How To Engage Your Support System In Early Recovery

Published on September 9th, 2015

Updated on March 28th, 2022

How To Engage Your Support System In Early Recovery

Addiction is a well-known struggle for many. It not only affects you but also the people that you care about. Friends and family notice a difference in you, sometimes before you can realize the changes within yourself. 

If you’ve misused substances you know it may take a “rock bottom” experience before the realization of your addiction sets in. If you have a sense that your use has bridged the gap from pleasure to necessity listen to the voice in the back of your head and stop justifying your use. It is possible to turn yourself around before things get even messier.

Successful, long-term recovery depends heavily on the quality of one’s support system. It’s even safe to say it may be impossible to recover alone. 

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Below are some tips on engaging friends and family as you acknowledge your addiction. Engaging your support system respectfully and honestly will help you preserve important relationships and ensure you don’t drive the people who care for you most away from you.

1. It’s likely friends and family already know.

While it is generally advisable to stay away from assumptions, you may find some solace knowing that your loved ones likely know something has been “off.” Substance use can cause you to lose awareness of your own behavior changes. Several behaviors can be noticed by friends and family of an addict, including:

When you approach your loved ones to share that you have acknowledged your addiction, expect that you probably will not be dropping unexpected news. Your friends and family may not be as shocked as you may expect.

2. Be sincere and take ownership of your situation.

It is important that you act mature and transparent when engaging your support network. 

Example: Blaming your use on stress, another mental illness, or your family history feels defensive to the listener – even if there is some truth to your difficulties.

Everyone has their struggles that they wrestle with and addiction is yours. Remind yourself of this simple truth. Your addiction does not make you a lesser person. In fact, your insight and honesty about your situation make you all the wiser. 

Instead of this: “Well, you know how hard work has been for me and how much I was exposed to alcohol growing up, I guess it’s not a shock to you that I think I drink too much…” Try this: “Addiction is something I’ve finally acknowledged is a problem for me. It’s taken some time, but I’m telling you because I know I’ll need your support along the way.”

3. Set boundaries and reduce negative influences in your life.

Addiction often gets in the way of healthy relationships. Identify who in your support system is “safe” and share only with them. Truly supportive people will be supportive, stable, and trustworthy. 

As difficult as it may be, you must set boundaries with friends who still use or encourage you to do so. Your response does not have to be lengthy. It can be as simple as: “I need to take care of myself and I’m slimming down my contacts. You will not see me for a while.”

A major part of recovery is identifying the people, places, and situations that are not good for you. While it is challenging, you may need to sacrifice some relationships to ensure your success in recovery.

4. Share your plan of action.

Remember the old saying, “actions speak louder than words?” It is not uncommon for addicts to be master manipulators and smooth-talkers. The following are behaviors for people who are not serious about their recovery:

If you are honest, may find have already hurt some members of your support system through some of these behaviors. A true supporter of yours will not make excuses for you, and they will not allow your manipulation to serve as an excuse for your behavior.

If it is applicable, acknowledge and accept that your words may hold little weight without proof of your behavior. Turn a new leaf and show your support network that you are committed. 

Example: “I know that my words will not mean much without a plan of action. Here is what I’m going to do: _______. Will you help keep me accountable?”

Using these tips or a variation will help keep you connected to a quality support network, and most importantly, help you maintain sobriety for the long haul. The road to recovery is challenging, so be sure to create a strong network with professionals and other recovering addicts as well. They will be able to relate to your struggle in a way that can help you feel not so alone.

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