How to Help and Support a Recovering Alcoholic

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Between 5.3% and 12.7% of Americans have an alcohol use disorder (AUD).3, 5, 6 This means there’s a good chance someone in your life suffers from alcoholism.

For millions of Americans, getting sober is one of the most difficult life changes they can make. And rehab and detox are just the beginning. 

The real challenge is to stay sober and avoid relapse. 

Two-thirds of all Americans with AUD relapse in the first year of recovery.2

Support from family and friends is crucial for a successful recovery. 

How Do I Help a Recovering Alcoholic? (7 Tips)

Here are 7 tips to help someone in their alcohol recovery journey:

1. Accept them without judgement 

It’s common for many alcoholics to feel defensive and insecure about their condition. A lack of sensitivity or compassion may cause them to reject your help or lash out. 

Offer support without judgment or making them feel like an outcast.

2. Create a better environment 

It’s hard enough to break an addiction in the best of circumstances. 

To avoid tempting someone in recovery, refrain from drinking alcohol in front of them. Better yet, remove all alcohol from the home.

Another thing you can do to encourage a sober lifestyle is to help foster productive habits. 

Cooking, yoga, working out, or even playing video games are all examples of healthy alternatives to drinking. 

Encourage your loved one to get involved in sober activities.

3. Find support groups 

Many people in recovery benefit from mutual support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. This program allows them to be around others who understand the struggle they are going through.

Addiction and substance use are often a result of loneliness. Being around like-minded people may motivate your loved one to get better. 

Research potential groups and encourage the person to join.

4. Don’t enable them 

Alcohol misuse can lead to financial and legal trouble. In addition, people with addictions often react negatively when confronted about the issues their behavior causes. 

While it’s essential to show concern and sympathy, take care not to cross the line into enabling use. This means making sure you don’t make excuses for them or absolve them of their negative behavior.

Provide them with emotional and economic support — but don’t enable them. Only provide support if they are trying to get better.

5. Be understanding 

According to a multi-year study, two-thirds of people in recovery for substance use will relapse in their first year.2 Therefore, don’t be surprised if a relapse occurs. 

Being aware of these statistics will help inform your approach and treat the situation with more empathy.

Recovery is a lifelong process — there will be ups and downs. Show patience if the person relapses and be there to support them. 

6. Learn about recovery 

A great way to help someone recover from alcohol addiction is to understand the challenges they face. 

That means learning about health issues, potential triggers, useful therapy approaches, and the recovery process. Encourage your loved one to join mutual support groups and go to therapy.

7. Be fair to yourself

Helping a loved one in recovery can be mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing. Don’t go so far in helping someone get better than you neglect your own needs. 

This can lead to resentment and bitterness if you’re not careful, which the recovering person may sense. That could ultimately spark a relapse. 

Being fair to yourself ultimately makes you better able to help someone else recover.

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What to Do if Your Loved One Relapses

Relapse is common: two-thirds of all recovering addicts will relapse in their first year. 

This means if it happens, you should not be surprised, panic, or otherwise let your emotions overwhelm you. Instead, try your best to help the person get back on track.

Recovery is hard, so try to show empathy when there are stumbles along the way.

Importance of Making a Relapse Prevention Plan

Another way to help someone in recovery is by helping them form a relapse prevention plan. This is a plan that considers the person’s drug history, their triggers, and how to stop a relapse. 

The idea is to avoid triggers and teach valuable coping skills for dealing with them when they occur. 

In the case of alcohol, one study found that relapse was significantly more likely when the person was in a negative frame of mind.1 Higher levels of anxiety due to issues at work and at home was a common trigger.

A good relapse plan in this situation would include cognitive therapy and mindfulness techniques to manage stress and anxiety. 

For cravings, groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon can help by providing accountability and emotional support.

Updated on November 29, 2021
6 sources cited
  1. Chauhan, Vinay Singh. “To identify predictors of relapse in cases of alcohol dependence syndrome in relation to life events.Industrial Psychiatry Journal, vol. 27, no. 1, 2018, pp. 73-79. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
  2. Dennis, Michael L. “An eight-year perspective on the relationship between the duration of abstinence and other aspects of recovery.Evaluation Review, vol. 31, no. 6, 2007, pp. 585-612. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
  3. Grant, Bridget F., et al. “Prevalence of 12-Month Alcohol Use, High-Risk Drinking, and DSM-IV Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States, 2001-2002 to 2012-2013: Results From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.JAMA Psychiatry, vol. 74, no. 9, 2017. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
  4. Melemis, Steven M. “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, vol. 88, no. 3, 2015, pp. 325-32. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
  5. National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. “Alcohol Abuse Statistics.drugabusestatistics.org.
  6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.www.niaaa.nih.gov.

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