How to be a good ally for someone in recovery

This article was written by Morgan Werner and published by RCA


For individuals in recovery, finding the support of others within the rooms of 12-Step fellowships is critical for success in achieving long term sobriety. However, it is just as critical for those in recovery to gain support and acceptance from their loved ones who may not suffer from substance use disorder. While relationships may have become strained during active addiction, the truth is, your loved ones suffering from addiction need you to be there for them as an ally.

Put simply, being an ally means to be associated with another person through a bond or connection. An ally is someone who has taken on the commitment to educate themselves on the struggles of another, challenges their personal biases or judgements, takes action to generate change, and practices compassion and understanding. Everyone, especially those suffering from addiction, needs an ally.

Here’s how you can be a good ally for your recovering loved one.

Listen & Learn

If you are not in recovery, it can be extremely difficult to understand the gripping reality of addiction, and that’s okay. The first thing we need to remember as allies to those in recovery is that we don’t know everything. To be a good ally, it is up to us to listen and learn the struggles of those with substance use disorder.

The good news is, there are plenty of ways to do this! Try talking to your loved one to get better insight into their experience both in active addiction and in recovery. Learn what makes them tick, what triggers them, and what they find most beneficial for their recovery. Don’t hesitate from asking questions.

You can even join your loved one at one of the many open 12-Step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous to learn what others in the recovery community experience.

Find Support of Your Own

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), addiction is a family disease. What this means is that addiction affects the entire family unit, so it’s important to treat the whole family. Togain more support and education, try attending Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings. These meetings also utilize the 12-steps outlined in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, but the goal is to provide comfort and understanding to friends and families of addicts. Recovery Centers of America’s Family Services program also hosts a monthly virtual webinar entitled Seeds to Recovery which provides insight from leading experts in the field to share hope, education, and resources, as well as information on how you can be a good ally to your loved one through effective communication and positive coping skills. RCA’s family programming teaches you, the family, how to maintain healthy boundaries for yourself while continuing to love your loved one.

Show up for Your Loved One

As recovery allies, we also must remember that our loved ones might not be able to avoid temptation forever. In social settings where alcohol and other potential relapse triggers may be present such as weddings, family gatherings and special events, being an ally and looking out for your loved one is extra important.

Many of our followers responded by sharing the best way to provide support and be a good ally is by not drinking either. If you find yourself in this situation as an ally and questioning what to do, ask yourself if you need to drink around your loved one, or if it can wait until another time. If you are attending an event with a loved one in recovery and you know alcohol will be present, use this as an opportunity to engage them in conversation about their sobriety beforehand. Ask your loved one if they are comfortable with you drinking around them and how you can best support them. Initiating this conversation can open the door for much more!

Creating an exit strategy is also a great way to prepare for the feelings that may come up for your loved one in social situations where alcohol is being served. An exit plan is a clear, concise plan of action to get your loved one out of a situation that could jeopardize their recovery. Before these events, talk to your loved one and come up with code word that would indicate to you they are feeling triggered and need your support. Your loved one’s exit plan should include these three simple steps:

  1. Walk away – remind your loved one it’s okay to remove themselves from the situation that is making them feel uneasy. You can provide support by stepping away with them or by covering for them while they take some time for themselves.
  2. Call someone – after taking a break, ask your loved one if they need to call their sponsor or someone in their sober support network. Talking with someone who understands the feelings that come up for those in recovery in social settings is key.
  3. Leave – sometimes the best thing to do when your loved one is feeling triggered is to give them the opportunity to remove themselves from the situation entirely. Let your loved one decide what that safe place is for them and offer to accompany them. A safe place could be home, a meeting, or just somewhere that can help take their mind off the situation.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about being an ally for your recovering loved one is that this isn’t a that takes place overnight. We must constantly practice empathy, understanding, and remain teachable to truly be the ally that our loved ones need in their corner.

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