How to Support an Alcoholic in Recovery

If you have a loved one in early alcohol recovery, you know how hard it was for them to get here. You may feel both hope and concern about the future. You’d probably do just about anything to keep them from spiraling back into the devastation of alcohol abuse. While you can’t do the work for them, your support can make a huge difference. Here’s how to support an alcoholic in recovery:

Ask How You Can Help

Sometimes the simplest way to help recovering alcoholics is the most overlooked. Instead of spinning your wheels trying to figure out what your loved one needs, ask them how you can support their alcohol recovery. Recovering addicts’ needs are different. Something you would never have imagined could make a big difference to your loved one. Maybe they need someone to go to the movies with them every Tuesday instead of attending their favorite happy hour. Perhaps they’d love a text once a day reminding them you’re here for them. Some recovering addicts have been so entrenched in their addiction they’ve forgotten how to do the little things. After alcoholism treatment, they may need help planning meals, applying for jobs, making appointments and doing other day-to-day tasks. Put it out there. It’s as simple as saying something like, “I’m proud of you and want to support you. What do you need?”

Be Available

During alcohol rehab, recovering addicts have 24/7 support. They’re immersed in a community of mental health professionals and peers in recovery. Returning to everyday life after inpatient rehab can be jolting. Let your loved one know they’re not alone. Having family and friends that understand their situation is critical right now. Hopefully they also have a sponsor and sober network from their time in the treatment center. You can’t be the sole source of support, but letting your loved one know you’ll be as available as possible can go a long way. For instance, some recovering alcoholics keep a list of people to call when they’re struggling with alcohol triggers. You could offer to be one of those people.

Acknowledge This Is a Big Deal

You’ve probably seen your loved one at their worst. You know getting sober isn’t easy. Alcohol recovery isn’t just something you do. It’s not a matter of willpower. Science tells us that addiction is a disease of the brain. Alcohol abuse changes the brain. Getting better isn’t just a matter of alcohol detox and support groups. Recovering alcoholics must fight their way back from addiction. Alcohol recovery involves repairing the physical and psychological damage of substance abuse. It means facing the reasons they’ve needed to abuse alcohol to cope with emotional pain. Your loved one likely faced some pretty scary demons and went to some dark places in alcohol rehab in order to get better. Tell them you get how hard this is. Let them know you’re proud of them. The difficult work isn’t over after inpatient treatment. Assure them you’ll be with them for the tough road ahead.

Encourage Their Positive Efforts

Recovering addicts learn a lot about recovery skills in substance abuse treatment programs. The recovery process doesn’t end after alcohol rehab. It takes hard work and a commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Recognizing their efforts can provide positive reinforcement. You might even offer to drive them to appointments, exercise with them or participate in other ways. Some things that support recovering addicts’ long-term sobriety include:

  • Regularly attending support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Getting behavioral health care from a therapist
  • Attending family therapy or couples therapy
  • Managing any dual diagnosis issues with treatment medications for depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders
  • Avoiding people, places and situations that will tempt them to drink
  • Practicing self-care like exercising, mindfulness, spirituality, proper nutrition and good sleep habits
  • Attending school, maintaining a job or volunteering

Take Care of Yourself

Loved ones of substance abusers suffer too. Research shows loved ones of addicts often struggle with:

  • Mental health issues
  • Less social connections
  • Poor quality of life
  • Low productivity
  • Financial issues

Loving a recovering addict can be overwhelming and depleting. It’s easy to find yourself trying to carry their burden. You must take care of yourself. This is especially true for those closest to recovering alcoholics such as partners, children or parents. Family and friends can help themselves by:

Know Warning Signs of Relapse

Relapse happens. Addiction is a chronic disease. Like other chronic illnesses, it’s a lifelong effort to keep it in check. Research shows about 40-60% of people in alcohol or drug abuse recovery will relapse. This doesn’t mean your loved one is destined for alcohol relapse. It means you should know the warning signs. These may include:

  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Stops attending Alcoholics Anonymous or other support groups
  • Begins hanging out with old drinking friends
  • Evidence of binge drinking like empty bottles in the trash
  • Stops self-care practices like eating right and getting enough sleep
  • Gets defensive when you ask about their behaviors
  • Signs of alcohol withdrawal like vomiting, stomach issues, sweating or nervousness
  • Stops taking treatment medications for mental health disorders
  • Missing group meetings or therapy appointments

If you’re worried your loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse again, here are a few things you can do:

  • You can approach them directly. Let them know you see they’re having a hard time and ask how you can help. This could at least open the lines of communication for some sort of movement in the right direction.
  • You can reach out to their sponsor. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous will often have an alcohol intervention for members who’ve relapsed.
  • Contact their last alcohol rehab. If your loved one spent time in a treatment center they likely provide reintervention services.
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