How To Help an Addict in Recovery

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Whether you live with someone who just got sober or have a friend who just left rehab, it’s important to know how you can help an addict in recovery. One common misconception about addiction is that once people go to rehab, their lives will get better and they will stay sober. However, this is rarely the case.

Not only is relapsing a real risk, but recovery is an ongoing process and there’s bound to be some bumps on the road. Still, one of the most important aspects of recovery is a strong support system. If you’re interested in being part of the system that supports your loved one’s sobriety, you need to know how to help someone in recovery.

Ways to Help a Friend in Recovery

There are a lot of ways to help an addict in recovery. While these general tips are useful, it’s always important to stay in communication with your loved one. Everyone is different and has different needs. However, helping someone in recovery isn’t always easy – which is why we’ve put together a few tips to help you get started.

Learn About the Disease of Addiction and the Recovery Process

The disease of addiction is complex. It’s a physical, mental, and spiritual condition that often persists if it isn’t treated. Furthermore, the disease is unique in the way that it tends to affect not only the addict but his or her loved ones, as well. Since addiction is so consuming and far-reaching, it’s impossible to help an addict in recovery unless you’re well versed in the disease of addiction and the recovery process.

First, it’s important to know that addiction can’t be cured. Most people have to attend outpatient treatment, counseling, alumni groups, and/or 12-Step fellowships for several years after initially getting sober.[1] As a result, if your loved one is dedicated to his or her recovery, they will be attending meetings or therapy sessions regularly – which should be treated as a top priority.

It’s also crucial to recognize that relapse is part of the recovery process for many people, so you’re loved one isn’t a failure if he or she relapses. Moreover, you are not responsible for saving your loved one. All you can do is offer your support and hold them accountable. Most importantly, your friend’s recovery is not your responsibility. Don’t neglect yourself trying to control a situation that you have no power over.

Prepare to be a Shoulder to Lean on

If you’re thinking that helping an addict in recovery is going to be easy because they are sober, think again! In most cases, early recovery is full of highs and lows. Sure, your loved one is sober, but now they’re having to adjust to living sober, coping without drugs and alcohol, and developing a routine that supports their recovery.

Balancing these tasks alone isn’t easy. Plus, there’s bound to be additional challenges along the way. For example, drug-related charges that remain on a person’s criminal record make it difficult to find a well-paying job. Among others, they’ve gone long periods of time without working and don’t have good references. As a result, a staggering 9% of the 22 million Americans in recovery are unemployed – and if your loved one has faced legal consequences in the past or couldn’t maintain a steady job, the repercussions of these actions don’t go away just because they got sober.[2]

Securing a job isn’t the only thing people in recovery struggle with. Many people experience cravings for drugs or alcohol for months or even years after completing detox. If people don’t have healthy coping mechanisms in place or a support group to turn to, these cravings can easily turn into a relapse. In addition, many people in early recovery are desperately trying to heal broken or strained relationships, recover from financial hardships, or deal with co-occurring mental illness.

Needless to say, when these challenges or others present themselves, it’s important to help your friend in recovery by being a trusted shoulder to lean on. As a confidant, you’ll not only get to help your friend through hard times, but you’ll get to watch them grow and get stronger as they become more secure in their sobriety.

Make Adjustments That Support Addicts in Recovery

If you’re trying to help an addict in recovery and you’re not in recovery, there are small considerate adjustments you can make to help support your friend. For example, if you live with this person, consider removing all of the alcohol or narcotic medications from the home or locking them up in a secure place. Or, avoid drinking around your loved one until he or she has a more firm foundation in recovery.

At the same time, you don’t want to alienate your loved one from social events where alcohol may be involved. As a result, it’s important to communicate with your friend to see what he or she is comfortable with. Make sure to let your friend know that if anything makes him or her feel uncomfortable, you will do your best to fix the situation.

Everyone in recovery is different and progresses at different rates. Some can be around alcohol or other substances with no problem, while others simply can’t. It’s important to respect your loved one’s boundaries and do what you can to support their sober lifestyle.

You’re Both Humans: Maintain Realistic Expectations

Helping an actively addicted loved one is especially challenging. Firm boundaries and honest communication are necessary for both people in the relationship. However, these healthy boundaries and clear communication skills are still important after your loved one gets sober.

Many families and friends of addicts expect their loved ones to leave addiction treatment and be healthy, but healing from addiction is a process. It takes some people longer than others. You shouldn’t expect your loved one to miraculously change their life around in a short period of time.

At the same time, your loved one should know that you still have boundaries in place. If you had a zero-tolerance policy regarding drugs and alcohol before, you should still have it now. As much as you don’t want to believe it – anyone is susceptible to relapse, but keeping these boundaries in place will help hold your loved one accountable.

Lastly, in maintaining realistic expectations, it’s important that you keep realistic ones for yourself as well. Don’t overwhelm yourself trying to help an addict in recovery. Instead, you have to set aside time to practice self-care. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of your recovering friend.

Helping a Recovering Addict Who’s Relapsed

If you have a loved one who was previously in recovery and has relapsed, you know how crucial it is to find help right away. If your loved one is refusing treatment, our addiction intervention specialists can help you and your family get your loved one back on track.

Contact us today if you or a loved one needs assistance with drug or alcohol addiction.



Medically Reviewed: May 19, 2020

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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