Supporting a Friend in Addiction Recovery

If you have a friend in addiction recovery, there are many ways you can be there for them. Here are ways you can help them through this tough recovery process.

When a friend is in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse, they benefit greatly from having a broad range of support. Addiction can rob a person of so much in life, and having a friend during the rebuilding process can make all the difference.

Though we want to be there for our friends, we don’t always know how to do this, especially if we aren’t familiar with their challenges, such as drug addiction or other mental health disorders. In this article, we’ll discuss how to best support a friend who’s on the addiction recovery journey.

Educate Yourself on Addiction

Educating yourself about addiction is a great first step to take in better understanding what your friend is going through. It’s not about becoming an expert but about developing insight and compassion. For example, you can learn about how addiction is a disease, not a choice made by “bad” people. You might also learn about triggers, coping mechanisms, and relapses. When you commit to self-education, you equip yourself to be a more reliable friend, contributing meaningfully to their ongoing journey of recovery.

Understand the Recovery Journey

It’s essential to recognize that addiction recovery is a personal process, not a one-size-fits-all deal. Expect a mix of triumphs and setbacks along the way. Instead of playing judge, be a supportive buddy, embracing both the funky dance and occasional missteps. Patience and understanding are key, as recovery isn’t a straight line.

Provide a Nonjudgmental Space

Supporting a friend in addiction recovery often involves providing a comforting, nonjudgmental space. People in recovery may go through periods of feeling self-loathing, doubt, and insecurity. They may also be experiencing cravings. You can encourage positive energy by fostering a caring, nonjudgmental atmosphere. Offer a listening ear without the need for fixing. Oftentimes, people just need someone to listen. Keep it low-key and respectful. By crafting this laid-back setting, you’re helping them move forward in their recovery journey with confidence.

Practice Effective Communication

Effective communication skills can help you be there in a meaningful way for your friend. People in recovery typically have heard the lectures about their drug or alcohol use. Instead of preaching, tune in to your friend by embracing empathy and respect, allowing for open exchange. Listen actively, giving space for their thoughts without interruptions. Keep it respectful, yet honest, because with honesty, real change can occur.

Encourage Healthy Habits

Mental health professionals and other specialists in the addiction healthcare world emphasize that healthy habits lead to improved mental health. As a friend, you can model for your friend what a balanced daily routine looks like, integrating adequate exercise, sleep, and nutrition. You might ask your friend to join you in a new exercise class, mindfulness practice, or volunteer opportunity. Many people find it hard to try new things without a partner, so don’t hesitate to invite your friend along.

Set and Honor Boundaries

As a friend to someone in addiction recovery, you may need to establish limits that strike a chord between being supportive and safeguarding your well-being. Good-intentioned friends may think they need to be there for their recovering friend 24/7, but this can drain your energy and get in the way of your self-care. Plus, ultimately, this is your friend’s sober journey, not yours. Addiction recovery includes learning to live life independently and confidently.

On the other hand, this doesn’t mean they have to go through it all alone. Clearly communicate what’s acceptable and what’s not in terms of sharing your time. If you need help deciding what is enabling versus helping, consider attending an Al-Anon meeting or talking to a professional in the substance abuse field.

Celebrate Milestones

One of the most rewarding aspects of the addiction recovery journey is reaching key milestones, particularly 30 days, three months, six months, and a year of sobriety. And the cool thing is, you get to participate in these milestones with your friend. You can set up a small gathering of friends and family to celebrate each milestone, attend a 12-step group meeting with them, or purchase a gift commemorating the length of time they have been sober. Express genuine excitement, making them feel seen and appreciated. Share encouraging words, recognizing the effort put in. By commemorating milestones, you’re not just applauding achievements; you’re nurturing a spirit of accomplishment.

Bonus Tips

There are a few last tips to consider when supporting a friend with a substance use disorder. Feel free to utilize community resources, such as 12-step meetings and community mental health clinics, to learn about more ways you can help your friend. You can also encourage your friend to seek out these resources for building additional support during their journey.

Lastly, maintaining self-care is key. Make time to do the things that bring you joy and keep your mental health a priority. Don’t get discouraged if your friend is struggling or relapses, because relapse is oftentimes part of the addiction recovery process. Aiding a friend through overcoming substance abuse offers a chance not just for them to grow, but you as well.


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