5 Ways to Be an Ally to a Loved One in Recovery

Whilst watching a loved one struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol can be extremely tough and challenging, helping them through addiction and into recovery can be a very rewarding process.

However, it’s certainly not without its challenges.

Understanding how best to support a loved one when they’re suffering is extremely important, and the individual is much more likely to achieve recovery and sobriety with your support, love, and guidance.

Loved ones must understand that recovery isn’t a straightforward or quick process.

You need to lower your expectations that your loved one might one day wake up and decide to get sober.

Understanding this and other details about their addiction will help you to help them.

Below are a few things you should do in order to be the best ally you can possibly be to your loved one in recovery.

1. Research and Make an Effort to Understand What They’re Going Through

In order for you to provide the most help and support possible, you should dedicate time to researching addiction.

Addictions are not a straightforward thing, they’re highly complex in nature. It’s certainly not as easy as you’d think to simply ‘put the bottle down.’

There are different stages of addiction, along with different types.

There is also a long list of consequences and symptoms caused by addiction, such as liver disease, cancer, hepatitis, and a lot more [1].

It’s also important to understand withdrawal symptoms, which can include being sick, feeling tired, feeling irritable, tremors, difficulty in sleeping and excessive sweating.

The more research you can do, the better.

2. Ask What They Need from You

If you’re unsure of how you can help and support your loved one, simply ask.

Lots of people are possibly afraid of asking their loved one who’s suffering how they can help.

However, I’m sure they’d much prefer being asked how they can help you rather than trying and failing to help.

By simply asking ‘What is it I can do to help you stay sober?’ you’re showing that you are and that you want to help, whilst also being productive.

3. Keep Showing Up, Even After They Push You Away

One of the most underestimated ways you can help a loved one in recovery is to simply show up, day after day.

You should be prepared for your loved one to push you away by telling you that you’re not helping, that they don’t want your help, or that they’re happy staying addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Despite this, by turning up day after day offering your help and support, they’ll understand that you’re in this for the long run and that you won’t give up on them.

This will increase their confidence, hopes and aspirations by knowing that someone believes in them, even if they don’t believe in themself right now.

4. Celebrate the Small Wins, Whatever They May Be

A great way you can offer support and motivation to your loved one is by celebrating the small wins.

This could include attending a party with alcohol present for the first time, attending an AA meeting, or reaching a milestone of sobriety; even if it’s just the first week or two.

By doing so, you’ll be creating a positive atmosphere that will motivate them to continue.

The brain will connect hard work with sobriety with reward. That’s why it’s a good way to celebrate.

This could be with a small present, by organising something that you know they’ll enjoy, or simply by offering verbal praise.

5. Support and Encourage Their Hobbies and Passions

When someone stops an addiction, it’s important that they take part in activities and hobbies in order to help motivate and distract them from their withdrawal symptoms and addiction.

You could encourage them to take up a new passion or help them find and introduce them to new hobbies they might enjoy.

This could include physical activities such as running, walking, and playing sports.

Or this could include learning a new skill such as a language or art.

It’s a good idea to be open to going to these activities with them, as they might feel more comfortable having a friendly and familiar face with them.

How to Motivate a Loved One to Enter and Stay in Recovery [2]

Below are ways in which you can help motivate a loved one and encourage them to not only enter but stay in recovery.

1. Teach them How to Better Cope with Trauma or Stress

It’s often common that someone has developed an addiction or alcohol or drugs because they’ve struggled to deal with stress.

Therefore, if you can help teach them how to better manage their stress, they’re much more likely to feel confident to enter a recovery scheme.

Life has many common stressors such as:

  • Buying and moving house or flat
  • Starting a new relationship
  • Ending a relationship
  • Death
  • Starting a new job
  • The ongoing stress of dealing with trauma
  • Illness (whether that be yourself or a loved one)

If you’re able to help your loved one better deal with the stress in their life, they’re much more likely to stay sober in the long run.

You can help them deal with their stress simply by listening to what stresses them out, helping solve practical issues in their lives that often lead to feeling stressed, or presenting them with certain coping strategies.

2. Reduce Familial or Social Conflict for Them

It’s no shock that conflict in the family or with close friends and loved ones can cause a lot of stress for anyone; especially someone fighting an addiction.

Stress and conflict can easily lead to a relapse or further mental or physical health issues such as anxiety, depression, or issues with the heart.

Support in situations of conflict will help make them feel supported and more confident going into the situation knowing that they have your support.

It’s important that in doing so, you reduce the levels of conflict by being a good communicator, being open-minded and flexible in opinion.

You should keep reminding everyone that they care about each other and that the aim is to have a healthy and positive relationship.

3. Help them Find Sober Friends

Although your love and support are valued, you can’t be there all the time for them. It’s important that they have a strong support network around them.

However, it’s important that they’re a strong, sober support network.

It might be that your friend or loved one ended up losing an entire friendship group when they decided to enter recovery. They might have spent a lot of time with people in the past who also abuse alcohol and drugs.

Therefore, it’s really important that they find a new set of friends with healthier habits who support their decision to enter recovery.

You could encourage them to get back in touch with old friends or help them find new friends by attending groups or social activities with them.

Understand The Warning Signs of a Relapse

It’s important to understand that relapses are incredibly common, but also disruptive. When an individual relapses, it affects and disrupts the lives of loved ones too.

Therefore, understanding what relapse looks like means that you can tackle the issue early and get them the help they need as soon as possible.

The warning signs of a relapse depend on what kind of addiction the individual is suffering from.

However, common warning signs include smelling of alcohol, spending a lot of time on their own, or lying about where they’ve been or who they’ve been with.

You should monitor their whereabouts regularly, as well as develop a plan if the individual were to relapse which could include an intervention.

It’s also important that you understand that relapses happen in three different stages: emotional, mental, and finally physical [3].

It’s not until the final, physical stage that the symptoms are clear and made apparently.

Therefore, it’s important that you gain a tight, honest, and open relationship with your loved ones so that they feel comfortable enough to tell you if they’re emotionally or mentally relapsing [3].


[1] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243

[2] https://www.bhevolution.org/public/family_support.page

[3] Melemis, S.M. (2015). Relapse prevention and the five rules of recovery. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 325–332.