The Role of a Sober Friend During Recovery
With 23 million Americans in recovery, chances are pretty good that almost everyone knows someone that has been in recovery or is in recovery. In fact, we may know recovering addicts without ever knowing that they were addicts to begin with. As a sober friend, you’re going to serve to provide not only emotional support, but you’re also going to help maintain accountability.
Addiction is a powerful disease and once a person finally choose recovery, a sober friend as well as family members loved ones can play a big part in their recovery. An addict’s sober friends have the opportunity to help foster healthier choices and recovery in many ways. Here are some ways that sober friends can be supportive:
Learn as much as you can about recovery.
Understanding the emotional, physical, and behavioral components of the healing process is essential to providing a supportive environment. When a loved one stops putting alcohol or drugs into his body, it’s tempting to assume that they’re sober. They may be clean and sober at that moment, but sobriety is a daily battle and as such, they’re always “in recovery.” Even though they may look well or seem normal, a brain affected by substance use needs time to heal and the amount of time may be longer than you would have thought. Research tells us that the process can years. When a sober friend develops deeper understanding of what a loved one is going through, it will allow them to recognize the challenges and celebrate the steps that are a part of the recovery process.
Encourage and support participation in treatment.
If an addict has been using for years, recovery will not happen in 30 days – or 60 days – or even 90 days. Helping your addicted friend or loved explore treatment options is one way to help, but it should be remembered that recovery will take months just to get your loved one just to get to a point where they’re ready to slowly start to reintegrate with society. Since it is not uncommon for people to stop a course of treatment once symptoms improve, it’s important to hold a recovering addict accountable. They must continue attending meetings and with counseling. If an addict’s sober friend is in contact and engaged with their loved one’s treatment team, he can help him stay the course of treatment, which always results in better treatment outcomes. Understand that a relapse or use episode is not an unusual event for people with substance use disorders. While it can be disheartening, having sober friends involved and connected with treatment professionals means earlier detection and intervention, which can mean the difference between one-time use and months or years of continued use.
Create and support a safe and sober environment in which your loved one can recover.
Having all substances and related items out of a loved one’s immediate environment removes unnecessary obstacles to recovery. Your loved one may say this is not necessary, that he is “strong” enough to be around these things. That may be true, but it also may make the already difficult process more challenging. A sober friends will have to use better judgment. Under no circumstances should you take him to his old haunts such as bars, clubs or anywhere else where he has a history of abusing substances. That might even mean those Saturday ball games at a friend’s house. You can put a recovering addict into a setting where they will be exposed to potential relapse triggers. It’s like being on a diet but having cookies in the cupboard: You might never eat one, but a lot of energy goes into thinking about how those cookies are there for the taking. This is energy that can create cravings and could be better spent on the positive choices immediately available.
This concept also applies to occasions that involve alcohol or other substances. Your loved one’s attendance at a family wedding may be important, but not as important as his recovery. A recovering brain may not be ready to be immersed in a situation that could trigger cravings and unnecessary stress.You may wonder when it is time for your loved one to adapt to difficult situations rather than avoid them. In my experience, the first year is when it is prudent for people not to test their strength, but rather to make smart, safe choices. After that, events like that family wedding may still be challenging, but you can help make them less so. Plan ahead by making sure that the person has sober supports there (like a sober friend to attend with),anticipating the parts of the experience that might be particularly difficult, and identifying specific ways to navigate them. It’s also important to have an escape plan if the situation becomes too uncomfortable.
Understand and accept that your loved one may begin a different life course.
Addiction is a chronic disease that will require life changes and may put your loved one on a course that you never anticipated. This may mean postponing or deciding against college, quitting a job that is too stressful, and developing new and different friendships. A sober friend may not understand or agree with these decisions or changes. A sober friend may feel uncomfortable with the new relationships formed in support groups. Letting go of what was and what you thought was going to be and supporting a new lifestyle is often frightening and frustrating. But stable recovery will allow your loved one to experience and achieve wonderful things that neither you nor your loved one ever imagined.
Whether they have been sober for days, months, or years, it’s important to remember that they still are living with a chronic disease that requires monitoring, treatment—and support. A sober friend can be critical in the recovery process and knowing what your role is will help you prepare for the challenge.
If you, a friend, or a loved one needs help, please contact us. Most treatment plans are covered by your private health insurance provider.