Being newly sober is one of the hardest challenges a person with substance use disorder will face. In some respects, it is harder than getting sober. It certainly was for me. Whether they have left a treatment center or got sober in a support group setting, there are some unique challenges that being newly sober will present. While you cannot influence your loved ones ability to stay sober, there are a number of things you can do to be supportive to them.
Substance Use Disorder
We often feel alone when caring for a loved one who is dealing with Substance Use Disorder, but it is more common than you might think. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2016 19.9 million adults (8.1 % of the population) needed treatment for substance use disorder. This disorder affects people from all walks of life and all age groups. These illnesses are common, recurrent, and often serious, but they are treatable and many people do recover.
Addiction is a Family Disease
Addiction affects a whole family. There is a reason it is referred to as a family disease; it can stress a family to the breaking point because it impacts the unity of the family, the stability and sense of peace within the home, mental and physical wellness, money, and how the family interacts. Living in that environment is a recipe for an unhappy home life. Family members may feel frightened, intimidated, manipulated, distrustful, and hurt.
It makes sense, therefore, that when a loved one gets sober, that there needs to be a family/relationship recovery too. People recovering from substance use disorder often return to an optimal level of health and functioning in their everyday life. But it is worth noting that this can take some time – in terms of months and years, rather than days – because addiction runs much deeper than the addictive behavior: it is rooted in thoughts and behavioral patterns, sometimes unresolved trauma, often mental illness, and an inability to cope with life stressors.
Issues a Newly Sober Person Faces
When people recover, they recover from a number of psychological and mental factors. And that recovery can be strengthened, when the family unit (or partner) is open to improving the relationship through emotional intimacy, trust, firm boundaries, and getting external support.
Some of the common issues that a newly sober person will face include: health problems, financial difficulties, relationship issues, as well as learning how to live a life as a sober person.
Learning How to Live as a Sober Person
As we’ve alluded to, in any program of recovery it is important that it addresses every area of the recovering person’s life. This includes
- medical services, like a primary care doctor and any specialists for other health issues;
- mental health services – whether a psychiatrist, counselor or therapist;
- physical wellness activities – ensuring they keep active;
- the development of a recovery support system – that could be a support group meeting, like Refuge Recovery, LifeRing, SMART or 12 Step meetings (NA, AA etc).
For financial difficulties, they may need to meet with their bank or a financial advisor.
How You Can Support a Sober Person
There are a number of things that you can do to support someone newly sober. It is important that you understand that although you cannot help them stay sober, you can be a great support and help them feel like you are there for them. The most common areas to provide support and encouragement are:
- Support groups. Encourage them to attend meetings (if that is their chosen method of recovery), or to meet up regularly/connect with other sober people. It is vital that people in recovery feel like they are understood and other sober people can do this because they understand the unique problems they face.
- Encourage them to attend medical and mental health appointments. Even though they may have completed a rehab program, or are just sober, they may still have a number of health problems that require ongoing assistance.
- Have strong boundaries and be clear about them. For example, keeping an open dialogue, or a plan if relapse happens. If you’re both in recovery, you could commit to both working on your own recovery.
- Attend family/couples therapy. That will help rebuild relationships, provide a safe and supportive environment to discuss concerns and problems, and it will help the family/relationship recovery.
- Become educated in substance use disorder, how to get help and the process of recovery. SAMHSA is a great place to start.
- Remove temptation from the home: alcohol, prescription drugs etc. So they have a safe space, free from potentially intoxicating substances.
- Find new sober activities and hobbies, like crafting, walking, hiking, visiting museums and art galleries, cinema, trying a new restaurant.
- Try and help reduce stress from work, family, your relationship (by working on your own stressors), or school. Stress that can’t be reduced can be relieved in therapy, or by journaling, exercising, support groups, speaking to others in recovery, meditating, and family discussions.
- Find support for yourself. Some helpful Links for Family and Friends are:
- Be aware of the possibility of relapse. By its nature, this is a relapsing condition. While you can’t stop it, there are signs that you can be aware of like romancing past drug use, sudden changes in behavior and attitudes, disappearing for long periods of time, or withdrawal symptoms. It’s important that your loved one doesn’t feel like you’re watching them, or accusing them – especially as you’re both working on restoring trust in the relationship. But if you feel they may be at risk, then you could gently and compassionately suggest they contact a member of their support network, doctor, or therapist.
There is no prescribed way to live with someone who is newly sober, but what is most important is to be fully informed as best you can, show kindness and compassion – like you would treat any other person that is sick – and be patient, it will take time.
About the Author
Writer and wellness advocate, Olivia Pennelle (Liv), is in long-term recovery. Liv passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen is a resource for the journey toward health and wellness in recovery. For Liv, the kitchen represents the heart of the home: to eat, share, and love. You will find Liv featured amongst top recovery writers and bloggers, published on websites such as: Recovery.Org, The Fix, Intervene, Workit Health, iExhale, Sapling, Addiction Unscripted, Transformation is Real, Sanford House, Winward Way & Casa Capri.