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How to Support People in Recovery from a Substance Use Disorder

September is National Recovery Month and the theme for 2020 is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Celebrating Connections.” This is an especially fitting and meaningful theme this year, as we are not able to connect in person with many of the people who are important to us; however, connecting in other ways can be just as meaningful during these trying times.

Helpful Supports for People in Recovery:

  • Relationships with friends
  • Relationships with family
  • Religion or spirituality
  • Meditation or mindfulness

National Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery. Substance use disorder (SUD) is considered a highly treatable disease, and recovery is attainable. About 10 percent of American adults age 18 or older say they are in recovery from an alcohol or drug abuse issue. Recovery month is also a time to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices and the service providers and community members across the nation who make recovery in all its forms possible.

Another critical piece to long-term recovery for those working to maintain sobriety is the support provided by family, friends and loved ones. Substance use disorders are complicated and the recovery and sobriety process can be too, including how to support someone in recovery.

For people who have never struggled with drug or alcohol abuse, it can be hard to understand why discontinuing the use of alcohol or drugs can be so difficult, especially when the negative impacts of the abuse seem obvious. Whether it makes sense or not, being able to support someone in recovery is critical. People often require multiple attempts at recovery, just as they do with many other behaviors we try to quit or change, such as tobacco use, exercise habits and diets.

Family and friends can take the following steps to support their loved ones in recovery:

  • Educate yourself on substance abuse, interventions, treatment methods and recovery programs. Seek professional help on how to approach your loved one about their SUD so they can get treatment. SUD is a disease just as cancer and diabetes are diseases. Just as trained professionals help treat your loved ones for those illnesses, the same is true for SUDs.
  • Don’t judge. Many people in recovery feel judged by their family and friends. Try to accept them for who they are. This may be difficult; however, it is important to refrain from criticism and negativity.
  • Be patient. Recovery is a long, complicated process. People often have setbacks and several attempts may be necessary before someone achieves long-term sobriety. Between 40 to 60 percent of people who’ve been treated for addiction or alcoholism relapse within a year. It’s important for them to know you still support them when things get tough.
  • Reinforce that recovery is possible. Like other chronic diseases, people can manage addictions successfully. It is not always easy and will require a lifelong commitment.
  • Listen. Be a sounding board and source of support. Take notice of your loved one’s victories and struggles.
  • Encourage healthy habits. You can help your loved one by engaging in substance-free activities with them such as cooking, exercising, sports and playing games.
  • Suggest a support group. Support groups allow people in recovery to interact with and receive encouragement from others who struggle with addiction. Emphasize that it takes a lot of courage to get help for an addiction.
  • Take care of yourself. Join a support group for friends and families of people with addictions to feel less alone. Caring about someone with a SUD can be challenging and stressful and there is no specific playbook or right way on how to do this. Learning from others who are in a similar position or who are further along in the journey can be incredibly helpful.

Many different types of resources and programs have helped people achieve recovery:

  • 12-Step mutual support groups
  • Residential addiction treatment programs
  • Recovery homes
  • Group or individual counseling with a psychologist, psychiatrist or addiction professional

Resources for People Working on Recovery

Alcoholics Anonymous – AA is a self-help peer support organization open to anyone who battles alcohol abuse concerns and wishes to remain abstinent.

Narcotics Anonymous – NA is a non-profit fellowship of men and women for whom drugs became a major problem. People in NA meet regularly to help each other stay clean.

Resources for Family/Friends of People Struggling with a SUD or Who Are in Recovery

Al-Anon – Al-Anon is a support group for family members and friends of alcoholics.

Resources for People Seeking a Treatment Center

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – If you’re concerned for a loved one, SAMHSA’s National Helpline can provide information or referral to treatment and recovery support services.

Behavioral Health Treatment Locator

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Member Assistance Program (MAP) may also be available through a LIUNA member’s local health and welfare fund.

Recovery in Canada

Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction

Substance Use Treatment Centers for First Nations and Inuit

[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]

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