Your friend finally took the big step of going to rehab for their drug or alcohol addiction. As much as you can breathe a sigh of relief that they realized they needed help, your responsibility doesn’t end with sending them to a drug rehab facility. Your friend will need your support throughout recovery.
Here are five ways to offer help to a friend who’s recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction:
1. Let them know you’re there. It’s mighty hard for people to decide to give up substance abuse and head to a drug rehab, so they need to know someone’s going to be there for them. Drop-out rates for recovering drug and alcohol addicts are very high, and you don’t want your friend to give up. Let your friend know you’re always there to help them.
However, you must also learn to set boundaries when it comes to offering help. “Friends and family members must walk a careful line between supportive and becoming co-dependent, which is not easy. Certainly support rehab efforts, but do not be overly effusive – do not act as if the person is doing you a favor,” says San Diego-based psychiatrist Dr. David Reiss. “Support that it is a good decision, the right thing to do. A supportive, calm, matter-of-fact approach is best in most cases.”
2. Help them take responsibility. Part of the purpose of drug rehab is to enable people in recovery understand that they are doing this for themselves. Your friend can’t be going into addiction treatment for you or anybody else, or they won’t make a successful recovery.
“It is important to implicitly and explicitly give the message that you are doing this for yourself, not for me. Yes, it may help or save our relationship, but that is not the reason for doing it,” says Dr. Reiss. “That is the result of doing it.”
3. Practice patience. Addiction does a lot of damage to one’s mind and habits. During the rehabilitative process, the person will be undoing that damage. And it’s not going to be child’s play, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t immediately see signs of improvement.
“Expect to be ‘tested,’” Dr. Reiss says. “Be aware and prepared that the person will struggle to learn how to cope and deal with frustrations while sober.”
4. Carefully point out their mistakes. Offering support includes being a guiding torch. Your friend will need correction and admonishing every once in a while. Know where they’re coming from, and take it easy from there.
“Tolerate their struggle, but never tolerate abuse. That includes rudeness, demeaning behaviors, insults, insincerity, lying, lack of cooperation – not just overt physical abuse,” Dr. Reiss says. “When the testing and struggling is not dangerous, the key is to respond in a calm, firm manner to point out the behavior in a non-threatening but direct, assertive manner.”
5. Help them get support. The most important thing your friend will need during drug rehab is support. And not just from you. Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups can help your friend gain strength and knowledge from people going through the same experiences as they are. Being around people who understand what they are going through can provide a great source of strength during the often challenging process of recovery.