How to Support Loved Ones in Their Addiction and Recovery Process
Written by: Bridgette Koukos, MA, LCPC, NCC
The following are tips for loved ones/support persons and how they can provide support for someone battling addiction. I will begin with some statistics to help everyone understand the significance of addiction:
Recovery is most successful when individuals have a healthy support system in their corner. Below you will find some helpful tips on how we can support individuals during their recovery process.
Tip 1: Actively Listen to Your Loved One with Addiction.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been an astronomical amount of individuals experiencing depressive and anxious symptoms, and some of these individuals have turned to substances to cope. It is important that we check in on them and have conversations on how they are actually feeling and doing. Engage in active listening skills such as being present in the conversation by demonstrating the ability to paraphrase or summarize what they said. This shows them that we are paying attention.
Tip 2: Patience.
It is important that we keep in mind changes do not occur overnight. Though your loved one may have taken the steps to cease their unhealthy behavior, it does not necessarily mean they will immediately stop making poor choices or cut ties with unhealthy peers.
Tip 3: Educate Yourself
There is nothing we want more than for our loved ones to enter into recovery for their addiction; however, while they are working on themselves, we need to work on ourselves as well. Learning about the biological, social, and psychological processes that underlie addiction can be a great place to start. For example, you can learn about how addiction disrupts parts of the brain that are responsible for impulse control, judgment, and alters the dopamine pathways. The more you learn, the better you can understand how to support your loved one. It's also a great way of showing that you are invested in their recovery. It can also be healing for loved ones to better understand the addiction process to help them start to make sense of the many complex and difficult emotions that can arise in loving someone with an addiction.
Tip 4: Setting boundaries
This is super important. Having poor boundaries can perpetuate unhealthy and maladaptive behaviors on the part of our loved one with addiction. As the support person, we try to “help,” but what we really are (un)knowingly doing is possibly enabling their addiction and their addictive behaviors. Examples may include providing our loved one with money, a place to live, a car to drive, food, or bailing them out of their legal troubles. It is imperative that all parties take inventory of their enabling, codependency, or unhealthy related behaviors in order to benefit everyone involved in the long-run.
Tip 5: Seek Your Own Support
As support persons, we need to learn to let go, engage in our own self-care, and seek our own support so that we can learn how to effectively cope while our loved one is active in addiction. Support can come in various ways such as individual therapy, family/couples therapy, support groups, etc.
Whenever I am working with families, I encourage them to attend support groups such as Al-Anon (Alcoholics Anonymous) or Nar-Anon (Narcotics Anonymous). Additionally, children whom have a parent with an addiction can seek out support from Alateen Teen Corner support groups. If you are an adult child of an alcoholic, you can seek support from ACoA (Adult Children of Alcoholics). Alternatively, some (in/outpatient) treatment facilities will also provide free low-cost support groups.
Lastly, and I cannot stress this enough, seek your own individual therapist to help you through this time.