“What can I say?”
“What can I do?”
“How can I help?”
There’s a lot of paralyzing questions you tend to ask yourself when trying to reconnect with a recovering addict in your life. It’s not easy to make sense of a lot of the emotions you’re feeling.
If you have a loved one in or going into rehab, we’ve got a guide on how to offer support.
But, if you love a drug addict that’s out of rehab, we have some tips on how to approach all those burning questions running through your mind.
Many people ask about how to talk to an addict. But, actually, the most important thing you can do is listen.
No interruptions. No criticisms. No judgement.
Even if they’re talking about something you personally don’t think is best for them.
It’s very important to stay a sounding board. It’s easy for a recovering addict to close up. Often, it feels like this whole ordeal is something they’re living through alone.
So, the more heard they feel, the more likely they’ll feel supported. And the more they feel supported, the better their chances of staying on the right road.
It’s best to try to see through their eyes as they speak. This isn’t a one-way road. Educate yourself on all the things they need to be doing to reconnect with you, just as you’re trying to reconnect with them.
DON’T: Question a Recovering Addict’s Recovery
Always refer back to rule 1: listen. But when it comes time for you to talk, you always want to avoid questioning their road to recovery.
The worst thing you can do is dismiss their uphill battle. Try not to downplay the seriousness of their addiction and how much it’s going to affect their new post-rehab life.
This is a lifestyle change. A permanent one, hopefully. And that’s not something to be deemphasized.
Don’t tell them you never thought they had a problem, to begin with. Don’t give them permission to see this long road to recovery as anything other than 100% necessary. Because it is.
DO: Show Kindness
No matter what brought them to rehab, no matter the history that may still be fresh in your memory, always let your loved one know that you still love and care about them.
It’s hard to know exactly what to say to an addict you love, but it should always be said with patience and affection.
They need constant and consistent support. The first step towards giving them that consistency is making sure your tone and your intentions always come from a place of kindness.
When you love a drug addict, always approach any conversation with an open heart, always trying to see things from their point of view. Even if you’re discouraged or upset with them, try to convey your emotions with warmth and kindness.
Stress is a common trigger for relapse, so what you’re telling them is just as important as how you deliver it. Everything you say should be wrapped in a verbal hug, especially if it’s bad news.
DON’T: Overstep Your Boundaries
Boundaries are very important when it comes to recovery, especially when you’re living with an addict.
Both your boundaries and theirs.
Try not to ask too many questions or try to micromanage their life. Some of us want to make sure relapse isn’t even a possibility, so we tend to overdo it.
This can do more harm than good, causing your loved one to close themselves off. And isolation is a very bad place to be for a recovering addict.
Let them know that they’re free to tell you if you’re being overbearing. All they have to do is say a word and you’ll take a step back. Keep those lines of communication open and try not to take offense if they do say you’re not giving them enough space.
On the flip side, when you love a drug addict, you must stand your own ground yourself.
Let your friend or loved one know what is outside of your comfort zone, what you’re not willing to put up with, and set limits. The road to recovery needs to be full of rules and boundaries, especially when it comes to reforming friendships and relationships.
They need you and your support to know when they’re stepping out of bounds.
If they keep skirting your boundaries, don’t be afraid to carefully let them know. Just like dealing with anyone else, if the person doesn’t know that their behavior is bothering you, they’ll never know to change it.
Once you’ve set your limitations, it’s extremely important that you follow through with enforcing those boundaries. A recovering addict needs to know when they’ve been crossed and the consequences of those actions.
If they don’t make the effort to change their behavior, it’s okay to suggest counseling for the issue. That will ensure that you can work it out in a mediated environment.
DO: Show Your Support for Their Progress
Showing support isn’t just an empty set of encouraging words. It’s also about putting your presence where your mouth is. It’s all about showing up.
Tell your loved one that you will support anything they need in their time of recovery.
Do they need you at a family counseling session or couples’ therapy?
Do they need you to come to a meeting with them? Or take a call at an inconvenient time?
When you show up, they’ll show up, too. Knowing that there’s real-world support for them is invaluable during recovery.
And knowing that you’re willing to work through issues with them, will only make them easier to face head-on.
Always let a recovering addict know you will support them in seeking whatever they need to keep living a sober life.
DON’T: Share Your Own Drinking/Drug Use Stories
It’s very important that you don’t bring up drinking or drug use around them.
This point is very simple:
Don’t ask them to be a designated driver.
Don’t ask when they can start drinking again.
Don’t tell them about how hungover you are or how drunk you got last weekend.
Any of these topics can be triggering for a recovering addict.
What you CAN do is encourage them to find a drug-free way to get those endorphins going.
DO: Show Consistency
This point goes hand in hand with everything we’ve already covered about how to talk to an addict. Listen. Don’t question their road to recovery. Show kindness. Don’t overstep your boundaries. Show your support for their progress. DO ALL OF THIS CONSISTENTLY.
The life of a recovering addict can be a rollercoaster. They need something they can depend on.
They need things in their life that are predictable.
Unpredictability can trigger stress. And stress can fuel addiction.
Be the example in their life that they want to live up to. Always be where you say you’ll be. Always hold your ground when you’ve told them they’ve crossed the line.
Accountability is extremely important in a recovering addict’s life.
DON’T: Bring Up Their Past
The last thing a person that’s gone through addiction and rehab needs is a reminder of those times they’ve been working to get past.
Just like you shouldn’t be talking about your own vices with them, you also shouldn’t be reminiscing about their old life.
It can certainly trigger a relapse and somewhere between 40 and 60% of addicts in recovery
They’ve made a commitment to get past that place. They admitted they had a problem. They went to rehab. And now they need you to help them see the future – what all that hard work was for.
If there is a past instance you really feel like you need to work through with them, make sure you broach the topic lightly. Try to phrase it in a way that puts them ahead of those problems.
Acknowledge that you know they’re in recovery first, then bring it up with some verbal distance, being sure to make it sound like it’s far in the past.
DO: Let Them Lead
It might be hard to trust a recovering addict, but it’s what they need now more than ever.
Offer help, but back off if they ask.
Don’t tell them what they need, ask first.
As long as they’re working through it, and it’s going to result in something positive, trust that their way is going to be just as good as your way.
At rehab, they were equipped with tools to help them. Let them use those tools.
Always be there as a backup, but try not to push.
Good Luck on Your Journey
It’s okay to feel a bit overwhelmed while you try to be supportive of a recovering addict. We all learn as we go. Thankfully, there are so many resources and outstanding facilities available to help you help your loved one. They’re not alone and you’re not alone, either.