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4 Ways to Support Someone You Love Through Addiction Recovery

If you are dating an addict, you have probably been told that the best thing you can do for your loved one is to be tough and stop helping. This advice is based on the wisdom that you shouldn’t enable an addict’s destructive behavior. However, not all helping is enabling, and there are a number of ways that you can play a helpful role in your loved one’s addiction recovery.

You cannot force someone to change, but you can encourage them to, and if you are dating a recovering addict who is already in treatment, you can positively impact their growth and healing. Read on to discover four ways to support your loved one through addiction recovery and four ways to help a loved one who is still in active addiction get the treatment they need.

Four Ways to Support Someone You Love During Addiction Recovery

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery as an ongoing process of change that allows individuals to live self-directed lives, improve health and wellness, and work to achieve their full potential.

SAMHSA also lists four dimensions that are needed for successful addiction recovery—health, home, purpose, and community.

If you are dating a recovering addict, you can help them by creating change and acting in ways that bolster these four key areas.

1. Support Health

The primary step of addiction recovery is to quit using drugs or alcohol and start making healthy choices that support physical, mental, and emotional well-being. When you are dating an addict, it can be tempting to try and control their behavior or to feel guilty or responsible for it, but this is an unhealthy mindset, both for you and your addicted loved one. The first step to supporting your partner through addiction recovery is to accept that you cannot force someone to quit, nor can you force them to avoid drugs or alcohol for the rest of their lives. Relapses happen and are out of your control.

You also cannot monitor your loved one’s recovery, shadowing them through every step. You can go to family or couples therapy with them, and make changes in your lifestyle and relationship that will facilitate their growth, but the work of addiction recovery is not up to you. You participate on the sidelines, allowing your loved one to do what they need to do to heal while continuing to love them through the process.

So what else can you do to help? Leading by example is always a good idea. Take care of your own health by eating well and getting exercise, encouraging your loved one to join in without trying to push or pressure them. Make sure to abstain from illegal drugs, prescription misuse, and excessive drinking—especially in your loved one’s presence. And look after your own mental and emotional well-being by seeking out support groups such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, or by seeing a counselor on your own, not just alongside your loved one in couple’s therapy.

You can help your loved one recover by taking care of your own health and wellbeing!

2. Support Home

Having a safe and stable place to live is essential for addiction recovery. Whether your addicted loved one lives with you or simply spends a lot of time in your home, make sure the environment is free of addiction triggers. The most obvious of these are drugs and alcohol, but try to find out from your loved one what other triggers may make them especially vulnerable to relapse. You might want to do this with the help of a counselor during a therapy session.

You also want to do everything you can to make sure your home is physically safe, and supportive of healthy habits. Factors such as living in a dangerous area, or over a loud bar that keeps you up at night, could put additional stress on you and your loved one.

Even seemingly unimportant changes can make a big difference in a home. We are all influenced by our environments, and nesting can be a great way to make a home feel more restful and restorative. You and your loved one may want to redecorate or engage in some DIY projects. These don’t have to be expensive—paint is affordable, and thrift stores often have furniture or decorative objects that just need a little creativity or TLC to look fantastic. If home makeovers aren’t your thing, focus on the functional instead. Maybe you and your loved one would enjoy peaceful, sober nights at home more if you had a cuddly-soft blanket on the couch, or maybe you would both sleep better if you got a white noise machine. Think about what will make your home comfortable and healthy for you both.

3. Support Purpose

dating a recovering addict

Compassion and support will help your loved one recover.

Addiction recovery isn’t just about not drinking or using, it’s about building a life that makes you less vulnerable to substance use. To do this, your loved one will need to engage in meaningful activities each day—working, going to school, taking care of family, volunteering, and/or doing something creative. They will also need to establish a sense of independence and self-reliance, by earning income or otherwise contributing to or participating in society.

You can’t force your loved one to find purpose, but again, you can lead by example, continuing to live your own life by working, spending time with family, volunteering, or doing whatever is important to you. Try to be understanding if your recovering loved one starts spending less time with you because they’ve discovered a new hobby, or they got a new job. Addiction recovery itself can be time-consuming, and you may miss the long stretches of time you used to spend together, but remember that no single relationship, no matter how loving, is enough of a reason to get out of bed every morning. Your loved one needs more than just you to create meaning in their life, and you need to allow them the time and space to discover their sense of purpose.

4. Support Community

SAMHSA’s fourth dimension of recovery is community, and this is where you get to contribute the most. Recovery requires social networks and relationships that offer support, friendship, and love. Without human connection, a person in recovery has nothing to live for. Loving relationships create hope for the future, and hope is the most important ingredient for a successful recovery—the only reason to participate in treatment is because you believe that you can overcome challenges and create a better future.

For their recovery journey, your loved one will need not just your support, but the support of friends, family, and peers. Your loved one will likely form new relationships while in treatment, and this is a good thing. Try not to be jealous, or to resent the time your loved one spends with others. Building friendships with sober peers who can relate to the recovery experience is a key aspect of addiction treatment and will benefit you both.

One of the best ways that you can support someone you love through addiction recovery is to be a good listener. Hear them out without judgment, and offer support without trying to “fix” anything. Shame is especially toxic, so speak up openly about addiction, and encourage your loved one to do the same. Keep the lines of communication open. Counselors can be a big help when it comes to learning how to communicate more effectively and to resolve conflicts in healthy ways if you have any issues in this area.

Four Ways to Help Someone Who Is Currently Addicted

Maybe you are dating an addict who hasn’t yet admitted that they need treatment. What can you do to become a better addiction ally?

1. Educate yourself on addiction.

Learn more about addiction by researching online, consulting a doctor, or asking your local librarian. The more you understand about the disease of addiction, the more understanding you can be of your loved one. Education also empowers you by helping you recognize the difference between the person you love and their addiction, and to recognize how the disease has impacted your relationship. Being informed about addiction will also help you be able to communicate with your loved one more effectively when you decide to tackle the second item on this list.

2. Talk to your loved one about getting help.

Trying to persuade an addicted loved one to get help requires firmness and honesty, without judgement, guilt trips, or hostility. You may have a lot of anger towards your loved one, but try to work out those feelings privately in counseling or support groups for now. You will be able to deal with the issue directly after your loved one is in treatment when they’ll be better equipped to have the discussion.

You also want to choose your time well. It’s best to talk about addiction when your loved one isn’t actively high or drunk, and in an environment where they can’t drink or use. Talk about the effect that the addiction has on your loved one, and on the people and things they care about most. If they aren’t moved by the idea of their own worsening health problems, they might be motivated by the harm the addiction is causing their career or their family. Always lead with love and affection when you confront your loved one about their problem, making it clear that you want them to get help because you care about their wellbeing. You have to avoid making the addict feel attacked or demeaned, as this will make them more likely to dig in their heels and continue to deny the need for treatment.

Don’t be too discouraged if you can’t get through to the addict. Your loved one may think about what you said and eventually come around. Or you may try again later—perhaps in the form of a group intervention—and have more success.

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3. Be a helper, not an enabler.

Giving your addicted loved one money to buy booze or drugs, or covering their car payment because they spent too much on their addiction is one of the most obvious ways you can enable an addict. But there are sneakier ways to enable, such as making excuses for their intoxicated behavior, pretending the problem really isn’t that bad, or cleaning up the physical, emotional, or professional messes they make. These actions make it easier for your loved one to keep using. Investigating treatment facilities in your area, on the other hand, or finding out what kind of treatment is covered by your loved one’s insurance company, are helpful actions that will make it easier for them to get treatment and stop using.

Another important part of not enabling is to set boundaries and follow through with consequences when they are violated. For example, if you tell your loved one that you will not allow them to drink or use drugs in your home, you have to stay firm about not letting them stay over when they are drunk or high. Tell them that you love them, but that you can’t continue to watch their destructive behavior.

You’ll also want to take a good honest look at yourself to determine if you might be addicted to your own enabling behavior. Maybe you enjoy taking care of the addict and feel needed, or maybe you get a charge out of the continual drama. Maybe deep down you’re scared that the addict won’t need you or love you if they get healthy, or maybe it’s easier to focus on your loved one’s problems than to deal with your own. This is another reason that counseling or support groups like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon are an excellent resource to turn to if you are dating an addict.

4. Be compassionate towards your loved one, and towards yourself.

Everyone deserves kindness, love, and understanding. Show compassion to your addicted loved one, but also to yourself. Never sacrifice your own wellbeing. It won’t help either of you in the long run. Being a thoughtful listener is a great way to support someone going through addiction, treatment, or recovery. Listen with kindness, and without judgement.

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