Alcohol use disorder is a complicated condition. It not only affects the person who suffers with alcoholism; it has an incredible impact on people who care about them, too. Family members, friends, and other loved ones have a close-up view of the problem as it progresses. They look on helplessly as substances steal the life of the person they care about.
Thankfully, recovery is possible for anyone who struggles with substance abuse. It’s relieving to see your loved one find a solution to their problem. At the same time, quitting drinking doesn’t always make everything better immediately. Alcohol use disorder causes lasting physical, mental, and emotional damage the person must overcome after they quit.
Being an ally to someone in recovery is not always the easiest thing to do. One of the most important things you can do for a loved one in early recovery is to be supportive. It’s not always easy to know how to provide the help they need. What are some ways you can be a supportive friend to someone in recovery?
1. Educate yourself
The best thing to do is start with educating yourself. For someone on the outside looking in, alcohol and substance use disorders don’t always make sense. You might think your loved one should simply “stop using” or “just quit”. Maybe you believe it’s a problem with self-control or a lack of willpower.
But these ideas are incorrect. These false assumptions perpetuate the stigma surrounding addiction. Start by learning more about alcohol and substance use disorders and how they work. The more you know about these conditions, the more equipped you are to connect with them and understand what they’re going through.
2. Avoid enabling behaviors
Enabling behaviors are detrimental to your loved one’s recovery. If you’re not familiar with what enabling is, you may be doing it without even knowing it. You may think that excusing their actions or behaviors because of their recovery is helpful. You might have a hard time setting boundaries because you worry about their impact on your relationship.
In reality, these are simply enabling behaviors. Making excuses for your loved one or avoiding tough conversations is not helpful. You don’t have to tiptoe around them to support them. Supporting them also means holding them responsible and accountable for their actions and letting them stand on their own.
3. Try to listen instead of offer advice
Sometimes it’s tempting to offer advice when your loved one just needs you to listen. They likely struggle to express their thoughts or feelings after months and years of suppressing them. Even if some things don’t seem clear to you, it’s best to learn to listen without interrupting.
Your loved one doesn’t always need your advice. Oftentimes they only need someone to listen to what they’re going through and provide support. Learning to listen without offering advice is a good way to be supportive of a loved one in recovery.
4. Express any concerns
Along with avoiding enabling behaviors, expressing your concern is good. If you notice your loved one is acting differently again, it’s okay to speak up. It’s better to say something when you first see it instead of waiting until they slip back into their old behaviors and eventually relapse.
It’s much easier to talk to someone before they relapse. Reasoning with them is much more difficult once they’re under the influence of substances. Don’t be afraid to express your concerns when you’re supporting a loved one in early recovery.
5. Make plans that don’t involve alcohol
One of the best ways to be supportive of your loved one’s newfound recovery is to spend time with them sober. They may believe it’s impossible to have fun without alcohol when they first stop drinking. Making plans that don’t involve drinking is crucial if you want to help them in their recovery.
Get a group of friends together for dinner; go out for a night of bowling; take a painting class without the complimentary glass of wine; head to a concert, sporting event, art show, or museum; or go on a weekend road trip. There are many things to do that don’t involve alcohol and bringing your friend out for them is a great way to support their recovery.