Supporting Loved One’s Through Sobriety: A Guide for Families

Overhead view of cheerful children hugging middle aged parents and looking at camera while celebrating parents day together at backyard in june, quality time with parents concept

It is often said that addiction is a “family disease”, and this couldn’t be any closer to the truth.

When a loved one struggles with addiction, whether it be a substance use disorder such as alcohol or drug dependency or behavioural addiction such as gambling or sex, it has a profound impact on the entire family system.

Young children witnessing a parent struggle with alcoholism or a husband grappling with his wife’s prescription drug addiction can lead to various long-term complications for family members, such as anxiety, depression, trauma, and burnout.

We understand how challenging it can be to cope with a loved one’s addiction. 

There’s the constant worry over their substance use and whereabouts. 

And then come the dreadful questions:

Is your loved one safe? 

Who are they with? 

Are they out there drinking or taking drugs?

Will I get that phone call telling me the worst has happened?

And for those who have undergone the addiction treatment process already, you may worry that your loved one will relapse, putting you all back at square one.

Because of the challenges a loved one’s addiction can bring to the entire family, the whole system must be treated, not just the person affected.

As one researcher put it:

“Addiction is a family struggle, and therefore healing also is a family recovery process.”

This article explores how you can support your loved one through sobriety, providing tools and resources you can use as a family to help you navigate the recovery process.

In the meantime, if you are concerned about a loved one’s drinking or drug habits, contact our friendly team in Toronto, who will happily offer support and assistance.

Centres for Health and Healing provide personalised addiction and mental health treatment to clients in Toronto and surrounding regions.

Our clinical team come from diverse backgrounds, and all bring a unique, specialised approach to addiction recovery, adopting a “whole” person framework to treatment instead of solely focusing on symptom management, which often does not work, at least not in the long-term.

As well as behavioural therapy, trauma-informed treatment, medical detox, and group therapy, we also offer family support programs as part of an integrated treatment plan, which involves the following:

  • Psychoeducation, including a comprehensive understanding of addiction and its many effects.
  • Guidance and resources can help each family member develop healthy coping mechanisms and learn to cope with their struggles while helping their loved one do the same.
  • Collective healing – cultivating healthy family relationships that are supportive and nurturing is vital for good mental health and can lead to better outcomes for those in addiction recovery. 
  • Knowledge building – family support programs offer help and guidance to the entire ecosystem, providing valuable information and various resources that help keep the lines of communication open, including conflict resolution and problem-solving, which can help you, your loved one, and the rest of the family feel seen, heard and validated as you navigate the path to long-term sobriety.

To learn more about our addiction services, speak to a friendly team member today and begin the collective healing process. 

We are always here to answer your questions, and remember, help and support are just a phone call away.

Supporting loved one’s through sobriety: A guide for families

Adult black woman, listening to her friend tell a funny story.

There are some vital things to consider when it comes to supporting a loved one through sobriety, including the following:

  • Families both have an impact and are impacted by a loved one’s substance use disorder or behavioural addiction.
  • Children exposed to a parent or caregiver’s substance use disorder are at risk of mental and physical health complications later on.
  • Treatment programs offering psychoeducation, addiction awareness, therapeutic interventions, and individual support to family members, such as healthy coping skills and resilience building, are vital to providing lasting recovery to the addicted individual and the entire family unit.

If you are reading this because someone close to you struggles with addiction and you are not sure what to do or where to turn, here are some things you can do to support your loved one through sobriety.

1. Educate yourself 

Understanding more about addiction and its various processes and challenges can be instrumental for families wanting to support a loved one through recovery.

It can help you understand what your loved one is going through, allowing you to make sense of your feelings and how your loved one’s addiction has affected you individually.

Much like the domino effect, addiction causes various complications for each family member.

Understanding these unique differences and challenges can give you the tools to support your loved one and yourself, allowing you to provide informed support and empathy to all involved.

2. Establish healthy boundaries

Having healthy boundaries with others is an act of love. 

This may sound counterintuitive. 

However, when we understand our limits and are not afraid to assert them respectfully, we conserve our mental and physical energy, allowing us to come from a place of love, compassion, and understanding.

After all, you cannot pour from an empty cup. 

If you feel exhausted and burnt out, it will make it more difficult for you to support a loved one through their sobriety journey, so establishing healthy boundaries with your loved one is crucial.

For example, you may take a few days away from your loved one or ask other family members for additional help and support.

Remember, setting healthy limits is an indirect expression of how much you care about your loved one and their sobriety journey.

3. Join support groups 

By joining support groups such as Holding Hope Canada and Alcoholics Anonymous, you become a part of a supportive community that understands your struggles and the unique challenges you face.

Support groups provide coping strategies, guidance, resources, and encouragement for family members with loved one’s who struggle with addiction, all of which are integral to long-term sobriety and healing.

4. Avoid enabling behaviours

Again, this may sound counterintuitive, but you must avoid enabling your loved one’s addiction.

Understandably, many families struggle with this, as enabling can come in various forms, and it can be challenging to know when one is engaging in enabling patterns.

The information below may help you understand more about how enabling behaviours can manifest between family members and those in addiction recovery.

  • Covering up a loved one’s drinking or drug-taking.
  • Making excuses for a loved one’s addiction. For instance, they have had a hard life or are having a difficult time at work.
  • Offering a loved one financial support so they can buy alcohol or their drug of choice.

We know how difficult it can be to say no to someone you love. However, enabling behaviours serve to fuel the addiction cycle and do not help in the short or long term.

Supporting a loved one through sobriety can be a long and bumpy road filled with difficult choices and decisions. 

However, once you get through the initial phases, your loved one will thank you for loving them enough not to give in to their requests.

Remember, your intentions are good and you are saying no because you care, not because you don’t.

5. Celebrate milestones

The path to addiction recovery can often be a rollercoaster of ups and downs.

Therefore, acknowledging and celebrating your loved ones’ milestones and achievements in their journey to sobriety can help boost their confidence and morale as they enter different phases of treatment.

It’s also essential that you celebrate your own victories and milestones. You and other family members deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated just as much as the person in recovery.

After all, you are in this together. Taking credit for your role in a loved one’s sobriety journey is integral to your well-being and the rest of the family.

How a loved one’s addiction impacts families

sad depressed woman fight with husband

Much research has gone into understanding the effects of a loved one’s addiction on family members.

For instance, one study showed that family members of loved ones struggling with substance use disorder are up to 30 per cent more likely to develop mental health disorders of their own, such as generalised anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder and PTSD. (A Parallel Recovery: Families Healing From Addiction, Psychology Today, 25 August 2023.)

When a loved one has a substance use disorder, it knocks everything out of balance for them and their family members.

For example, your self-care may be neglected. Your relationship with your loved one may spiral and your work or school performance can also be impacted.

One family member described how witnessing their loved one struggle with substance use disorder affected their mindset and entire being. The individual didn’t feel their feelings mattered because they were not suffering like their loved one was.

“They are the ones dealing with this overwhelming obstacle – so how can your emotions matter? How can your experiences factor into it all?”

As well as having an impact on your mood, work or school performance and relationship with the person impacted by addiction, supporting a loved one through sobriety poses other challenges for families, including:

  • Logic and reasoning become increasingly difficult as your emotions are darkened by the stress of a loved one’s addiction.
  • Your core values and spiritual beliefs may become imbalanced. 
  • Your perspective on life can change, as well as your emotions.
  • You may feel as though your feelings and emotions don’t matter as your loved one is the person struggling. However, they do matter, and they are valid.

Grief 

There’s a lot of grief involved in addiction. 

For example, families often grieve who the person once was before addiction took hold, who they are now, and who they are yet to become.

The impact this can have on a family’s well-being is impossible to describe and even more challenging to measure.

Much like grieving the death of someone close to you, you may feel a similar type of grief when a family member or relative has an alcohol or drug addiction.

For instance, you may experience denial, a typical stage in the bereavement process.

These emotions are there to protect you and help you get through the different phases of a loved one’s addiction. 

Other emotions you may experience as part of the grieving process include:

  • Guilt and anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

If you think you might be experiencing grief due to a loved one’s alcohol or drug addiction, you must seek the help and support of a registered therapist who can help you work through these feelings and develop healthy ways of coping.

You are not alone. 

Many families experience grief due to a loved one’s substance use disorder, and there are various treatments that can help.

Consult your doctor or a mental health professional for further support and information on grief and loss therapy.

The bottom line

A loved one’s addiction profoundly impacts families. 

These effects can cause various mental and physical health complications for children and adults witnessing a relative struggle with substance use disorder, such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety disorder, to name just a few.

However, on the other hand, family members can profoundly impact a loved one’s addiction.

The influence family members have can go in many directions.

However, for families committed to supporting their loved ones through sobriety, the positive influence this can have can be instrumental and beneficial to the outcome of an individual’s recovery and the entire family.

Although they are not “the sick ones”, families must commit to the addiction recovery process. It can help them understand what their loved one is going through, develop healthy coping skills, set boundaries and offer empathy and guidance to those they care about.

Addiction recovery at Centres for Health and Healing

At Centres for Health and Healing, we understand that each family comprises a complex system where what happens to one family member has a profound, long-lasting impact on the rest.

Therefore, we provide integrated addiction treatment programs that blend various modalities and approaches to treat the entire family ecosystem.

Our team uses a combination of different therapies and approaches to help you and your family get the most out of treatment and achieve sustainable, long-lasting wellness and sobriety, including the following:

We provide a safe space in which you can relax, rejuvenate and recover in serene surroundings that offer the perfect backdrop for lasting recovery from addiction and other emotional issues you may be experiencing.

As well as offering personalised addiction treatment in Toronto, our retreat centre provides various amenities to clients, including:

  • A retreat-style residential facility offering comfortable accommodations to our clients.
  • Stunning outdoor spaces, including acres of sweeping green lawns, woodlands, and a shaded lakeside gazebo.
  • An outstanding multidisciplinary team with decades of knowledge and experience in treating all types of addiction and mental health issues, including concurrent disorders.
  • Tailored addiction treatment programs that take a “whole” person approach to recovery rather than using standalone treatments that only work for a short time, if at all.
  • Comprehensive aftercare programs that support individuals and their families through the recovery process and beyond.

To learn more about our addiction and mental health treatment programs, contact our recovery centre in Toronto today for further support and information.

We are here and ready to help. Get in touch with Centres for Health and Healing today – an addiction rehab you can trust.

Additional resources

  1. A Parallel Recovery: Families Healing From Addiction, Psychology Today, 25 August 2023
  2. Understanding Family Roles in Addiction, Centres for Health and Healing, Holly Stewart, 6 November 2023
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