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How to Support a Loved One in Recovery

By Chapel Taylor-Olsen, BA and Dr. Ashley Yaugher

Family

When a loved one is interested in or begins the recovery process for a substance use disorder (SUD), it can be hard to know what to say and do to support them. Family, friends, and other loved ones are important in this process and can provide support in many ways during this time. Here are five tips on how you can support loved ones in recovery:

  1. Reach Out, Connect: Show loved ones that you are available through video chat, phone call, or whatever means of connecting feels right to you both. Social support helps people cope with stress and a feeling of closeness with others benefits our heart, immune system, and overall health (CDC, n.d.). Ask open-ended questions and give them time to answer you (Mental Health Foundation, 2020). 
  2. Listen: Listen to what your loved one is telling you and repeat back what you think you heard to ensure that you understand. You don’t have to agree with them, but show them that you are listening and that you respect their experience and feelings (Mental Health Foundation, 2020). Try not to take it personally if your loved one does not want to talk – letting them know that you’re available is a valuable gesture. 
  3. Express Hope: Avoid empty reassurances that “everything will be ok,” but be hopeful about the future and the possibilities of recovery (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, n.d.). Remember, SUD is treatable, and recovery is possible (SAMHSA, n.d.). See the resources below for some supports that may be helpful for your loved one. 

For help finding treatment options in your area call SAMHSA’s treatment locator helpline at: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

  1. Take Care of Yourself: Loving or caring for people with SUD and other mental health disorders can be inadvertently difficult on you. When a loved one enters treatment, you may experience some left over feelings of hurt or confusion (SAMHSA, 2013). Family members can seek out support for themselves and may want to consider family therapy with their loved ones to rebalance family dynamics and allow for healing (SAMHSA, 2013).
  2. Know What to Do in a Crisis: If someone expresses suicidal feelings or thoughts, do not ignore these worrisome signs – your loved one needs professional help. You can call a crisis line as a support person to talk to about what you are seeing in your loved one’s behavior and ask questions to get some support on what you can do to help.  Or you can call for support yourself if you are having a difficult time. You can give the crisis line information to your loved one so that they can also call to get support when they need it (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, n.d.). Crisis lines offer 24/7, confidential, free support for people who are having thoughts of harming themselves as well as support for loved ones. Save these numbers in your phone or jot them down somewhere easy to find: 

Support Hotlines:

1 (800) SUICIDE (784-2433)

1 (800) 273-TALK (8255)

For TTY users, dial 711 then 1 (800) 273-8255 or use your preferred relay service

Spanish Speaking: 1 (888) 628-9454 

(833) 372-3388 (chat and app available)

Families and loved ones are an important source of support for people in recovery. By opening the lines of communication through reaching out, listening, and expressing hope while also taking care of yourself and knowing what to do in a crisis, you’ll be a powerful advocate for recovery. More resources are below to help provide support during this important process.

Additional Resources:

Treatment and Recovery Information