Tips for Supporting Someone in Recovery

For every 1 person who struggles with substance use or addiction, an average of 4 family members or loved ones are also impacted. When a loved one is struggling with substance use or addiction it can be hard to know how to help or support them. While everyone’s experiences and situations are different, these can be some helpful tips to supporting someone you love.

Be open to learning

It’s not about getting back to how things were, it’s about finding a new normal. If someone you love is struggling, it can be hard to understand. Challenges with substance use or addiction is not a moral failing or a choice. Be open to learning about these challenges and to understanding that it may be different than what you thought or assumed. Learning new ways of communicating or talking about substance use challenges can be a great place to start. Educating yourself on the cycle of addiction, treatment options or other local resources can help strengthen your skills as a support person for your loved one.


Be optimistic. Look for your loved one’s strengths or where they’ve had progress. Celebrating successes is much more impactful than highlighting challenges. Relapses or slips are not a sign of failure, it can be a part of the recovery process and an opportunity for someone to learn where they need more work or support.

Be understanding. People use substances for a reason. Part of their recovery is learning what those reasons are and how to handle them differently. Substance use and dependence can come with a lot of guilt, shame, and stigma. Starting conversations with your loved one from a place of curiosity can help make hard conversations a little easier.

Using “I” statements instead of “you” statements can be a simple way of shifting how you communicate and reduce tension when communicating.
Ex: “You always lie to me about what you’re doing.” Vs. “I’m worried that you don’t always tell me what’s really going on.”


Building or rebuilding trust can be an important part of recovery. But it’s important to remember that trust is a two way street. If you want them to change you may have to change to.

Avoiding nagging, name-calling, or criticizing. Instead focus on where you might be willing to offer some trust. This can also mean respecting someone’s privacy. You may want to know more but they aren’t ready to talk about their history or what is going on now. You can respect that decision by letting them know you’re ready to listen if and when they are ready. If a loved one does want to talk about what’s going on for them, it’s important to respect their privacy by not discussing this with others if they don’t want their information shared.


When someone is struggling with substance use, their lives and relationships can be chaotic. Boundaries can help protect you, them, and your relationship.

Don’t set boundaries you can’t keep. Consequences are a normal part of life. Supporting a loved one can be helping support them deal with a consequence instead of trying to prevent the consequence from happening. The exception would be if their choices may put themselves or others in danger. For example- Intervening if someone plans to drink and drive.

Know your resources

Treatment is not one size fits all. Sometimes people need to try different types of treatment or support in order to find what works for them. Do some research about different treatment options in your region such as inpatient rehab, outpatient counseling, therapeutic groups, Medication Assisted Treatment, recovery centers, and peer support groups. Talking to your loved one about the different resources and what they might be interested in can be a helpful place to start. Therapists and Primary Care Providers can assess someone’s needs and recommend the appropriate level of care.

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Take care of yourself

When your loved one is struggling it can be hard to remember to take care of yourself. Worrying about your loved one or trying to make sure that they are ok can be all consuming. Making time to take care of yourself makes you a better support for your loved one. This can include making time for self-care, enjoyable activities or hobbies. Some people also find support by building a community of other people who have loved one who has struggled. This could include peer support groups like Al-Anon, Alateen, or Families Anonymous. Others have also benefited from individual counseling with a therapist.