March 22, 2023 By Leah Malone

Supporting a Loved One in Recovery


The 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that more than 20 million individuals aged 12 and older had a substance use disorder (SUD) in the United States. The high prevalence of SUD confirms that nearly everyone is affected by substance abuse in some way. For this reason, it’s important for people to be educated about how best to support a loved one in addiction recovery. This is a major undertaking that requires understanding, patience, and compassion. Furthermore, these support skills can be strengthened by becoming more educated about addiction and its effects.

If you are working to support your loved one through treatment and recovery, do not be discouraged. Your support is invaluable and can help them achieve and sustain lasting sobriety. Along the way, it can be helpful to utilize resources, such as this article, to help you learn how to best support your loved one.

Learning About a Loved One’s Diagnosis

Addiction affects everyone differently. The same can be said for the loved ones of those struggling with substance abuse. Some family members and friends may have witnessed the development of their loved one’s addiction throughout the years. Others may learn about their loved one’s addiction only when the effects of their substance abuse begin to affect them.

Whatever the case may be for you, it is necessary to give yourself time to accept your loved one’s problem with substance abuse. Your loved one may or may not yet be diagnosed with SUD. Likewise, your loved one may or may not be open to the idea of participating in treatment and committing to lifelong sobriety. If they are not yet open to recovery, you can work to promote what’s called “harm reduction” and encourage recovery services slowly. Even before doing that, however, you may find comfort in researching their diagnosis yourself.

Becoming Educated About Addiction and Recovery

Addiction is a devastating disease that deeply affects the brain and associated behavior. Unfortunately, many people do not understand addiction as a brain disease. Rather, they associate their loved one’s substance abuse with a lack of willpower, moral weakness, or an intentional choice. If you seek to support your loved one throughout their recovery journey, you must work to dispel these myths and stigmas. You must do your own research to better understand addiction and its lasting effects.

Addiction Is a Brain Disease

For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines drug addiction as “a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs.” It may also be helpful to recognize that anyone is at risk of developing an addiction. Even using alcohol in moderation can quickly lead to SUD.

Addiction Is Treatable

After thoroughly researching your loved one’s diagnosis, you will learn that despite the challenges of treatment, addiction is treatable. The most effective treatment routes include medication (to aid in detox, withdrawal, and the management of any co-occurring mental health disorders) as well as behavioral therapies. As there is no one-size-fits-all for addiction treatment, most facilities utilize individualized treatment plans to tailor interventions to meet a client’s unique needs and recovery goals.

Understanding Enabling Behaviors Throughout Recovery

As a spouse, friend, or other loved one of someone with addiction, of course you want what is best for your loved one. You want them to be safe, healthy, and free from the bonds of addiction. As a result, you may unknowingly adopt enabling behaviors in an attempt to help your loved one feel happy. However, enabling behaviors can perpetuate your loved ones’ substance abuse.

According to the Veteran’s Administration (VA), examples of enabling behaviors include giving your loved one money, lying for them, and paying their bills. In general, the VA asserts that enabling behaviors include any behavior that protects a “loved one from facing the negative consequences of their substance use.” You can learn how to avoid enabling by:

  • Bringing attention to their substance abuse
  • Encouraging your loved one to get help
  • Setting boundaries and sticking to them
  • Considering participation in support groups
  • Avoiding partaking in or talking about your substance use around your loved one

Additional Ways to Support Your Loved One in Recovery

Supporting a loved one in recovery is a process. Becoming educated about their diagnosis and becoming aware of enabling behaviors only scratch the surface of the ways to be supportive. Consider these additional suggestions for how to best support your loved one in recovery:

  • Initiate the conversation about their substance use or abuse
  • Learn about warning signs and how to recognize them in your loved one
  • Offer emotional support when they are struggling
  • Offer to research treatment services and resources together
  • Discuss concerns with family members and friends
  • Consider hosting an intervention (if your loved one is not open to hearing your concerns)
  • Show compassion throughout their entire healing journey

Having a loved one with addiction or substance use disorder can be overwhelming. You may feel as if it is your job to persuade your loved one to participate in treatment and establish or maintain their sobriety. However, you have to remember to have patience with yourself throughout this process. There are plenty of treatment resources and services that can support you as you work to support your loved one. Grace Recovery offers transitional living homes for women seeking sustained recovery. We offer a variety of services such as recovery coaches in addition to referrals to a variety of services. If your loved one is struggling, we can help. Call us today to learn more at (737) 237-9663.

About Author

Leah Malone

Learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings can be painful and disturbing at times. When Leah was able to see her behavior patterns and decided there was enough pain to be disturbed, she became motivated to make changes and accept the work that needed to be done to heal. She needed direction and had no clue how to heal on her own. Through a connection with God, authentic connection with others, honesty, willingness, and humility, Leah is now in recovery from addiction and trauma.

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