So, a good friend has (finally!) decided to get sober — and you want to do whatever you can to help?
That’s excellent news. Extensive research has shown that having a robust social support network is tremendously helpful. Many addicts who received formal treatment for alcohol and other substance abuse disorders report, after at least five years of being clean and sober, that supportive friends were just as crucial in keeping them on the path.
Your support could mean more than you’ll ever realize, but what practical steps can you take to help your friend stay sober?
Just Be There
Sober and responsibly-drinking friends of alcohol addicts can represent a comforting sense of continuity in an addict’s life. Alcoholics tend to have less robust friendships than non-addicts, and because the people in their social networks also often abuse alcohol, cutting ties with old drinking buddies may be necessary for recovery.
You’re uniquely placed to help if you’re not a problem drinker yourself — and you don’t even need to have special training to play an active role in your friend’s road to sobriety.
Research has shown that authentic, positive relationships with people who don’t make them feel ashamed or guilty are crucial for long-term sobriety. What’s more, just having good friends close by can solidify the road to abstinence.
Healthcare providers and peer counselors can also be very helpful, but unlike them, you know your friend. You can immediately see past the alcohol addiction and connect with the person underneath. Your friend needs that right now.
So, listen if your friend wants to talk about alcohol, alcoholism, or sobriety — but don’t force the topic in every conversation. Talk about, or do, nice things that your friend enjoys. Help your friend rekindle old passions or discover new ones.
If you have lingering judgments, hold off on sharing them. Know that we judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else ever could. Your friend will silently be grateful — and may make amends when ready.
This category applies to judgmental feelings you may harbor about your friend’s current choices and past events. Getting sober often means waking up from a long, alcoholic haze. Reality bites, and people who stop drinking slowly begin to grasp what they lost while they were in the throes of addiction. Don’t make it worse — try to make it better.
Don’t Drink Around Your Friend
This one is obvious, right?
A sober environment is vital for many people in early recovery, while those stable in their sobriety also often appreciate it very much.
Can you drink responsibly? Great. You’ll have plenty of other opportunities to do so. Refrain from drinking alcohol in your friend’s presence. Don’t take your friend to bars or other places where alcohol is served. Organize sober events that give your friend an opportunity to have fun without having to cope with alcohol in their peripheral vision.
Of course, this isn’t always going to be possible.
Your friend is also most likely still want to be with his or her group of friends just like before, which is totally understandable, it could be hurtful to not invite them anymore and at the same time it also isn’t fair for yourself as you are able to remain a balance while drinking, in this case, I would advise that your friend is always welcome but just make him or her aware that drinking is going to happen.
Just please, don’t leave them out all of a sudden just maybe keep a little eye out.
Learn About Addiction and the Road to Recovery
Misconceptions about the nature of addiction are everywhere — and you may have a few of your own. Learning about addiction and recovery can help you support your friend better.
It helps to see alcohol addiction as a disease — like any other. Specifically, addiction is a complex and chronic disease often marked by periods of remission and relapse, but it’s also treatable. With the right combination of support and treatment, the disease can permanently go into remission. Alcoholics may never be completely free, but they can get very close.
Like other addictions, alcoholism is caused by a complex combination of factors. They include genetics, life experiences, and early exposure.
Alcoholism is not a sign of weakness, an irresponsible mindset, or a choice.
The road to recovery is hard and requires total commitment and bravery every step of the way. If everyone thought of people in early recovery like they think of people with other chronic diseases like diabetes or lupus, society might be a whole lot more supportive.
Offer Practical Help
People in the early stages of recovery may have all sorts of practical needs. Ensuring these needs are met can help your friend stay sober.
Your friend might need or benefit from:
- A ride to a support group or the doctor’s office.
- Someone to accompany them to new hobbies or activities.
- Someone to call when faced with overwhelming alcohol cravings or serious temptation.
- An accountability partner.
Not all of your friend’s immediate needs are directly related to recovery, of course! Your friend might need help building a chicken coop or emotional support at a family dinner. Show up, and you’ll make it clear that you’re a reliable and trusted friend. Having someone like that in their corner can make people in early recovery feel safe and supported — which, in turn, helps them stay motivated in their sobriety.
Celebrate Your Friend’s Sobriety
There’s no need to make a big show of it, but it can really help to acknowledge significant milestones and to let your friend know how proud you are of their continuing fight to stay sober. Addicts are often used to negative environments, and celebrating your friend’s sobriety may be a rare occasion for them to hear genuine praise. That can mean a lot.
You can get some ideas from here: How To Celebrate One Year Sober
Is That All?
Yes, that’s all — but it’s much more than you might think.
People getting sober come in all shapes and sizes. Some were problem drinkers who didn’t meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder and didn’t require medical help to get sober safely. Others need professional detox protocols and other forms of treatment to stabilize their recovery.
They both benefit from having trusted and supportive friends around, and playing an active role in your friend’s life while creating a sober environment is the best gift you could ever give them!
You aren’t a medical professional. You are, in many ways, even more important. As research has shown, having friends just like you in their lives is one of the strongest predictors of addicts’ continued sobriety.
(Don’t forget to look after yourself, too, of course! Self-care is crucial if you’re playing a vital role in your friend’s recovery journey!)