friends and family must be ready to offer help that is not requested or even wanted. If an addict falls off the wagon, it is the friends and family who will stage the intervention that just might bring the addict back into recovery. This can be difficult, but it is important for them to know that you care. Many relapse when they feel isolated, so the loving support of those closest to them just might be the wake-up call the addict needs.

If you are going to offer your help to a loved one who is struggling with addiction, you must be able to do so in earnest. A person can tell when you are only helping them begrudgingly. They may feel anger over this, or possibly even guilt. Either of these feelings can easily lead to the type of emotional disturbance that throws a monkey wrench into the addict’s relapse prevention plan. In other words, it’s not just about knowing when to be there for them, but also how to be there for them.

When the matter is important, such as checking in to treatment or making difficult amends, you might offer the addict or alcoholic in your life a bit more than sheer support. For instance, you might offer to drive them to make their amends and wait in the car until they are finished. If it turns out to be a particularly emotional experience for them, it will be comforting for them to have you waiting when they are finished. When an addict or alcoholic is relatively early in their recovery, it’s sometimes best not to let them feel alone when they are doing something that might cause them to feel emotionally vulnerable. Be there for them in such instances, and the threat of a potential relapse will be greatly diminished.

Know When Not to Be There

There are times you may have to hold your ground and refuse to enable somebody, no matter how much you love them. (VGstockstudio/Shutterstock)

There are times you may have to hold your ground and refuse to enable somebody, no matter how much you love them. (VGstockstudio/Shutterstock)

Some attempts to help a person may not be quite as helpful as you think. For instance, when an addict or alcoholic enters treatment, many friends and family members will lie on their behalf. They think that they are doing their loved one a favor, but this is not quite true. Perhaps the addict does not want you to share this information; however, unless they have told you so, your choice to make this decision on their behalf might cause them to believe that they should feel bad about entering treatment. So many addicts have reservations about sobriety already—don’t give them another one. Ask them their preference before lying on their behalf.

You must also be on the lookout for enabling behaviors. While you should be there to support the addict or alcoholic in your life upon their entrance into recovery, you should not do anything for them that they could be doing themselves. If they think that they can lead a sheltered life, free from accountability and responsibility in any form, they may fall back on old habits and begin using again before long. Let them work for what they have. The sense of purpose it gives them just might be enough to keep them sober.

As previously noted, addicts and alcoholics should also not receive support from friends and family when embarking upon a quest that might be harmful to their recovery. We provided the earlier example of an addict making financial amends to their dealer, but there are other situations that you should not play into, either. For instance, do not accompany the addict or alcoholic in your life to an event that they are using as an excuse to skip a meeting—at the very least, not within the first 90 days. Some addicts may be able to get by on a few a week, but it is vital that they attend a meeting every single day for their first three months of recovery. Many addicts who relapse do so during this time period, so ensure that they maintain a strong program.

Ultimately, there is only so much that friends and family can do to keep another person sober. The brunt of that responsibility falls upon addicts and alcoholics themselves. What you can do, however, is be there for them when they need you and allow them to cultivate a sense of self-sufficiency the rest of the time. Do this—and nothing more—and the addict in your life will stand their best chance of remaining sober for the long-term.

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