We all need someone to lean on, especially when we’re in crisis. In a poll conducted by Elements Behavioral Health, a network of addiction treatment centers, people in recovery were asked: “Who loved you enough to help you recover from addiction, and what did they do to help?”
The poll confirmed that family and friends play an integral role in helping people get into drug rehab programs and onto the path of recovery. Based on responses from over 400 participants:
- 4% were helped by a sibling
- 5% were assisted by spouses and partners
- 3% were helped by mothers or both parents
- 3% found help from friends
Another 28.4% reported receiving help from “other,” which included non-primary family members, such as aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmothers and step-mothers, as well as employers, lawyers and spiritual advisers. Therapists and social workers were cited as helpers, as were psychiatrists and physicians, though to a lesser extent.
To someone struggling with addiction, people who want to help at first may be perceived as nags. But in retrospect, many people in recovery recognize that they may have never gotten help if it hadn’t been for the people who cared to intervene even when it was difficult to do so. “My mother and father supported me with my recovery, attended treatment, and provided some financial support,” said one poll respondent. “Then, they encouraged me to get on with my life.”
10 Ways Loved Ones Help Addicts
Those polled shared many ways that people helped them recover from addiction. Here are 10 common threads from the survey responses:
- Unconditional love. It doesn’t always require dramatic action to make a difference. Some people find their way into recovery because someone never wavered in their love and caring. “My parents provided unconditional love and support,” said Kimberly. “They were able to separate the real me from my disease and know that my behaviors were not intentional.” Several people said loved ones could see they were sick, not bad.
- Tough love. Many people said their families helped by refusing to enable them. Parker recalls refusing help, even as his addiction was spiraling out of control quickly. “Without my parents, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said. “In fact, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be alive.” As much as it pained them, they kicked him out of the house with an ultimatum: “Your way doesn’t work, so try something else.” Setting this boundary, he says, moved him to completely change his life.
- Never gave up. Many people reported that they are in recovery today because of the tenacity of people who cared for them. Dan says he struggled for three decades with addiction. It created havoc in the family, yet the love of his children made him turn his life around. “They never gave up on me,” he says. “I now have a new, healthy marriage and a great relationship with my kids.” Another participant pointed out that their partner “believed in me when no one, including myself, did.”
- Avoiding judgement/control. Shame and guilt go hand in hand with addiction. People with addiction often are afraid to open up or ask for help for fear of judgement from others, especially those they’ve hurt. One participant referred to her spouse as an angel and said he got her through because he “stayed supportive and non-judgmental through the whole process.” He also stepped in to help in day-to-day life. “He took care of small things that seemed too big for me in bad days, such as chores, meals and errands,” she said. “He was incredibly patient and monitored me without being controlling.”
- Encouragement. Addiction mires people in negativity and unhealthy behaviors. Everyone affected can start to feel hopeless, unless there’s someone who consistently believes in the possibility of a better life. “My spouse let me vent and also gave me reassurance that I can overcome this addiction,” said one respondent. Being able to share the truth was freeing and relieved some of the burden. Another person shared that their partner created a “safe space” in which they could share what was going on.
- True and honest friendship. People with addiction often surround themselves with other addicts, but some people reported that there was one friend who stuck by them, despite all the reason not to, and told them the truth. “My friend told me to stop or I’ll die,” said one participant. Others surveyed mentioned that sometimes the words of a friend cut through the fray of all the voices pulling in the opposite direction.
- Spirit and compassion. Some people mentioned the importance of soulful helpers. One person surveyed said it helped him to have a spiritual friend who could discuss spiritual topics. Chris shared that a Catholic nun was his best support system. “She helped me the most, because she listened,” he recalled. “I counseled with her and completed the first 5 steps in AA. That was in 1981 and I have been sober since.”
- Got them to a meeting. People surveyed remembered loved ones who helped them into a support group such as the 12-step program. One person mentioned a loving spouse who made sure he had time to go and drove him to meetings. And John pointed out that the key to his recovery is attending meetings and regularly spending time with others who have gone through the recovery process and are living sober. “You need to include others,” he said. “You can’t recover and stay sober on your own.”
- Took them to drug rehab. For many people, getting into addiction treatment is what saved their life. “My partner took me here and paid,” said one participant. “I could not get myself here on my own.” Others expressed that friends and relatives helped to physically bring them in for treatment.
- Encouraged self-help. “I wish I had help, but I did not,” said one participant, echoing the thoughts of several respondents who had to be their own best friend and merciful mother, and find help on their way into recovery. “I had to help myself,” said another respondent, “but I’ve been clean for seven years and I’m proud of what I’ve done.”
An Ongoing Process
Many people surveyed noted that life changed when someone reached out a hand and helped pull them out of the darkness. And many of those people continue to stand by to be part of their new life.
“Recovery is the process of working on interpersonal issues, maintaining relationships with others who hold you accountable, and having relationships that allow you to process and work out life’s problems,” said John.
It is a process that will last a lifetime. But it will be so much easier with people who care by your side.