If someone you love has decided to attend rehab and change their life, you should be very proud of them—making that decision is almost never easy. You may be wondering what you can say to someone in rehab. You want to be encouraging and supportive, but you may also be worried about upsetting them or saying something unhelpful. This is understandable, and your concern is valid. The fact that you’re doing your research about how to support your loved one in rehab means your heart is in the right place and you are taking the appropriate steps to ensure you are sensitive during this time.
Chances are, your loved one is in a very vulnerable place right now, and therapy and counseling may have them feeling very raw. To help you offer a positive message of support that will be appreciated by your loved one struggling with addiction, here are some suggested words of encouragement for someone in rehab.
How to Support a Loved One in Addiction Treatment
Everyone’s needs during rehab are different, but regardless of their needs, here are a few encouraging and loving things you can say to show your support, culled from the best advice from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).1
Tell your loved one that you admire their courage for attending rehab and changing their life.
It can be very difficult for someone to admit that they have a drug or alcohol addiction and need help. Addicted individuals often feel shame, isolation, guilt, depression, and a fear of being judged for their addiction. They don’t want to be seen as weak or at fault for their substance abuse.
This shame is compounded when the addiction has negatively impacted their relationship with loved ones, including you. Maybe they have stolen or broken promises or said hurtful things. It can mean the world to someone in rehab to know that you admire them for choosing to change their life around.
Reassure them that as long as they stick to their treatment plan, you will offer support and encouragement.
The road to recovery may seem long and bump at times, particularly when therapy touches on painful issues that may be hard for your loved one to face. They may feel alone and vulnerable, especially if they previously leaned on drug or alcohol abuse rather than dealing with emotional difficulties. Letting them know that you will be there for them as long as they follow their treatment plan can give them the encouragement they need to continue through the hard times. It can incentivize them to continue doing what they need to do to stay on the right track with their sobriety. This also applies to those who go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
However, this doesn’t mean you will abandon your loved one if they relapse or have a slip. It simply means that you may have to set some boundaries. Remember, you have likely been hurt as well throughout the course of your loved one’s drug or alcohol use. And while forgiveness is an important part of the healing process, you still have to protect yourself by setting boundaries, communicating those boundaries, and sticking to them.
Remind them that treatment centers are effective at helping patients recover from substance addiction while also keeping them safe.
It may be normal for your loved one to doubt the treatment process while they are away at rehab. This may be because they’ve been confronted with emotional issues or problems they’d rather not deal with. This may be because they’re experiencing intense cravings for drugs or alcohol and have a desire to drop out of treatment.
Regardless of the reason, you’ll want to reaffirm what your loved one already knows but may have lost sight of: addiction is a treatable condition, and they are capable of making a full recovery as long as they stay in rehab.2
Additionally, while in early recovery, they may be experiencing unpleasant and painful withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms vary from substance to substance, but they often consist of mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety, panic, and nervousness, as well as physical discomforts, such as painful joints, flu-like symptoms, nausea, vomiting, and more. Withdrawal and detox is a trying time, and your loved one may be unable to look past their current pain to see a better, healthier future.
Remind them that their rehab program can keep them safe and comfortable through withdrawal by offering them detox medications, supportive care like IV fluids, vitamins, and nutritional counseling, as well as emotional support through detox counseling. Their treatment team is comprised of trained professionals who are well versed in meeting the needs of people recovering from addiction. These encouraging words can give your loved one some much-needed support on days and nights when rehab gets a bit hard to endure.
Help them identify and avoid triggers once they finish rehab and re-enter the community.
Once your loved one’s inpatient rehab program is over, they will have to re-enter the community and it may be a difficult transition for them. This is because during rehab they were away from their everyday using environment and could focus on their recovery. But back home, they will be faced with drug-using triggers that could lead to a relapse. These triggers may include places where they used to drink or do drugs or seeing friends with who they used substances.
You may want to encourage your friend or family member to avoid these triggers whenever possible. You can also help them to identify and write down those triggers so they can avoid them later. That said, you can’t be with them around the clock so they will have to do a lot of this work on their own, using the coping skills and strategies they learned in rehab. But you can be there for them and offer as much support as possible without compromising your mental or emotional health.
If your loved one relapses, remind them that relapse is a normal part of the recovery process, and encourage them to re-enter treatment.
Relapse does not necessarily mean that addiction treatment failed. Because substance addiction is a chronic condition, some people may return to drug or alcohol use at some point throughout their recovery process. Relapse rates for substance use are between 40-60%, similar to those of other chronic conditions, such as hypertension and asthma.2
If your friend or family member relapses, this simply means that they need to speak with their therapist or doctor to create a new treatment plan. This new treatment plan may involve changing treatment, trying a new type of intervention, or re-entering a rehab program.2 You may also encourage them to attend additional Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings—and you can even offer to attend an open meeting with them in which family and friends are welcome.
To find a rehab program for someone you care about, call our helpline at 1-800-429-7690. We can help them get back on track with their recovery.
Relapsing on opioids like heroin or prescription painkillers can be deadly due to your loved one’s reduced tolerance. If they were previously addicted to opioids, you will want to buy Narcan for your loved one and yourself. Narcan (naloxone) is a life-saving medication that rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.3
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Step by Step Guides to Finding Treatment for Drug Use Disorders: How to Find Help.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction: Treatment and Recovery.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Naloxone DrugFacts.
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