How to Support Someone New to Recovery


“Despite the challenges, families who understand the inevitable ups and downs of early recovery put themselves in a strong position to offer their loved one meaningful support.”

~Beverly Conyers, Everything Changes: Help for Families of Newly Recovering Addicts

When a loved one is in alcohol or drug rehab and hoping to begin a new, sober life, you might understandably worry about how you should act around and toward them.

To someone newly-sober, your support and understanding is crucial if they are going to succeed at staying away from addictive substances and avoiding relapse.

Tip #1 – You Don’t Have to Have All the Answers

At this fragile time, your loved one is probably wondering – “What’s next?”

This might be the first time in years that they haven’t tried to face life without drugs or alcohol. Because they no longer have that crutch, they might instead turn to you for answers. But what if you are just as clueless as they are?

It’s OKAY.

It’s not your job to have all the answers to this wonderful new situation. Your job is to just be there as your recovering loved one faces new challenges with a clean and sober mind.

Tip #2 – Helping in Little Ways is a BIG Deal

Make no mistake – THEIR recovery is THEIR responsibility. But there are still lots of ways that you can help. For example:

  • If they don’t own a reliable vehicle, or if they don’t have a driver’s license, give them a ride to counseling sessions and 12-Step meetings.
  • Be there when they need to talk – even if it’s your dinner time, the middle of the night, or you’re only date. Overwhelming stress and temptations can strike at any time.
  • ALWAYS be positive. Other people are doubting their chances of success. Let your loved one know that you are SURE that they can make it.

Tip #3 – Loneliness Is the Enemy of Recovery

Addiction is a lonely disease, even in recovery.

Newly-sober substance abusers have learned to avoid their old drugging and drinking buddies, but at the same time, they are still rediscovering how to reconnect with family and friends they may have alienated. They may even be isolated by guilt and shame over their past behaviors.

Here’s the thing – a lonely person is at extreme risk of relapse.

So what can you do?

Check in on them frequently – keep the human connection alive. When you ask how they are, don’t settle for the typical answer of “I’m fine”. Let them know that their efforts are appreciated and their company is welcome.

Tip #4 – Respect Their Recovery

Never forget that their recovery MUST come first. At times, this will limit your time together. For example:

  • 12-Step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous may meet every day, sometimes multiple times a day. People new to recovery often like to attend as many as possible.
  • If they participate in an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), they will have to attend therapy sessions most days of the week, for several hours at a time.
  • Often, community service or extra counseling sessions are ordered by the Court.
  • Residents of sober-living facilities have strict curfews.
  • On top of it all, they probably have a job.

NEVER demand that they ignore another commitment so they can spend more time with you.

Tip #5 – Offer Them Something Better Than Drugs and Alcohol

Even with recovery and work commitments, a newly-sober person invariably finds themselves with too much time on their hands. Boredom, like loneliness, can lead to relapse.

You can fill up their empty time with positive companionship.

  • Attend meetings with them– Going to open 12-Step meetings can help you better understand what your loved one is going through.
  • Have dinner – Cook them a healthy meal. Better yet, take them out to a restaurant (not a bar and grill) and let someone else do the cooking and cleaning.
  • Try something new – A newly-sober brain has to “relearn” ways to have fun. It easier and more fun to try new things when someone else will try them with you. Try a new hobby or take a class together.
  • Keep it simple–If money or time is an issue, then meet regularly – just to talk. For the wonderfully-affordable price of a cup of coffee, you keep the connection current.

Tip #6 – Remember the “3 C’s”

There are “3 C’s” to remind you of how to best support someone new to recovery –

  • Calm – When they are overwhelmed and anxious, you can be a stabilizing influence.
  • Caring – When they feel alone, you can show them that they are NOT.
  • Committed – When others turn their backs or doubt them, you help just by being there.

If someone you care about is ready to face their addiction and win, Chapman House Treatment Centers can help. Since 1978, Chapman House has been the go-to resource for struggling substance abusers and families in Orange County, California.

by Albert Fontemot


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