Life as a Supporter

How to Be a Healthy Supporter of Someone with Addiction

Letting go of what we think our loved one’s process should look like — and embracing our own process of growth — can have great positive impact on our experiences and their recovery. Each person’s journey through recovery is unique, and breakthrough can come through a range of resources, models, or approaches. There is a delicate line between helping a loved one make wise, informed choices and respecting the preferences of an individual needing help. This is particularly hard if addiction is limiting their ability to make thoughtful choice. It’s important to allow individuals to pursue resources that resonate with them, while doing what can be done to maximize their safety. It’s also crucial to seize the opportunity to grow ourselves. Pain, trauma, and addiction affect entire families, not just the individual seeking help. Pursuing greater health for ourselves as a supporter can bring greater health and connection to our family or friends.

Recovery Can Take Unexpected Turns

Our loved ones’ journeys through recovery may not look or progress like we expect. As a supporter, dealing with uncertainty in recovery can be common. For instance, our own expectations for the process and its outcome can contribute to anxiety and possible disappointment. Sometimes the journey toward hope and helpful resources can be imperfect and messy, or face temporary setbacks. Involving a third-party like a trusted counselor can be helpful to review whether our own expectations or bias is negatively impacting the healing process for our loved one.

What will bring significant change and healing varies between individuals. There are evidence-based programs and methodologies, and plenty of individuals who have successfully recovered programs for which there is less scientific documentation. Recovery may involve trying or embracing new structures, treatment models, or other resources. As a supporter, expressing patience, hope and support through possible ups and downs can contribute to successful recovery. Sometimes, we need to let go of personal timelines or goals that may be influenced by fear.

Two older men sit outside a cafe talking about the uncertainty of the recovery process and how to best support a loved one who's addicted

The Challenge of Empowerment

In the long-term, individuals must be empowered to be involved in their own recovery process. However, they may not have capacity or mental function to make significant decisions early in recovery. Thus, providing firmer guidance may be needed, particularly in earlier stages. As individuals get healthier through their recovery process, it’s crucial that they are empowered in increasing ways to make decisions and participate in their own healing.

However, this can feel difficult because it requires letting go and allowing individual to make decisions that could have consequences. But, as discussed earlier, empowering individuals to participate in their own recovery is crucial for addressing the roots. It is not hard to find an individual with a strong opinion about their favorite model or approach to recovery. Maintaining an openness to the perspectives of trusted third-party advisors and medical professionals, and to the individual receiving care (after early recovery), can support productive recovery outcomes.

Personal Growth as a Supporter

As our supporter, continuing our own growth journey toward greater wellness positively impacts those around us. Respecting another’s process and continuing one’s own can bring unexpected, life-giving discovery. Taking part in counseling or other types of support for individuals struggling with addiction can be incredibly helpful for our own emotional and mental health. If possible, give it a try before discounting the value of professional help. Remember: finding connection, peace, and acceptance ourselves enable us to model and share that with our loved ones.

Related: Why Self-Care Matters as a Supporter 

Two sisters hug each other as they support a family member recovering from addiction and alcoholism

Often, family members express a strong willingness to do anything to help their loved one. But, they may have to overcome their own resistance to some of these practical steps. Attending a group with their friend or family member, or going to a supporter group like Al-Anon, demonstrates support. Pain, trauma, and disconnection often affect the entire family, and not just the individual with an addiction or mental health challenge. Past family disconnection can be a factor in addiction and other challenges. Investing in counseling for oneself as a supporter, or for a family, can be helpful for understanding how healthier connection can occur within family.

Addressing Family Roots

For some, it may seem strange for supporters to be involved in counseling. The pain caused by the actions of an individual struggling with addiction can strengthen the idea that they’re the only ones that need help, and not us. For instance, it can feel uncomfortable to attend a support group, or meet with a counselor. But if we are serious about assisting our loved ones, it’s worth the time to embark on the challenging process of embracing uncertainty and looking inside.

Every family can grow in connection and vulnerability, regardless of how healthy they are. One person’s battle with addiction can be an opportunity for others to grow as well in their own personal journeys. In fact, opportunities for better family dynamics can come to light. The goal is not to put shame or blame on other family members, but to spark opportunities for growth. Improved boundaries, clearer communication, and greater trust are just a few of the possible fruits. Healthier relational connection can benefit everyone in a family, not just the individual struggling with addiction.



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