A drug or alcohol dependence is an incredibly hard thing to recover from, and this is even truer if the person recovering doesn’t have the love, understanding and support of those around them. In fact, one of the biggest causes of relapse is a feeling of stress or strong negative emotions, which are very easily prompted by un-supportive family and friends.
A stable support system is crucial to recovery, and if you know someone recovering from an addiction, then you may feel unsure about how to be a good friend or family member during this time. That’s fairly common, so we’ve got some tips for you about how to show your solidarity, help your friend or family member through this time, and keep yourself safe while doing so.
Talk to the person, and let them know that you are there for them. Then, follow through. They have most likely heard the phrase “I’m here for you,” a few times before, and may be reluctant to reach out for fear of judgement, but if you’ve said that you are available 24/7, then make yourself available.
In saying that, it’s so important to be honest. If you can’t be available to them all the time, that is well within your rights, but let them know. Tell them that you’ve got a lot going on, that they are very important to you, and that they can reach you for help at the times you specify as being free. This may sound a bit clinical, but authenticity makes you a lot more helpful than saying you’re available and then flaking.
Your friend or family member is likely going through a lot of stress – after all, recovery is the farthest thing from easy. We can’t say this enough: one of the biggest things you can do for them is to be honest and genuine with them – it makes life infinitely simpler. Ask their permission to give them honest feedback, and if you get it, keep your feedback as positive as possible.
Take the time to learn about their addiction, what has triggered them before, and what may trigger them again. Knowing everything you can about drug and alcohol addiction – as well as the signs of relapse – will help you to identify if they are sliding backwards.
If that does happen, don’t be afraid to bring it up to them. Support systems aren’t just there to be encouraging, they’re also there to pull people up on a decline – if they’re showing signs of relapsing, sit them down and talk with them about it. Keep in mind that they may not respond well, as feeling cornered can do that, but the feedback is more valuable to them than you can imagine.
Being encouraging is absolutely essential, in more ways than one. Your friend may not believe that they can recover, that relapse is inevitable, or that their life is centred around drug and alcohol use. But there are ways to show them this isn’t true! Go with them to activities that they used to enjoy prior to their addiction, spend time with them, and if they start to get really low, encourage them to reach out for therapy or some more professional help.
Another way you can be encouraging is to prompt them to take responsibility – while you can be a good friend and a listening ear, it is up to them to work towards their goals. As part of their recovery counselling, they would have established some identifiable goals to strive towards, and reaching these will benefit them hugely. The sense of accomplishment, of progression, truly cannot be underestimated.
While throwing them into a highly social situation with many people may not be the best idea (this depends on the person), it’s still incredibly important that they are social during their recovery. Meeting and connecting with people fosters a sense of belonging. In addition, they should be connecting with people who are sober, as being in a situation with drugs or alcohol while still in early recovery may likely trigger a relapse.
There will be days where your friend does not want to be social, and it’s important to respect their wishes. However, if you start seeing them becoming isolated at home, try taking them somewhere with some other friends to wake them up to the breadth of their support system.
Finally, and this is hugely important: keep yourself safe. You are not responsible for the success of your friend’s recovery, even if you are the only one in their support system. They must take responsibility for their own journey. So, if you notice that you’re starting to feel overwhelmed (which is completely normal), you are completely validated in taking time for yourself to unwind.
It’s also so important to remember that there are professionals out there that will help both of you. If you need to see a counsellor, don’t hesitate! There is no threshold for “how bad you have it”, counselling is for offloading to a professional in a judgement-free zone and is incredibly helpful in situations where you feel a lot of pressure (such as helping your friend through recovery).
In addition, as we said before, if you notice your friend getting lower, speak to them and encourage the inclusion of a professional in their system.