How to Support a Recovering Alcoholic

How to support a recovering alcoholic is a question many people have when a loved one enters treatment.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stresses that support from friends, family, and the community is one of the four pillars of addiction recovery. Support is absolutely essential for ending an addiction for the long-term. For many people who have a loved one in recovery, the question is how to support a recovering alcoholic. Alcohol addiction causes changes in thought and behavior patterns, and having a relationship with a recovering alcoholic can be complicated. 

If you’re wondering how to support a recovering alcoholic, wonder no more. Here are three essential steps for supporting a loved one in recovery.

1. Understand Addiction

The fundamental answer to the question of how to support a recovering alcoholic is, “Education, education, education.” Unless you understand addiction, you won’t be able to understand how to engage in a supportive relationship with a recovering alcoholic.

To best support your loved one, learn about how addiction develops as a result of changes in the structures and functions of the brain. Understand that addiction almost always has underlying issues, such as chronic stress, a history of trauma, or a mental illness. Know how addiction is treated with medication, psychotherapy, and complementary therapies. Understand that addiction is a relapsing disease of the brain, and relapse occurs in three predictable stages. Know the stages, and learn what to say to a recovering alcoholic who is showing signs of a potential relapse.

2. Engage in Therapy

Therapy for the close family members of an addicted individual–especially those who live with the addicted person–is extremely important for best supporting a recovering loved one. When you think about how to support a recovering alcoholic, you need to realize that addiction affects more than just the addicted person. It’s a family disease that leads to unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns on the part of family members who have to live with – and learn to cope with – the uncertainty and chaos that addiction brings to the household.

Family members typically develop unhealthy coping skills, often becoming co-dependent and engaging in enabling behaviors.

Co-dependence is characterized by being consumed by the addiction to the point that you neglect your own needs and desires in order to focus on the addiction and your addicted loved one. One of the most prevalent co-dependent behaviors is letting the addicted person dictate your moods and resenting your loved one while harboring great resentment for him.

Enabling involves removing the consequences of the addiction to protect the addicted person. Enabling behaviors include using alcohol with the addicted person to keep an eye on him, taking over the addicted person’s responsibilities to protect them, and lying about the addiction to friends and family members.

Ending these unhealthy behaviors is essential for supporting your loved one in recovery, and therapy is essential for identifying them and learning to change them. Family therapy, too, can be enormously helpful for supporting your loved one in recovery. Family therapy helps to repair damaged relationships and restore function to the family system.

3. Get Support

Engaging with a support group for family members of people in recovery can help you know what to say to a recovering alcoholic who appears to be on the verge of relapse. A support group helps you navigate the challenges you’ll face as your loved one continues in recovery, and it gives you a safe place to vent negative emotions that can come up, such as fear, resentment, and anger. A support group can help you offer the best possible level of support to a recovering alcoholic.

A Family in Recovery

When a family member gets help for an addiction, the whole family enters recovery. Everyone affected by the addiction should get the help they need to address the issues that arose from it. This is especially true for children, who are at a higher risk of substance abuse themselves down the road as a result of living with it.

A family united in recovery provides a high level of support for the addicted loved one–support that dramatically increases the chances of successful long-term recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.