Alcohol Addiction & Rehab

5 Ways You Can Support a Recovering Alcoholic

recovering alcoholic

About 3.9 million people in the US seek treatment for addiction. 2.5 million of those people seek treatment for alcohol abuse.

Every community is affected by alcohol abuse. This disease not only affects the recovering alcoholic but everyone close to that person.

Here are 5 ways that you can support a recovering alcoholic–and keep yourself from burning out in the process.

1. Stop Blaming Yourself

Many people in recovery from an addiction go through a process of blaming other people for their addiction. This is the addicted mind’s way of protecting the disorder. It also stops the person suffering from taking responsibility.

That being said, knowing your loved one has a disease that’s no one’s fault (while that person is upset with you) is difficult. It’s important to step back and realize that you’re not the cause of the person’s alcoholism.

The root cause of alcoholism is a person’s brain chemistry. This drastically affects the way that alcohol makes them feel. It’s a lifelong battle that manifests whether the recovering alcoholic is generally satisfied with their lives or if they’re miserable.

One way to stop blaming yourself is to analyze your past behaviors with this person. Reflect on how you can handle difficult situations in the future. Make sure that your future interactions focus on alcohol-free bonding activities to reinforce your loved one’s lifestyle change.

2. Learn More About Alcoholism

Supporting a recovering alcoholic means you should strive to be an advocate for people affected by the disease. It’s impossible for you to be an effective advocate for your loved one if you don’t understand the mechanisms of the disease.

Often, support for families of alcoholics focuses on education about how the disease changes their loved one. When you are dependent on alcohol, it is a chemical dependency. This is why the person you knew before the disease set in feels so removed from the alcoholic.

Understanding that they did not change overnight and it is out of their control helps curb resentment. It also offers an explanation to others who may ask, “Why can’t they just stop drinking?”

There are resources out there that are specifically designed for families of recovering alcoholics. Al-Anon and Al-Anon Family Groups are good places to start, especially for family members of an alcoholic recently in recovery.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is a government-run resource on the disease.

Recovering alcoholics can be overwhelmed by the prospect of changing their lives. They may also worry about being defined by their disorder. Doing your own research takes the burden of explaining themselves off the recovering alcoholic.

3. Actively Offer Encouragement and Support

It is easy to get caught up in your own life and forget to let your loved ones know how you feel about them. This is completely natural and happens to all of us from time to time.

When supporting a recovering alcoholic, it is vital to remember to check in and be present with them. Offering consistent encouragement and support is a key part of being there for someone.

Offering this love and support doesn’t have to be in grand, elaborate gestures. Supporting people through recovery and beyond is about small, everyday wins.

Set a calendar reminder on your phone to make sure you call or go out to lunch with your loved one. Offer to drive them to and from their therapy sessions and support groups. This is a good way of simultaneously making sure they’re on the right track and expressing your support.

Make sure you tell the person that you care about them and you’re invested in their recovery. Knowing that you are also a stakeholder in their recovery can give your loved one the push they need to stay sober.

4. Know When to Love from a Distance

Many families of recovering alcoholics have to face the realities of codependency.

Codependency is a condition in which one person’s happiness and health become intertwined with another person’s. This may sound harmless, but when one of the people involved is an alcoholic, this relationship leads to enabling.

Enabling an alcoholic protects the disease and not the person. Here are some signs of a codependent relationship to be aware of:

  • Anxiety and burn out
  • Putting another person’s needs above your own by missing important events to help them
  • Not being able to feel happy if the other person isn’t
  • Supporting the other person at a personal cost to yourself emotionally, physically, or financially

When an alcoholic goes into recovery, several things happen. It’s necessary for the people closest to them to evaluate whether their relationship can continue or if it needs to change. Knowing when you need to establish boundaries with a recovering alcoholic for your own health and happiness is not selfish–it’s smart.

Loving someone from a distance doesn’t diminish your love for that person. Taking a step back and allowing you both to have separate recoveries can strengthen your long-term relationship.

5. Listen to the Recovering Alcoholic

Everyone’s recovery process is different. The only person who can tell you what recovery means to them is the person suffering from the disease.

Being open to what a recovering alcoholic is saying can be incredibly healing. Recovering alcoholics are processing through their emotions and rediscovering their voice without alcohol.

Active listening means not interrupting. Be open to what the other person is saying, no matter how flawed it seems to you. You don’t have to like what a recovering alcoholic is saying, but you should be willing to listen.

Getting Help

No matter what stage of the recovery process your loved one is in, addiction is a family disease.

Supporting a recovering alcoholic is a long process, but it’s worth it to improve or even save your loved one’s life.

Click here for more information on addiction and getting the help you need.

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About the author

Dr. Michael Carlton, MD.

Leading addictionologist, Michael Carlton, M.D. has over 25 years of experience as a medical practitioner. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and returned for his MD from the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1990. He completed his dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and his Fellowship in Toxicology at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

He has published articles in the fields of toxicology and biomedicine, crafted articles for WebMD, and lectured to his peers on medication-assisted treatment. Dr. Carlton was a medical director of Community Bridges and medically supervised the medical detoxification of over 30,000 chemically dependent patients annually.

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