How to best support a recovering alcoholic / addict

When our clients leave the clinic, having completed the alcohol rehab treatment programme, they have no reason at all to drink or use again. If they have taken on board what has been said and what they have learned and most importantly, if they want to stop drinking and using, then they no longer have a physical need to drink or use again (they will be fully detoxed) and they will no longer have the mental obsession with alcohol or drugs – or prescription medication. They will have learned that they are powerless over the substance once they take it (and therefore it is a form of insanity to start putting it in their body again) and they will have been made aware that they are not only destroying their own happiness but that they are affecting the people they love when they drink or use. They will have learned how to ask for help when the going gets tough and they will have been taught how important it is to deal with anger and resentment as these destructive emotions arise.

So, your loved one in recovery can now take responsibility for keeping to the clean and sober path. However, many family members want to know what they should do to prevent the person going back to their old harmful habits and there are ways in which you can help.

First, in early recovery we are all still vulnerable and it is best to remove temptation. So if you have a home in which there is alcohol (or other tempting harmful substances) then please remove these. Lock up your bottles somewhere out of sight or off the premises. Don’t drink or take any mood altering substances around the person in recovery. If you do not yourself have a problem it should be possible for you to abstain for a while as a way of showing your support. Avoid ‘wet’ places. If you keep taking someone to the pub, the chances are that eventually they will succumb and have a drink. So why risk it? If there are social occasions which involve alcohol then be prepared for your loved one to feel uncomfortable at these sorts of occasions in their early days. They may choose not to attend – or only to attend for a short while. Let them know this is all right.

Your loved one should attend 12 step fellowship meetings. You should encourage them to attend these (perhaps 3 – 4 a week to start with, sometimes more) and remove any excuses. It is important that these are a priority. They will need to get a sponsor and go through the 12 step programme with that sponsor. They should attend any aftercare available at their treatment centre. If these things are prioritised, then your loved one should not relapse. If they do relapse then all the other things that are also important – time with family and friends, work, hobbies – will all come to nothing as they sink back into addiction. So initially 12 step meetings have to come before these other priorities.

Finally for you, as someone who cares for and loves a recovering alcoholic or addict, there is Alanon or Famanon – a 12 step recovery meeting for family members. Give it a try – you will learn what your loved one is doing in their own 12 step meeting and you will also gain support for yourself if you need it.

Good luck – and we hope you enjoy the positive changes in your family member in recovery!