How to support a family member in recovery from a substance use disorder

Family members can play an important role in helping a loved one with a substance use disorder get on the road to recovery.

Two adults consoling a younger man on a park bench.

When someone has a substance use disorder, support from a family member can make a huge difference in their recovery. However, it may be hard for us as family members to know what approach is best. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer when helping a family remember who is misusing a substance, research shows that family support is essential in the recovery process.

Each person’s experience with recovery is unique and many times non-linear, but recovery is possible. Finding ways to support your family member during this process can help reduce the chances of a relapse and support long-term recovery. As a family member, there are things you can do to be supportive:

  • Maintain a positive attitude about recovery. It is important to let your loved ones know that you care for them and support their recovery.
  • Attend family or marriage counseling sessions. Addiction often affects the whole family, and understanding the family’s role can be vital.
  • Join a support group, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, that helps family members of individuals living with a substance use disorder. These groups offer a safe space for family members to talk about what they are going through with other people with lived experiences.
  • Seek education about substance misuse, addiction, and recovery. Learning some foundational information allows you to be better equipped to support your loved one in treatment. Learn more about opioid misuse prevention through Michigan State University Extension’s MiSUPER initiative.
  • Become more familiar with the harm reduction approach to recovery.
  • Create living environments that support long-term sobriety. Address any conflicts, personal relationships or negative emotions that may interfere with a sober environment at home.
  • Participate in sober activities, workshops and family weekends. Check your local substance use coalitions or organizations, such as Families Against Narcotics (FAN),  for any upcoming activities they may be hosting.

For someone in recovery, understanding addiction and receiving positive encouragement from close friends and family can lay a foundation for continued, long-term sobriety.  Another way to support those in recovery is to change how we talk about addiction and educate those around us. Using person-first language and putting the person before their disease makes individuals feel valued and reduces the stigma around substance use disorder. When families and friends come together to support a loved one in recovery, they show the individual they believe in them and have their support.

Substance misuse within a family affects everyone in that family differently. Each family member has their own coping mechanisms. One of the most important ways to support your family member’s recovery journey is by maintaining your mental health during the process. Practice regular self-care and seek help when needed. Many free hotlines can connect you with local services such as SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This is a confidential, free referral service for individuals and family members with mental and substance use disorders. This hotline connects individuals with local support services such as treatment facilities and recovery groups. Remember that recovery is a lifelong process that requires daily work, and having that additional positive encouragement from loved ones can be essential to your family member’s success.

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