13 Tips to Support a Loved One with an Addiction

13 Tips to Support a Loved One with an Addiction

13 Tips to Support a Loved One with an Addiction

Do you have a loved one – your partner, a friend, or family member – with an addiction? Addiction affects everyone in their lives, and it’s important to know how to support them, things to avoid, and how to take care of yourself at the same time. While you can’t fix them or make them change, you can support them and show that they are not alone. Here are 13 tips to help both of you.


Encourage healthy activities.

Find things to do that don’t involve alcohol or substance use, such as going for walks in nature, bowling, seeing a movie, or yoga. Find things to do where alcohol or any substance isn’t the primary activity. Tasks and hobbies where you have to use your hands so you can’t drink or do drugs at the same time, such as taking a pottery class, is a great way to spend time. Having healthy alternatives for evening activities, right after work or dinner, is especially important because that’s the time when substances are more often used as this can easily become idle time.


Have ongoing open communication.

It’s common to feel frustrated and want to give up helping a loved one with an addiction. One way to prevent this is to have open communication right from the start. It is a two-way street and you both can contribute to effective and meaningful conversations. You can say, “Part of my work is to not point fingers at you. Part of your work is to not become defensive or shut down.” This sets the expectations for how you can both be respectful when communicating with each other. Then when an issue does arise, you can express your concerns: “Here is where I have concerns… This is what I need… and this is what I would like to change…” as opposed to “You shouldn’t have done this or that… You should be ashamed…” This sets you both up for successful communication and a healthier relationship.


Set and stick to clear boundaries from the very beginning.

If you haven’t had this conversation yet, set aside time to create a plan together. The person with addiction can operate better with the awareness of what is expected of them and the framework in which they are expected to behave. The rules aren’t changing, there aren’t surprises, it’s not confusing, and they have goals to work towards within the framework of the relationship. 


Hold them accountable.

Establish consequences for crossing those boundaries. There is the understanding that the rules and expectations are always enforced, so neither of you can go back on it. If they do cross boundaries, have a conversation and stick to those consequences without coming from a place of shaming or finger pointing. Remember to stick to your plan and don’t make excuses for them. It won’t help them on their road to recovery and it will take a toll on your mental health.


Express your own needs.

How can your loved one with the addiction support you? That often gets forgotten in relationships, and even if one of you is struggling with addiction, they can still be a supportive partner or family member. It empowers them to contribute to the relationship and be there for you. It gives them a sense of importance and purpose. People with addiction often feel like their loved ones are there for them, but they haven’t done anything for their loved ones. To make up for the hurt and imbalance, how can they contribute to the partnership or relationship? This helps both parties feel empowered.


Find your own space.

It’s not your job to monitor everything. Find your own space and give yourself permission to do your own independent things and not hover. While it’s healthy to do activities with them sometimes, encourage them to engage in sober activities with their own sober friends so you don’t lose your own sense of self or identity just because you’re the caregiver. Have your own identity outside of your loved one’s addiction. This empowers you both to grow positively and be able to rely on your own selves.


Establish who is their “go-to” person.

If your loved one is having cravings, identify beforehand who the support contacts are. Not every partner, not every loved one is open to this, because it can be challenging and happen at any time, so it’s important to know who their “go-to” person or people are. This could be their sponsor, a friend, or a family member. It doesn’t have to be you and it doesn’t have to be their romantic partner or spouse. 


Show compassion and empathy.

If you are willing to take on the role of the support or “go-to” person, there are important things to remember as you support them. Just because they’ve come to you because they are struggling, doesn’t mean they are going to relapse. Don’t overreact in fear, don’t punish them, and don’t be dramatic. It can make them feel worse about themselves and the situation. It also will weaken their trust in you and potentially the relationship. They should have a therapist, sober contacts, sponsor, psychiatrist, basically, whoever is part of their treatment team. 

Remember to also show yourself compassion and empathy when it comes to the rollercoaster of emotions you may be experiencing as your loved one is moving through their own recovery process. Remember that you are recovering too – from the hardship and pain you endured while being witness to the chaos your loved one’s addiction created. 


Be mindful of what the recovery process looks like.

Recovery is not linear. Cravings and urges are part of recovery, so show them support, comfort, empathy, and gentle encouragement. Click here to learn more about what to expect in early sobriety. If you are their go-to contact, it’s your job to not be judgmental. Don’t assume that because they are having cravings they are relapsing. The battles will continue to exist, so keep your own reactivity in check. Let them come to you and be open to expressing their feelings. Let them share their internal struggle. It’s not bad news, it’s expected news, and it’s about what they do with those struggles and urges that matter. You can still hold them accountable, but strike a balance with compassion. Reaching out to you is a good thing! Contacting a support person is a good action. Being open with you is good. It is crucial to focus on how they are holding themselves accountable and being honest with themselves and their loved ones.


Don’t be argumentative.

If you think your loved one with an addiction is lying to you, remind them that there are consequences for their actions that you established together. Try to not be overly reactive and keep your emotions in check. Clearly and calmly state, “These are my observations… These are the expectations… These are my boundaries… These things aren’t going to be tolerated…” If things start to get heated, say, “Rather than arguing with you, my advice is to speak to your therapist or your sponsor about my observations and be honest with them and yourself.” Getting into arguments prolongs the suffering for everyone involved. 

Remember, it is not your responsibility to try to change or convince them of the importance of sobriety and accountability. You are responsible for yourself and your own actions so act accordingly to your boundaries and needs within the relationship moving forward. 


Give them space to make their own choices.

It’s not your job, whatever your role is in their life, to hover or micromanage. Don’t spend all of your time trying to fix them because you’ll forget about your own needs. While it may feel like you are abandoning them, give them space to feel the consequences of their actions, even if the choices aren’t desirable ones. This gives them the opportunity to learn and develop the skills they need for long-term sobriety and take control of their own life. They’ll learn how to stand on their own, rely on themselves, and establish their own identity outside of addiction


Remind them to use their therapy skills.

If they are having a tough time, remind them that their therapy skills are readily available. They can reach out to their sponsor, go to a meeting, increase therapy frequency, or seek additional treatment. Remind them to reach into their toolbox, which may include breathing exercises, alternative healthy activities, practicing mindfulness, or talking to their sponsor, before making a decision.


You deserve support, too!

When you are supporting a loved one with an addiction, it’s easy to forget that you need support, too. It is important that you focus on your own self-care and get the help you need to cope. Therapy can help you let go of the guilt of letting your loved one make their own decisions, improve the relationship with your loved one, and empower you to put yourself first.

Al-Anon (or Alateen for teenagers) is highly recommended as an additional support for loved ones of those struggling with addiction as it promotes a sense of community and safe space to gain further education on addiction and learn tools for eliminating codependency and enabling behaviors. 


Dr. Heather Violante offers compassionate and judgment free teletherapy (online video therapy), whether you are the one struggling with addiction or a caregiver for someone with an addiction, to adults living in Florida and New York, as well as all PsyPact enrolled states (listed below). Contact her online or call (754) 333-1484 to request a HIPAA compliant teletherapy session.




Offering Online Therapy in 39 States

I am a licensed psychologist in the states of Florida and New York. Additionally, I have Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) from the PSYPACT Commission. I provide telehealth (online video therapy) to adults living in the 39 participating PSYPACT states listed below. For a list of current PSYPACT participating states, please visit the PSYPACT website at: https://www.psypact.org/psypactmap.

PsyPact enrolled states:
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming