How to support a loved one in recovery

Posted on 10/05/21 11:25:am


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According to a 2019 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 20.4 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder. If your friend, family member, or other loved one is among the millions affected by addiction, you've likely struggled to find ways to support them.

"Addiction is everywhere, and it's important for us to recognize that it can feel really scary, like life is out of control. Oftentimes families and friends accommodate their loved one's addiction without realizing that's what they are doing," explains Narissa Etwaroo, MD, psychiatrist at Rogers' Tampa clinic. "Knowing how to be there for them in a healthy, compassionate way can be very challenging, however there are some key strategies that can make a difference."

Dr. Etwaroo shares what to do and what not to do when interacting with someone in recovery

What to do:

  1. Maintain an open dialogue:
    • Use compassion to let them know that you recognize their suffering, that you hear them, and that their needs, wants, and feelings are valid.
    • Set clear limits of what you can and cannot accept.
    • Be specific about the behaviors you are worried about.
  2. Avoid terms like "Why can't you just have one drink?" or "It's all about balance." Statements like this may encourage use, which is problematic for someone in recovery.
  3. Remember that bonding over substances can reinforce the belief that they are necessary for socializing. Instead, reinforce the idea that they do not need substances to be happy and enjoy life.
  4. Enjoy activities together. Ideas include going for a hike, getting coffee, or playing a game.
  5. Prioritize your own self-care. Dr. Etwaroo says exercise, plenty of sleep, socialization, and seeking support for yourself will put you in a better position to assist your loved one when they're ready to get help.

What not to do:

  1. Use phrases like "Pull yourself together," as this is invalidating when directed at someone who needs validation and support. Recovery requires community and social support.
  2. Make emotional statements, as these may increase feelings of guilt and increase the urge to use the substance or engage in harmful behaviors.
  3. Get into arguments, lecture, or threaten. It can be very difficult to have a productive conversation with someone who is using, and these tactics will only make it more challenging.
  4. Cover up or make excuses for their behavior. This can lead to taking on their responsibilities, which may prevent them from facing the consequences of their actions.
  5. Use terms like "addict" or "junkie." Instead, use person-first language to avoid stigmatizing their condition and placing blame.

How Rogers encourages support during treatment

Dr. Etwaroo shares that during partial hospitalization (PHP) and intensive outpatient (IOP) care for mental health and co-occurring addiction, families are encouraged to be active participants in treatment during regular family sessions.

"In addition to sessions led by a family therapist, Rogers assists relatives of our patients through a family program that provides education, tips for improving communication, and a judgment-free space to share challenges," says Dr. Etwaroo. "If your loved one is going to AA or NA, I also recommend trying the Al-Anon program, as this will equip you with additional tools to be the best support system you can be."

Mental Health and Addiction Recovery at Rogers

Outpatient treatment for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders is available at locations throughout the country, while inpatient and residential care are offered in Wisconsin. To request a free, confidential screening:


Call 800-767-4411 or go to to request a free screening.