How to Support a Friend in Recovery By Kelly McClanahan


Friends make life worthwhile. Going down the path from addiction into recovery can be scary and lonely, and during that time friends are more important than ever. While addiction becomes a more solitary path as it escalates, recovery requires support and a great deal of love and acceptance for the addict. They may find this support in recovery support groups, from peers in treatment, from counselors and therapists, from family members and others. But most addicts want the support of friends, people who know them and love them and have established relationships to protect and grow, who will be there when they make mistakes in their recovery journey. What Friends Need to Understand Being supportive can be difficult for the friend who is not recovering. They may have experienced the end of the addicts' using days and the debilitation that goes with the bottom the addict came to before recovery began. This is a painful and difficult transition to navigate. Understanding the addiction is a good place to start. Remembering that most of the world has accepted addiction as a disease will allow the friend to place the addicts' behaviors in a category that depersonalizes and removes judgment from the behaviors. While hurtful, they can begin to see the addict as a sick friend, rather than a willful or hurtful one. They can grasp the recovery of their friend as a necessary life-sustaining tool, needed to maintain the dignity and good health of their friend. Many recovering addicts liken recovery to the process of chemotherapy for cancer patients; treatment for a deadly disease that must be radically intervened on if success is possible. How Friends Can Be Supportive Friends can be supportive in so many ways. First, they can encourage and cheer the addict on. They can allow the recovery process to work as slowly as it must for the continued abstinence of their friend. They can read and educate themselves about recovery and addiction. They can keep an active interest in their friend by asking questions and allowing space for new habits and behaviors that will need to replace the using behavior. Most of all, they can learn what contributes to recovery and what factors contribute to relapse. They can protect themselves with healthy boundaries in order to learn about how to support, but not enable, the addict in their disease. Most of all, friends learn to give and receive unconditional love, without judgment, shame or blame in order to support the highest growth and development of each other, sometimes despite what they may feel or think. It is hard to suspend judgment when you see someone you love and care about making mistakes. Life is all about being (and having) the kind of friend who remains supportive and still in the face of upcoming disaster. As your friend learns about life, they will make mistakes. Let them learn what they need to learn without making judgments or comments unless asked. This is the test of a true friend, a loose yet binding tie that allows for each person to be fully human and walk their own path with dignity and respect.