How To Support An Addict In Recovery

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

How To Support An Addict In Recovery

Addiction is a powerful condition that has a serious effect on an addict and their family. It can be hard to understand what addiction is, and how it is affecting a loved one.

Having a loved one who is suffering from addiction can be overwhelming. It can be challenging to support them while they are in recovery. Fortunately, there are many methods to help a recovering addict while also maintaining your own mental health.

Treatment and recovery for addiction is a grueling process. It takes years and sometimes even a lifetime to learn how to cope with the symptoms of addiction.

Addiction recovery can cause addicts to feel alone. Many people who have never suffered from addiction can find it challenge to understand the addict’s position. This often makes the recovering addict feel isolated and lonely.

In order to support an addict, you need to learn the proper steps, and how to understand their struggle. If you are supporting an addict in recovery, follow the steps below to learn how you can support them.

Learn How To Empathize

Empathy is an important skill to develop when supporting an addict in recovery. It is the ability to understand what a person is going through, even if you haven’t gone through it yourself.

People who are supporting an addict in recovery often become frustrated. They do not understand why the addict is acting the way they are acting. An addict suffers from unique struggles that people without a history of addiction cannot relate to on a personal level. That is why empathy is important to have when supporting an addict in recovery.

Empathizing with the struggles to achieve and maintain sobriety will help to:

  • Promote patience
  • Understand the recovering addict’s perspective
  • Recognize how hard the addict is trying
  • Anticipate the challenges that the addict faces while maintaining sobriety

Learn The Difference Between Empathy and Enabling

Empathy is important, but it should not lead to leniency. Sometimes people will become too understanding or accommodating to an addict in recovery. While you may mean well, too much leniency can be detrimental to their recovery.

Enabling is the act of encouraging unhealthy behavior. Unhealthy behaviors are encouraged when you tolerate things that should not be tolerated. Some examples that can cause enabling include:

  • Making excuses for the recovering addict
  • Ignoring, denying or tolerating lies from the recovering addict
  • Giving money to the recovering addict
  • Taking on the addict’s responsibilities so they can ‘focus on their recovery’
  • Giving too many ‘second chances’ for poor behavior patterns
  • Putting too much responsibility on yourself
  • Overcompensating for the addict’s struggles

Enabling can prevent a recovering addict’s growth and prevent them from being self-sufficient. It can even cause relapse or reverting into old, unhealthy patterns. The best way to avoid enabling is holding the recovering addict accountable for their actions. Be sure to not make excuses for them, or be lenient with them when they are acting inappropriately.

Establish Boundaries

To prevent enabling, it is also important to establish boundaries. Establish firm boundaries to prevent yourself from enabling the recovering addict.

Addicts tend to develop manipulative behaviors to support their addiction. Even when sober, recovering addicts will continue to engage in these manipulative behaviors. Often times, they do not even if they don’t realize they are being manipulative.

Be sure to establish and stick to firm boundaries. Establishing realistic expectations for behavior is also important. A ‘heart to heart’ conversation with the recovering addict about boundaries is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page.

In this conversation, you can include:

  • What behaviors from the past you will not tolerate now
  • What behaviors you expect to see from the recovering addict
  • What you will and will not do and help with in return for them respecting these boundaries
  • What will you will do in response to these boundaries being violated

The most important part of establishing boundaries is sticking to them. If at any point you become lenient with your boundaries, they will lose credibility, and the recovering addict will no longer respect them.

Get Support For Yourself

Supporting an addict in recovery is a challenge at any capacity. Whatever support you are providing to someone who is suffering from addiction, it will take a toll on you. Whether it is financially, emotionally, mentally or physically, it takes a lot of effort to support an addict in recovery.

A great way to make sure you take care of yourself while supporting someone in recovery is to seek professional counseling. Many counselors are trained to support people who are struggling with addiction in families. They are able to not only provide emotional support, but also resources and education to help your efforts be as easy on you as possible.


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