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Helping Your Loved One in Recovery: Top 10 Dos and Don’ts

People at group therapy session

When your loved one agrees to enroll in treatment, you may feel a great sense of relief. Finally, the time has come to stop falling deeper into the hole and to begin the slow process of climbing out.

While it is fine to celebrate this moment, it is important to recognize that there is a great deal of work ahead, not just for the person in recovery but for those who love and support that person as well.

It is also important to note that even family members with the best of intentions, who want nothing more than to see the person stop drinking and using drugs, can inadvertently make things more difficult than they need to be without a little guidance on how best to handle the recovery process.

To get your started on your family’s path to recovery, here are a few dos and don’ts that will help you to set up strong boundaries and provide your loved one with positive support both during treatment and long afterward.

Dos

1. Do attend meetings with your loved one. Therapy sessions, support groups, 12-Step meetings – all of these may be good places for you to be with your loved one if that person is comfortable with your attendance. Your presence can make your family member feel more at ease when attending new sessions and communicate without words that you are supportive of everything necessary to stabilize in recovery. If your family member does not want you in attendance at support groups or 12-Step meetings, respect that and give them the space necessary to create a unique and independent identity in recovery.

2. Do attend therapy on your own. You need to heal just as much as the person in your family who is overcoming addiction, and to do this, you can attend your own therapy sessions and 12-Step meetings. Al-Anon is for friends and families of people living with addiction, and it can provide you with a support network of other people who are facing similar struggles. You can share your experience, learn from other people, and spend time people who understand what you are going through. In personal therapy, you have the opportunity to focus on your needs for a change.

3. Do prioritize your own health. You will not be able to take care of your family member if you are struggling with medical or emotional health issues. Make time to take care of yourself by going to the doctor for regular checkups, eating well, exercising regularly, and getting good sleep. When you take care of yourself, you will be better able to manage stress and assist your loved one in facing whatever may come.

4. Do emphasize the positive. You have likely experienced a lot of pain, fear, sadness, and anger around your loved one’s addiction, but you can choose to work through those issues in therapy and spend the bulk of your time focusing on the good things that happen in your life. It can take time to let go of the understandable and huge emotional issues associated with your loved one’s addiction, but with practice, you can learn to live in the moment and practice mindfulness that allows you peace.

5. Do give your loved one space to make choices independently. You cannot stay sober for your loved one, no matter how often you are present with that person. Your loved one needs to step out alone and figure out how to manage sobriety in a way that makes sense on a personal level.

Don’ts

1. Don’t shield your loved one from consequences. It may feel as if you are helping when you call into work to cover for their absence, shoulder the blame for a choice made under the influence or in pursuit of a high, or otherwise clean up after your loved one’s “messes,” but it does not help to create a buffer between that person and the consequences of choices related to drug and alcohol use.

2. Don’t expect too much. “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” is the common advice given to family members as they support their loved one through addiction treatment and into recovery. This can manifest by giving your loved one space to build their schedule around treatment and recovery rather than around things happening at home, or to prioritize their self-care over the care of others. Minimize their access to household funds or anything that may trigger the urge to go drink or get high, and keep doing what you need to do to take care of yourself.

3. Don’t expose yourself or your family to violence of any kind. If your loved one is physically, sexually, emotionally, or verbally violent to you or anyone in your household, prioritize safety first, and make arrangements to protect yourself and your family.

4. Don’t push your loved one to share your concerns. You likely have a bone or two to pick with your loved one over some choices made during addiction and/or treatment, or you may be extremely concerned that a certain activity or person will cause your loved one to relapse. Though you may have every reason to feel this way, it is important for you to address those issues, fears, and concerns on your own rather than expect your loved one to fix the problem or make you feel better.

5. Don’t stay if the situation is not working for you. If you are unhappy, or if you know that you and your loved one will not be able to maintain a close relationship in the coming years, you are not helping by staying involved on an intimate level. Yes, it will be difficult for your loved one to deal with a loss of connection with you if the two of you were once close, but if you feel sure that you will be unable to maintain the relationship, free both of you from expectation as gently as possible.

What have you learned in your journey with your loved one through addiction recovery?

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