Addiction can be one of the loneliest experiences one can face. The nature of the illness creates rifts between family, friends, and relationships. However, during recovery, having a support system to lean on is one of the biggest contributing factors to success (Boisvert, et. al). A strong support system greatly reduces your chances of relapsing. In this article, we will discuss why finding a support system is so crucial, and how to rebuild it once you have lost it to addiction. 

Why having a support system in recovery is important

There’s a reason why peer support groups are implemented in almost all recovery programs across the country. They provide a variety of benefits to a person who has made a commitment to achieving lifelong sobriety, including:

Knowing You’re Not Alone

Simply knowing that you’re not alone and that there are others who are fighting the same fight you are is beneficial in its own right. If your loved ones have never experienced addiction personally, it can be difficult for them to truly understand your struggle, and they may unintentionally say hurtful or unhelpful things out of their own ignorance. On the other hand, peer support is usually free from judgment, as everyone is well aware of just how difficult staying sober can be. Once you leave recovery, you will be able to take that support system with you to help maintain a life of sobriety with the help of your newfound recovery family. 

Accountability

While the choice to get and remain sober starts and ends with you, if you’ve only got yourself to answer to when it comes to staying sober, it’s going to be very difficult to stay on the path towards your goals. It really helps to have at least one person who you know is in your corner, rooting for you and depending on you to stay on track. Anyone from your family to your friends to your significant other to your peer support group can hold you accountable — the more the merrier. Through recovery, it’s important to become aware of the fact that your addiction doesn’t just affect you, it has a negative impact on everyone who loves and cares about you. 

Motivation

A strong group of supporters will always provide you with an extra boost of confidence or a pep talk when you need it most. When battling addiction, it’s easy to get caught in a dark thought spiral, so having people to help bring you back to reality is invaluable. Knowing that there is even one person other than yourself who you can lean on in times of trouble could be the difference between relapse and sobriety.

How to build your support system

Unfortunately, it’s very common for substance-addicted people to lose loved ones due to their addiction. Addiction can cause a person to distance themselves from their old life and the people in it. It can also instill bad personality traits such as anger, aggression, manipulation, lying, and even thievery, which may all contribute to pushing people away. If you find yourself lacking a strong support system by the time you make the commitment to becoming sober, here’s how to build it back up:

Apologize to the loved ones you have hurt.
When you feel as though you are in a good place and have made a strong commitment to your journey to sobriety, it may be beneficial to reach out to those who have been affected by your addiction. Most people will have a positive reaction to hearing you own up to your shortcomings, and you may receive a few apologies in return. This will greatly increase your chances of mending your past relationships with loved ones and will show them that you are aware of your wrongdoings and committed to change.

Educate yourself and others about what you need to heal.
Despite having a substance abuse disorder, it may be difficult to really explain how it affects you and makes you feel and behave. Doing some research about your particular addiction can really help when it comes to explaining to others what you would like from them in terms of support. You can also gather resources and articles to send to those in your circle who genuinely want to learn about what you’re going through.

Let people know how they can best help.
Odds are, those who love you want nothing more than to see you kick your addiction and live a happy, healthy life. They are probably willing to do whatever it takes to keep you on the right track, but this may lead to them overstepping their bounds or doing more harm than good. In order to help them help you, let them know what kinds of strategies work best to keep you motivated. Whether it be checking in with a phone call once a week, sending you information, dropping by for more frequent visits, or simply just being there for you when you need them, all of these are perfectly valid. They will really appreciate the communication and confidence that they know they are truly helping you out.

Have patience.
Know that not everyone will be accepting of your apologies, and may even respond in a hostile way. It may feel discouraging to have someone you care about outright reject your apology, but remember that they may be afraid to let you back in. You need to be aware of the fact that what you did when you were in the throes of the disease could have really hurt people, especially the ones who care about you most. But also remember that who you were when you were an addict doesn’t define you. Addiction has a scary way of messing with our minds and turning us into someone who will do quite literally anything to get their next fix, even if it means lying, manipulating, stealing, etc from those we love. It may take some time, but slowly you may start to see more and more people come around as they realize you actually have made a serious commitment.

Stay responsive and update loved ones on your progress when you can.
As you go through the recovery process, expect that people will want you to update them on your progress, not only to hold you accountable but to make sure that you are doing okay. Recovery is difficult, probably one of the most difficult things a person can do, and it never ends. Every day is a fight, but it does get easier. And your loved ones will feel a sense of pride to know that you’re doing this thing that may have once seemed hopeless to them. Whatever you do, even if you are taking time to focus on yourself, try not to completely drop off the face of the earth. Odds are, you isolated yourself when you were struggling with addiction, and sudden unresponsiveness may cause those you care about to become concerned that you’ve relapsed. These people are committing their time, effort, emotions, etc to helping you get better, so do the right thing and make sure they know how much their support means to you.

Show your gratitude.
As we mentioned above, showing how thankful you are is essential to maintaining a strong support system. As much as we hate to admit it, caring for an addict isn’t easy. But the people in your life who care about you are willing to stay by your side through the good and the bad, rain or shine — that’s a HUGE deal. Every time they do something that you appreciate, make sure to verbally express your gratitude. Thank them spontaneously and unexpectedly too, and this will demonstrate that you often think about them and how they’ve helped you. This is the key ingredient to keeping people in your life and keeping your support system strong.

Building and maintaining a strong support system through recovery isn’t easy, but if you have even one person who cares, you’ve got something that really matters. That one person could be the one thing standing between you and relapse. And don’t discount the effectiveness of support groups! If you’re in a treatment program, you likely already meet with a peer support group, but if you don’t have access to this resource, there are plenty of locally organized groups for people struggling with addiction. Check out this site to find a support group that best fits your needs, and you can locate a meeting in your area from there. 

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