3 Ways to Support a Loved One Recovering From Addiction

Encouragement to overcome addiction
Let them know they are not alone

How To Support a Loved One Recovering From Addiction

When someone decides they’re ready to get help for their addiction, they need a support system. Family members and friends often fill that need, but they may not always know how to help. Read this guide to learn how to support a loved one in recovery while caring for yourself to avoid emotional burnout.

1. Practice Daily Compassion

Recovery is impossible without everyone demonstrating compassion. Addiction is a disease that doesn’t have a cure but can be manageable. It takes a lifetime to learn to live in recovery and support your loved one struggling with addiction, no matter which stage of recovery they’re in. It’s essential to learn healthy coping mechanisms for stress and how to show compassion to prevent stress from accruing.

First, you should prioritize giving yourself compassion. People within recovery support systems often channel all of their energy into their loved ones and quickly feel emotionally burned out. Consider fostering more self-compassion as a personal goal to make yourself stronger for your friend or family member. Successful people often reach their goals more easily by journaling about their efforts to encourage themselves and stay accountable.

A woman supporting another woman with addiction
Show compassion

You can also start showing compassion for your loved one in various ways. You should give them your full attention without judgment when they need to talk and verbalize how your love remains unchanged. Invite them to talk about how they feel whenever they seem ready to open up. When your loved one feels safe, their recovery will feel safe too.

Compassion also takes the form of remembering that you’re both still learning. You’ll learn lessons from positive steps, like remaining another day in recovery or listening to your loved one without judgment. However, you’ll also learn from your mistakes. Recognizing problems and figuring out how to prevent them from recurring is essential to supporting a loved one in recovery because you’ll avoid shame spirals that may trigger relapses.

2. Create a Supportive Environment

Your loved one may not be able to live in a world completely free of triggers, but you can support them by making their home environment as welcoming as possible. Remove any triggers before they come home from a treatment center, like an alcohol cabinet or recreational THC products.

Setting up an environment where your loved one will receive the best care even if a worst-case scenario occurs is crucial. If they relapse with their opioid addiction and accidentally overdose, the people who live with your loved one should know how to recognize symptoms like gurgling and shallow breathing before calling 911. Simple steps like turning them onto their side or administering an emergency supply of Narcan could save their life.

Sometimes triggers aren’t physically present. They may show up in relationship dynamics and conversations instead. When your loved one is ready, talk about how your relationship may have become wrapped into their substance use disorder. They could point things out that you can easily change. Study things like how to display positive body language and pick word choices that create safe conversations for repairing your relationship to support your loved one in recovery.

displaying positive body language
It is important to give the right type of support during addiction recovery

Your support can also help your loved one by remaining steadfast when they make mistakes. If they become close to relapsing or make a mistake that ends their sobriety, be the person to take them to a support meeting without judgment or anger. You could also help them find meetings if they can’t access their home group, like finding virtual meetings during the holidays or while you’re on vacation.

It’s also essential to recognize a hard reality — you may have to provide unfailing support if your loved one relapses. During the first year of recovery, 85% of people relapse with their substance use disorder. It isn’t a failure of character or even the desire to change. Addiction is a disease. You should remain steadfast in the lifelong management of it, even if that involves a relapse.

3. Set Realistic Expectations With Help

Whether or not you’ve thought about it, everyone sets expectations when a loved one is struggling with addiction and entering recovery. Sometimes people set pessimistic deadlines if they doubt their loved one’s commitment or instinctively expect their loved one to act a certain way after leaving a treatment center.

Working together to set realistic expectations will make recovery more manageable and enjoyable for everyone involved. Encourage your loved one to get recovery counseling from a trained professional. They’ll get the psychological support you can’t provide because you didn’t get certified in the psychology of recovery. A therapist will also know how to create a relapse plan that empowers your loved one.

Addiction counseling
Don't be ashamed to get counseling

You can also sign up for counseling. Many therapists work with people supporting a loved one and recovering from addiction because it can be scary, emotionally draining, and confusing. The addiction may have stemmed from a shared history of trauma or unhealthy relationship dynamics that you haven’t worked through yet. Getting help for these things will also mend the underlying issues that could trigger a relapse.

While you and your loved one are in an open, honest conversation, discuss which expectations would help everyone the most. They might point out how it’s hard for them to ask for help and discuss the signs that mean you can step in to assist preemptively. You could mention how daily or weekly check-ins with both of your emotional states could be the best way to keep you from getting burnt out.

You could both commit to reading or watching videos about other people’s journeys with recovery too. It helps to hear from people who have been or are in your shoes and what they did to find success. Reading memoirs, watching people give testimonials, and even attending support groups together will keep you on the same page about what you both expect from your new life in recovery.\

Related: 8 Common Misconceptions About the Human Body

Support Your Loved One in Recovery


Helping a loved one struggling with addiction can seem overwhelming, but there are ways to make the process easier for everyone. Taking steps like getting counseling, setting healthy expectations, and keeping safe lines of communication open will make recovery less daunting. You’ll both find success while fostering a happier, healthy life together.

Author: Beth Rush is the content manager and Managing Editor at Body+Mind. She is a well-respected writer in the personal wellness space and shares knowledge on various topics related to nutrition, fitness, holistic health, mental health, and disease prevention. In her spare time, Beth enjoys going for runs and trying out new fitness trends.

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