How to Support a Loved One in Recovery

Some key ways to lend a helping hand to your loved one during this transformative journey.
How to Support a Loved One in Recovery artistic interpretation
5 min
November 5, 2023

The journey of recovery is a long and challenging one, not just for the individual navigating it but also for their loved ones who are walking beside them. The emotional toll is often heavy, but your support can make a tremendous difference in the long-term success of your loved one’s sobriety. It’s essential to know how to offer this support in the most effective ways.

Educate Yourself

One of the first steps to being an effective supporter is to educate yourself on the nature of addiction. Resources from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can provide valuable insights into addiction as a chronic disease, treatment modalities, and what to expect during recovery.

Addiction is a complex and chronic condition that affects the brain’s reward, motivation, and memory systems. It is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior or problematic involvement in an activity despite negative consequences. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a “treatable, chronic medical disease.”

Key Points about Addiction

  1. Chemical and Behavioral: Addiction can involve substances like alcohol and opioids or behaviors like gambling.
  2. Brain Changes: Over time, addiction leads to changes in neural pathways, making it increasingly difficult to quit the addictive behavior without medical help.
  3. Physical and Psychological Dependence: People struggling with addiction often develop a tolerance, requiring more of the substance or activity to achieve the desired effect, and may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop.
  4. Negative Consequences: Despite causing harm to oneself or others, the individual may find it extremely difficult to stop the addictive behavior.
  5. Cycle of Addiction: Often involves triggers, craving, indulgence, and regret, creating a cycle that is hard to break without intervention, especially when the substance abuse is acting as the solution for the initial triggers.
  6. Co-occurring Disorders: Many times, addiction comes with other mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, also known as dual diagnosis.  Both addiction and mental health conditions must be addressed together for impactful changes in behavior to occur.
  7. Genetic and Environmental Factors: Both can contribute to the likelihood of developing an addiction. Environmental factors include family life, exposure to trauma, peer pressure, and early exposure to addictive substances.  We have found that many addictions and dependencies have a close link to trauma.

Communicate Openly

Effective communication is crucial when supporting someone in recovery. Encourage an open dialogue about challenges, triggers, or any other concerns they may have. A 2018 study by ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine) states that social support, including from loved ones, is a significant factor in long-term recovery.

Participate in Family Therapy

Addiction affects not just the individual but also their immediate environment, including family and friends. Family therapy can offer a constructive space for everyone involved to understand the dynamics of addiction and recovery. It also helps in resolving any interpersonal issues that the addiction may have exacerbated.

Tranquility Woods offers family therapy and weekly visitation for clients in our residential treatment program.

Establish Boundaries

Setting boundaries is vital for both you and your loved one. These boundaries could relate to money, emotional support, or physical space. It’s crucial to enforce these boundaries consistently. According to guidelines from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), boundaries help in maintaining a healthier relationship and in preventing enabling behaviors.

Physical Boundaries

  1. No Substance Use in the Home: Make it clear that using substances in your home is unacceptable.
  2. Limited Access: Restricting access to shared resources like a car or home if they are used to facilitate substance abuse.

Financial Boundaries

  1. No Financial Support for Substance Use: Make a firm rule not to provide money that could be used to purchase substances.
  2. Control Over Joint Accounts: If you share financial accounts, consider separating them or taking control of them to prevent misuse.

Emotional Boundaries

  1. Not Tolerating Abusive Behavior: Make it clear that you won’t tolerate verbal or physical abuse.
  2. Self-Care: It’s okay to distance yourself emotionally from the chaos and unpredictability that addiction often brings. Take time for yourself, and don’t feel guilty about it.

Communication Boundaries

Honest Conversations: Openly communicate your concerns without using blame language.

Examples of Blame language

  1. “You ruined everything.”
  2. “This is all your fault.”
  3. “You should have known better.”
  4. “If you really cared, you wouldn’t have done this.”
  5. “You always mess things up.”

Time Boundaries

  1. Visitation Rules: Limit the time spent with your loved one if they are actively using or if their behavior becomes toxic.
  2. Engagement in Treatment: Make it a condition to continue spending time with them only if they are actively seeking or engaging in treatment.


Clearly outline the consequences that will occur if boundaries are not respected. This could range from limited contact to involving law enforcement or other authorities. The key is to be consistent in enforcing these consequences.

Encourage Healthy Habits

Promoting a healthy lifestyle can go a long way in aiding someone’s recovery. Encourage activities that contribute to physical well-being, like exercise or proper diet, as they can often also have a positive impact on mental health. The CDC notes that physical activity can have immediate health benefits like reducing anxiety and improving sleep, which can be helpful for someone in recovery.

Be Patient and Remain Committed

Recovery is a long process, often with setbacks. Staying committed and being patient during these times is crucial. The National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that relapse rates for drug addiction are similar to rates for other chronic medical conditions, indicating the need for ongoing support.

By taking these steps, you not only offer your loved one the best chance at a successful recovery, but you also contribute positively to the broader societal effort to combat the crippling effects of addiction. Your support is invaluable, and knowing how to offer it effectively is your most powerful tool.