How to help with addiction recovery

7 ways to help someone in recovery from addiction

If someone you love is experiencing addiction, it’s understandable you’re concerned. You may also be wondering whether you can do anything to support them.

Before we talk about how to help someone in addiction recovery, it helps to understand more about the addiction recovery process.

What is addiction recovery?

Addiction involves being unable to stop using a substance or engaging in a behaviour, even when you want to.

According to an article from Monash University[1], around one in four Australians will develop a problem with alcohol, drugs or gambling at some time in their lives, and about one in 20 will develop an addiction.

While you tend to hear most about addiction to alcohol and drugs, people can become addicted to numerous other things, including:

  • gambling
  • gaming
  • social media
  • pornography
  • exercise
  • sex.

People might start engaging in these behaviours for various reasons, such as for enjoyment, curiosity, or to help them deal with physical or emotional pain. When someone becomes dependent on these behaviours to cope, it can adversely affect their physical and mental health, relationships and everyday life.

Addiction is a complex health condition, not simply a lack of self-control or willpower. Addiction recovery involves making changes that help someone to:

  • have better health and wellness
  • gain greater control over their lives
  • live to their full potential.

Someone in addiction recovery is choosing to make these positive changes. Addiction recovery can be a long-term process that requires assistance from health professionals, as well as the affected individual’s support networks.

With the right support, even people with long-term and severe addictions can overcome their illness.

How to support addiction recovery

Here are seven things you can do to help someone in recovery from addiction.

1. Remember addiction is an illness

Nobody sets out to get addicted to a behaviour or substance. Addiction often involves genetic, developmental and environmental factors. Some substances and behaviours can rewire the brain, leading to dependency.

While you might feel frustrated, disappointed or angry with your loved one at times, try to remember they’re dealing with an illness. This can help you to support their recovery with greater openness and empathy.

2. Be prepared for lapses and relapses

A lapse is a momentary return to the addictive behaviour, while a relapse involves a return to previous levels of that behaviour. Lapses and relapses are both common during addiction recovery, and they don’t mean your loved one has failed.

If this happens, first check your loved one is okay. Call 000 (triple zero) if you have concerns about their health or safety. Next, you can encourage them by reminding them that lapses and relapses are a normal part of addiction recovery. Reinforce their efforts and encourage them to re-engage with their recovery program.

Your loved one may relapse several times before they find an addiction treatment program that works for them. Try to continue supporting their recovery efforts. And remember many people who once lived with an addictive behaviour are now living fulfilling lives free from their dependency.

3. Support recovery without enabling addictive behaviours

Addictions can lead to various other issues, such as legal problems and financial difficulties. You undoubtedly desire to protect your loved one from these. But by doing so, you can sometimes unintentionally enable the addictive behaviour.

During early recovery, people often need material as well as emotional support. Let your loved one know you will only help in ways that encourage recovery.

4. Acknowledge their recovery efforts

Recovering from an addiction takes commitment, effort and perseverance. It can involve feeling sick, anxious, tired and irritable. Try to recognise and celebrate positive changes – even small ones – as your loved one goes through the recovery process.

5. Encourage healthy behaviours

Healthy habits can improve your loved one’s physical and mental wellbeing, which can help support their addiction recovery. You could encourage them to:

  • eat a healthy diet and get some physical activity on most days
  • develop a regular sleeping pattern
  • do things they enjoy, such as listening to music or being in nature
  • connect with supportive friends and family.

6. Encourage them to get professional recovery support

Many people need expert help to recover from addiction. Your loved one might need to go through an addictive behaviours program where they can learn how to manage the psychological and behavioural factors that led to addiction.

If you’re helping an addict in recovery, encourage them to talk to a health professional. A general practitioner can refer your loved one to an addiction specialist or service.

7. Look after yourself

Friends and family of someone living with an addiction often place their loved one’s need first. A lack of self-care can sometimes lead to illness, metal health issues, and burnout in those helping someone with an addiction.

To best support an addict in recovery, it’s vital to take care of your own wellbeing. Some ways to look after your physical, emotional and social health include:

  • eating a healthy diet and getting some physical activity
  • trying to establish regular sleeping habits
  • making time to do things you enjoy
  • staying in touch with friends
  • joining a support group.

Some people may also need to temporarily limit contact with a loved one in recovery to protect their own health and safety.

Expert support for addiction recovery

If you’re in the Geelong region, The Geelong Clinic in St Albans Park offers specialised addiction recovery programs.

Our experienced team of professionals work with your loved one to help them better understand their addiction and build the skills for managing it. As a private mental health service, they’ll receive care from the same psychiatrist throughout their journey with us.

We’re a regulated mental health and rehab facility, accredited under The Australian Council on Healthcare Standards (ACHS).

Learn more about our programs for people in recovery from gambling, gaming, sex, exercise or social media addiction, as well as substance use disorders.

[1] Monash University (2021). A mental disorder, not a personal failure: Why now is the time for Australia to rethink addiction. Accessed online 6.12.2022.

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