Learn / Empowering Support: Resources and Strategies for Loved Ones in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment

Empowering Support: Resources and Strategies for Loved Ones in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment

Sarah Shawaker
 March 29th, 2024|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.

Key Points

  • Support from loved ones in the recovery process improves patient outcomes.
  • Loved ones can participate in therapy, support groups, and psychoeducation.
  • Learn communication skills and how to set boundaries to build healthy relationships.

Addiction and mental health conditions don’t only affect the individual—they affect the entire family unit. If you know someone in recovery, chances are you are a part of the healing process. 

Support from loved ones plays a critical role in the treatment journey, not just as a supplementary aspect of care but as a core component of successful recovery. Your help is a profound act of love, but it comes with challenges. Loved ones can face obstacles that test their resilience, patience, and emotional stability. Understanding these challenges is crucial for developing strategies to navigate them effectively. 

Understanding the Role of Loved Ones

Each person’s journey with recovery looks different, and so does the support of their loved ones. Regardless of when you joined their treatment journey, your help matters. 

When a person undergoes addiction or mental health treatment, support from loved ones can greatly improve their outcomes1. Family engagement can lead to fewer relapses, longer duration between relapses, reduced hospital admissions, shorter inpatient stays, and improved compliance to medication and treatment plans.

These massive patient benefits are likely why you want to help your loved one through recovery; however, witnessing their struggle with mental health issues or addiction can be emotionally taxing2. The constant worry and need to provide ongoing support can be physically and mentally exhausting. This can lead to emotional burnout3, where the supporter feels overwhelmed and unable to continue providing care effectively.

Assisting a loved one through treatment requires patience, understanding, and a compassionate approach. Your guidance during this time is invaluable; however, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. There are many resources to support you and your loved one during recovery.

Types of Resources Available

To support your loved one to the best of your abilities, you will need outside help. Fortunately, there are multiple avenues available.

Educational Resources

Substance use disorders and mental health conditions can be very complex. The more you know about the condition(s), and what your loved one is going through, the better equipped you both are to navigate recovery.

To learn more about different disorders, types of treatment, insurance coverage for rehab, and more, visit our Resource Library to explore comprehensive articles covering a variety of educational topics.

You may also do your own research and talk to medical professionals to stay informed. Reading up on the condition(s) can provide you with a basic understanding of the symptoms, treatments, and potential risks. Speaking with a doctor or your loved one’s care team can offer personalized insights and information. 

Support Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) groups use the 12-Steps program as their foundation. AA and NA hosts meetings for family members of people with substance or behavioral addictions to learn from the others’ shared experiences. They offer in-person or virtual groups across the country. Find an Al-Anon or Nar-Anon group near you

SMART Recovery also offers family support groups, however they differ from the 12 Steps by focusing on one’s resilience and ability to overcome addiction rather than a higher power.

For those with a loved one in mental health care, the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) provides family support groups. During sessions, peers discuss their experiences to foster understanding and hope. You may work on coping skills, forgiving yourself for past mistakes, releasing judgment, and embracing resilience. Groups are free and confidential. Find a NAMI family support group near you.

Therapy and Counseling

Family therapy will likely be an option as part of your loved one’s treatment plan. Addiction and mental health treatment is more effective with family therapy4, helping both the person in recovery and loved ones. By making positive changes in family dynamics, therapy can reduce the stress of having a loved one in treatment and improve how families treat each other as a whole. In a family therapy session, you can set boundaries, work on communication skills, and resolve conflicts.

You may choose to seek professional 1:1 counseling. It can provide a confidential and safe space for you to process your feelings, develop coping strategies, and maintain your well-being while supporting your loved one. Your therapist might help you communicate your boundaries, prioritize self-care, and practice stress management techniques.

Strategies for Supporting Treatment

Supporting a loved one through treatment for mental health issues or addiction is a compassionate yet complex journey. It requires patience, understanding, and a proactive attitude to support your loved one and take care of your own well-being. A well-rounded approach, emphasizing helpful communication, is key. 

Effective Communication Techniques

Talking to someone who’s experiencing addiction or mental health issues can be an opportunity to show your empathy and understanding5. You can approach these conversations with a calm and non-judgmental attitude. Show that you genuinely care and want to listen. And be clear that you’re concerned about them.

Encourage them to share their feelings by asking open-ended questions like “Can you tell me what you’ve been going through?” or “How have you been feeling lately?” 

Try to make your loved one feel seen by acknowledging their experiences. You can say things such as “Tell me how you are feeling, I care about your feelings and well-being,” or “I am right here for you. Tell me how I can help you.” Empathize with what they’re experiencing—they’ll be more likely to trust you for help.

Your loved one is going through a challenging time, so try your best to be patient. Stay calm and collected when they tell you about their feelings. Make sure they know that they don’t have to go through this alone. Remind them that seeking help is a positive step.

Setting Boundaries and Practicing Self-Care

Setting healthy boundaries can help maintain a positive relationship dynamic and prevent enabling behaviors. Boundaries are essential for both your loved one and yourself, as supporting someone in recovery can be emotionally taxing.

For example, you can express that you won’t participate in activities or situations that enable their addiction, but you’ll support their recovery efforts. This could look like withholding money they would use to buy drugs or not bailing them out of jail. You can offer your help finding appropriate treatment and stay consistent with your support. 

Take care of yourself by setting healthy boundaries, seeking support from others, and practicing self-care. You cannot care for someone else if you are not taking care of your own needs first.

Encouraging and Reinforcing Positive Behaviors

Recognizing both big and small achievements propel the recovery journey. Your loved one is likely to sustain recovery by staying positive and motivated6. Conversations should stay optimistic and realistic—acknowledge their hard work and express your belief that they can overcome these challenges. You can offer regular support and words of affirmation with your love and confidence in their ability to recover. 

Milestones could look like attending therapy sessions regularly, reaching sobriety cornerstones,  or simply having a good day. You can personalize celebrations to what your loved one finds meaningful and enjoyable, such as a favorite meal or a small gathering with close friends and family. 

Establishing traditions around milestones can give your loved one something to look forward to. For example, for each month of sobriety, you might plant a new flower in the garden.

Ways to Help Loved Ones Help Themselves

One of the best ways you can help your loved one is by guiding them towards tools to effectively sustain recovery by themselves. Your loved one may deal with uncomfortable feelings for the rest of their life because of their condition(s). Creating healthy habits can manage discomfort during their journey.

Outside of professional treatment, your loved one can participate in multiple self-reflection and self-care techniques to support their recovery. Taking time to reflect on personal values and treatment goals can help your loved one stay aligned with their desires. Journaling can be therapeutic7, so encourage them to write responses to questions such as 

  1. What events or decisions led you to this point in your recovery journey? How do you feel about them now?
  2. What triggers have you identified that impact your mental health or addiction? What healthy coping mechanisms have you found effective?
  3. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from your experiences before and during recovery?
  4. What achievements, big or small, have you made in your recovery? How did you accomplish them?
  5. What personal strengths have you discovered or strengthened through your recovery process? How have they helped you?
  6. How has your journey affected your relationships with family and friends? Are there relationships that need mending or strengthening?
  7. What are you grateful for today? How does gratitude impact your recovery journey?
  8. Write a letter to yourself expressing compassion and understanding for your journey. What would you say?

You could offer to engage in healthy activities with your loved one to support their recovery. You might take a walk or do yoga with them for exercise, and you could make healthy, nutritious dinners with them. Your loved one may enjoy creative outlets such as painting, so you could do a weekly paint night with them. And promote supportive relationships with family, friends, or support groups who understand and encourage their recovery journey.

By integrating these healthy self-care practices into daily life, your loved one in recovery can build a strong foundation for sustained well-being and resilience. You play a valuable role in their treatment journey, so be sure to give yourself the love and recognition you deserve. With your help and professional support, your loved one can create a healthier, more fulfilling life.

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