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Helping a Loved One Live Sober

Learn what you can do to keep your loved one safe.

A critical part of recovery is remembering that it is a lifelong process both for people with the addiction and for their families. By understanding the challenges that often come with efforts to heal, families can be prepared to support their loved ones and themselves throughout this journey.

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Supporting sobriety

Helping someone you care about recover from a substance abuse disorder can seem like a daunting task, but there are certain things you can do to help your loved ones feel supported in their mission to live sober: 

  • Be optimistic. It’s important to be a positive force in your loved ones' lives as they continue to work through negative emotions and impulses. Remind them that each step forward is another step closer to recovery.
  • Don’t dwell. Just as your loved ones must learn to stay grounded in the present moment as they work toward living sober, happy lives, so, too, must those who surround and support them. Try not to think back on bad memories or say hurtful things like “he used to be an alcoholic” or “it was really hard on the family when she was an addict.” Instead, refocus that energy into being there for yourself and your loved one.
  • Remove temptations. To a person experiencing drug or alcohol addiction, even just the sight of an empty wine or pill bottle could trigger a relapse. By removing all reminders early in the recovery process and by enforcing a strict policy of abstinence for the entire family, you show your loved ones that you’re committed to their wellness. As the recovery journey progresses, help your loved ones take ownership of their own sobriety, even when substances are accessible.
  • Don’t smother. While it will likely be necessary for you to monitor certain aspects of your loved ones' lives as they recover, it’s essential to their sense of independence that you don’t hover. It may be necessary to establish boundaries from the outset, so both you and your family know how far is too far when it comes to “checking in”.
  • Encourage healthy habits, such as eating well, getting a good night’s sleep, and exercising regularly. Spending time in nature can also be a great way to help relieve stress and promote mental health.
  • Remove substances that could trigger a relapse. If you live with the person dealing with alcoholism, it is best to rid your home of all alcoholic beverages and products that contain alcohol. If you share a home with someone addicted to pills, keep any necessary medications locked away.
  • Recommend new hobbies, such as going to the movies, crafting, reading, or journaling. Getting involved in new activities can be a great alternative to the unhealthy interests of the past.

Here are some challenges people with an addiction commonly face during their recovery and ways for their family members to help them through: 

  • Challenge: Mental health issues
  • What you can do: With your loved one’s approval and signed release, schedule regular checkups with your loved one and his or her primary care provider or therapist. 
  • Challenge: Financial troubles
  • What you can do: Consult a financial adviser to help you and your loved one create a personalized plan to better manage finances.
  • Challenge: Relationship problems
  • What you can do: Seek out a therapist to discuss options for individual counseling for you and your loved one and, depending on the treatment program, attend counseling together. 
  • Challenge: Employment or academic difficulties
  • What you can do: Connect your loved ones with a career counselor or academic adviser to discuss their options, their skills, and other information that will help them find a path that’s right for them.
  • Challenge: Loss of spirituality or religion
  • What you can do: Visit with a spiritual adviser or clergy member who can talk with your loved ones about what they’re going through and how it might be affecting their beliefs.

It’s important to be a positive force in your loved ones' lives as they continue to work through negative emotions and impulses.

Signs of a relapse and strategies for avoiding it

If your loved ones begin showing one or more of the following signs, it’s possible they are at risk of relapsing:

  • Showing signs of withdrawal, such as sweating, restlessness, insomnia, and poor concentration
  • Spending more time away from family members (husband, wife, kids) and friends
  • Changing moods or behavior
  • Reconnecting with friends that use drugs or alcohol
  • Glamorizing past drug abuse 

If you think that your loved ones may relapse, it’s important to gently bring up your concern. Telling them how much you care about them is a good way to start. Then you can let them know that you’ve noticed they’re acting differently and that you’re worried.

During your conversation you may want to suggest that your loved ones contact their therapist, counselor, or sponsor. They may also benefit from attending a support group session, where they can be around others who are working hard at staying sober.

You need support, too.

It’s common for family members (especially husbands, wives, and parents) to put their own needs aside to focus on the immediate needs of a loved one in recovery. You might wonder how you can think about yourself when someone else is going through so much. It’s important to remember: You, too, have gone through so much, and your wellness and happiness matter.

Taking care of your emotional and physical needs is an essential part of the collective family healing process. Here are some ways for you to surround yourself with support as you help your loved ones on their journey toward recovery: 

  • Get individual therapy. It can be a huge relief to talk with someone you don’t know about what you and your family have gone through — someone who is just there to listen and not to pass judgment or insert an opinion. A therapist or counselor can help you better manage your pain, grief, guilt, or other feelings you may be experiencing. You may be able to find an individual therapist through your health insurance provider.
  • Go to family therapy. This treatment option give families an opportunity to better understand how their collective experiences have affected one another. A trained therapist or counselor can help you and your loved ones explore and understand the effects of complex or sensitive relationships and history.
  • Attend a support group meeting. Being around others who know exactly what you’re going through can be very comforting and provide valuable feedback. Groups such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and Families Anonymous provide families and friends of people with addictions with support as they go through the recovery process.