The Role of Friends and Family in Recovery Support

family and friends in support

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Recovery is a group effort. As a friend or family member of someone in recovery, you can be a pillar of support in their journey. However, many people face the problem that no matter how badly they want to support their loved ones, they aren’t sure how. You may also have fear and hesitation about getting too close to a person if they have hurt you in the past. After all, just because the problem appears to be resolved does not mean there is no chance of a relapse. Whether you try to help from a close relationship or maintain your distance, your words and behaviors will still have an effect on the individual in recovery.

Do Your Research

As a friend or family member of someone in recovery wishing to help, you must understand the nature of the disease of addiction. A better understanding of addiction can be gained through basic research. Still, you may wish to specifically tailor your research to see how their particular drug of choice has affected them. Someone who smokes marijuana will not be affected in the same manner as a person who uses heroin. Learn how their substance of choice has affected their mind and body, and you will come to see just how arduous their struggle has been.

With an understanding of their addiction, some of their past behaviors may begin to make more sense. The signs of addiction that they have exhibited, such as social detachment and mood swings, will be cast in a new light. Knowing this is essential–friends and family must recognize these signs later on in the event of a relapse. If they become restless, irritable, and discontent, it does not automatically mean that they have relapsed, but it does mean that friends and family should be on the lookout.

Knowing more about your loved one in recovery, the drug to which they were addicted, and how this addiction has affected them, it will be much easier to be there for them when they need you. Not only that, but you will also know when your intervention in their affairs is unnecessary. Friends and family can be pillars of support for those in recovery, but only if they are well-informed on the person they are supporting and the disease they are helping that person combat. Once you know this, the rest is a matter of simple judgment.

Supporting vs. Enabling

For many, codependency is one of the underlying factors in addiction. Codependency is a behavioral pattern in which one member of a relationship enables another’s addiction to gain approval, love, or power over the other. This form of enabling can occur in such subtle ways that it’s hard to tell the difference between genuine support and codependency. In many cases, the codependent partner isn’t even aware that they contribute to the loved one’s destructive behavior.

The critical differences between supporting and enabling include:

  • Underlying Motives. A supportive family member or friend’s goal is to help the loved one recover from addiction. A codependent relative or friend unconsciously wants to keep the person addicted so that they rely on the relative for help. Supportive friends and family will attend meetings with their loved ones, go to counseling, and refuse to accept or participate in addictive behavior. Codependents will lie to cover up the person’s drug abuse, give them money to pay bills, or continue to let a destructive person in to keep them “safe” at home.
  • Level of Attachment: A supportive person may be deeply concerned about a loved one’s destructive behavior, but not to the point of sacrificing their own interests. A codependent is willing to give up time, money, and endless emotional energy to “help” an addicted loved one. A codependent’s sense of self-worth is so profoundly intertwined with the addicted person that breaking the attachment can cause emotional trauma.
  • Strength of Boundaries. A supportive friend or relative is ready to help a person with addiction, but they can also set boundaries against inappropriate or threatening behavior. A codependent has very weak boundaries or no boundaries at all. Codependents will accept verbal or physical abuse, risk their health or expose themselves to criminal charges on a loved one’s behalf.

Staying Caring and Involved

Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease, and there is no “quick-fix” solution. While your loved one may have completed a program of inpatient or outpatient treatment, healing from addiction will continue well after they come home because the consequences of substance abuse are so far-reaching.

It’s crucial to remember that it may be necessary for your entire family to commit to specific lifestyle changes after your loved one returns home. These changes often mean family members agree to maintain a drug and alcohol-free home environment. Creating a healthy, sober, and stable atmosphere at home will reduce the chances of a relapse, especially during the early days of recovery.

As a friend, you can support your loved one’s substance-free lifestyle as well. You can be another sober person for them in uncomfortable situations or help them out of risky situations. When you go out with other friends, offer not to drink with them. Let your friend know that you are there for them and are willing to support them in any way they need.

Those in recovery can feel incredibly isolated, but having understanding and encouragement from close friends and family can lay the foundation for continued success in sobriety. Achieving long-term recovery requires wholehearted family and friend support.

Having support family members and friends plays a crucial role in recovering from addiction. However, as a friend or family member, you may not know where to start. The most important thing you can do is research; learning about what your loved one has gone through can help you gain a deeper understanding of them. Learn about the differences between supporting and enabling to ensure you are helping them in the best way possible and, remember, always to be a place of love and encouragement. If your loved one is continuing to struggle and needs extra support, Hired Power can help. At Hired Power, we have developed a team approach to support you or your loved one with these difficult changes. Depending on individual needs, we offer Recovery Care Managers and Personal Recovery Assistants (PRAs) or sober companions who work one-on-one with each client to implement healthy changes as they transition back to independent living. For more information, contact Hired Power today at (714) 559-3919.