With 23 million Americans in recovery, the chances are good that almost every person has loved ones or friends in recovery, either currently or at some time in their past. While it doesn’t matter if they’ve been sober for a few weeks or a few decades, you need to remember that they still are living with a chronic disease that will always require monitoring, treatment—and support. Supporting your friends in recovery goes far beyond sending a cute meme on social media or the occasional high-five. It takes awareness and sensitivity, among other things.
Here are some ways you support to friends in recovery:
Educate yourself about substance use disorders.
How much time do you spend surfing the web for news or social media updates? Probably a fair amount of time. Why not use a little of that time to read about the emotional, physical, and behavioral components of the healing process? In your research, you’re bound to come across tips for providing much needed to support to your friend or loved one. Contrary to popular belief, when a friend or loved one stops putting alcohol or drugs into his body, they’re not cured. They may be clean and sober but they’re still in recovery. Recovery is a lifelong process, just as is a healthy lifestyle. Even if the person starts to look normal, inside their brain, they are still affected by substance use. The brain needs time to heal, just as a broken limb might, and the amount of time necessary to heal is likely far longer than you may think. Research tells us that the initial recovery process can take up to two years but like a car, vigilant maintenance is necessary. It’s not uncommon for a recovering addict to stay in touch with his/her sponsor for decades after they’ve achieved sobriety. By getting a deeper understanding of what your friend or loved one is going through, you will have a better appreciation for the challenges recovery presents in their day to day life.
Encouragement is cool, but participation in treatment is better.
There is no quick fix for someone going through the recovery process. Treatment will include rehab or detox, followed by any number of options including inpatient treatment, PHP treatment or sober living. They will likely be in treatment for 9 months and in some cases, for up to 18 months. This is necessary when you think about it. If a person has been using substances for a few years or more, 30 days in rehab is not going to break the cycle of addiction. For a person struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, ending treatment early significantly increases their chances for relapse. It is the job of the family and friends to do whatever it takes to encourage the person in recovery as long as it takes to get them clean and on the recovery path. Science supports this, noting that those addicts who have the encouragement of family and friends have significantly better outcomes and a much lower risk of relapse.
Keep your friends away from relapse triggers.
If your friend used to get drunk or high at football parties, once he’s in recovery, he shouldn’t be going to those types of events. Even if your Having all substances and related items friend says this is not necessary, and asserts that he is “strong” enough to be around these things, it’s ill-advised. It’s like being on a diet but doing your Christmas shopping at See’s Candies. Just the temptation or familiarity of the setting might trigger cravings which puts them at great risk. Avoid these activities and settings at all costs.
Even seemingly innocuous events can be triggers. Going to a wedding of a life-long friend seems innocent enough, but if everyone’s drinking, it’s not a good idea to attend. Nothing is as important as your friend’s recovery, not even the wedding of a childhood friend. Your loved ones or friends in recovery really need you to think about the people, places and things to which they’ll be exposed. A recovering brain just isn’t ready to be immersed in or cope with a situation that could trigger cravings and stress. The potential for relapse is greatest in the first year of recovery. The cravings slowly subside, but science suggests that there is no definitive “safe period” when it comes to being around relapse triggers.
Understand and accept that your loved ones or friends in recovery may begin to take a different path in life.
Addiction is a chronic disease that will require the recovering addict to completely change his or her lifestyle. All of the old habits must die to foster this new life. Addiction recovery is a full time job, at least initially, and this could mean delaying one’s education, changing careers or leaving their hometown. Old friends may not understand why they’re no longer in your recovering friend’s circle. You must remember that all the people, places and things that were around when your friend was wrapped up in his or her addiction must be eliminated. You may not understand or agree with these decisions or changes, but your friends in recovery are taught o make sweeping changes in the people with whom they socialized, the places they like to frequent and the activities in which they participate. They may even stop going to any of their old haunts or hangouts and will likely relocate to a new town. You can’t take any of this personally. Your friends in recovery are being taught to change these old habits as a critical part of the recovery process. Like nurturing a wounded bird back to health, you need to cast aside your own attachment and let your friend find a new setting, one that is free of temptation and helps him or her avoid potential relapse triggers.
Take care of yourself.
Much of this article has focused on helping friends in recovery. Of course, you have to think of yourself, at least a little bit. If you’re living with a loved one or friend in recovery, you need to take care of yourself, too. Specifically, you’ll be exposed to a variety of emotional highs and lows of your friend or loved one. It’s wise to consider attending some counseling to better understand how you can be supportive but also take care of your own emotional health but still provide emotional support. Family therapy and group therapy is highly recommended and is not nearly as bad as you may think. In fact, it’s eye opening and overwhelmingly positive.