Parents, caregivers and other loved ones have a critical role to play when someone they care about is battling the disease of addiction. Below, a mother whose son is currently in recovery offers suggestions for how to be part of the recovery process.

  1. Offer emotional support and understanding, and communicate in a positive guiding manner without trying to control the person who is using substances. Sometimes people are not ready to go into treatment and you can’t force it. It’s important for the person using substances to take back control of their own lives. Take the words “should” or “you have to” out of your vocabulary and replace with them with questions like “how do you think that will work for you,” “what do you expect the outcome to be,” or “what do you think your options are.”

  2. Remember that language matters. The language that we use to discuss substance use disorders can perpetuate stigma. And stigma against those with a substance use disorder can impact people’s willingness to seek help – for fear that they will be judged or discriminated against. As a loved one, you can influence language used by family members, friends and others. The following are some examples. Instead of saying someone tested dirty or clean, say positive or negative urinalysis. Use person-centered language like a person with an alcohol addiction or a person with a substance use disorder, not alcoholic or drug addict. Even the term substance abuse is being replaced with substance use.

  3. Consider your level of financial support throughout the recovery process. When coming out of detention or a treatment facility, it is common for people to go into recovery housing and continue treatment in either an Intensive Outpatient or Outpatient setting. They are expected to find work and start to provide for themselves. However, they may need help with part of the treatment costs, one-to-two months of rent at a recovery house or groceries until they can find a job and get on their feet. Each family has to decide what, if any, financial support they can provide. If you cannot provide financial support, help is sometimes available from foundations, churches or social services. Securing external financial support typically requires filling out applications and making phone calls.

  4. Set and enforce boundaries that make sense for you. While you are there to provide support, it is necessary for loved ones to set healthy boundaries too. The need to take care of yourself cannot be overshadowed by some else’s needs. Some typical boundaries include not allowing someone to live in your home while they are using substances, buying their groceries instead of giving them money, and setting expectations around their volunteer work or their plan to pay you back.

  5. Help them to communicate their story. Someone who is using substances may not be able to fully articulate all the details of their history. If they require inpatient detoxification, they are not well and may leave out important points that will help in their treatment and recovery. You can play a role in helping them communicate their history including what substances have been used and types and names of treatment accessed in the past.

  6. Decide whether you will provide transportation. Many people in recovery have lost their license or do not have a vehicle. They have to pay others for rides to treatment sessions and meetings. Loved ones may have to decide what, if anything, they are willing and able to do to assist with transportation needs.

  7. Advocate for your loved one. Many times people in recovery are involved with multiple agencies. Each agency may have their own plan for helping and sometimes those plans don’t align well. Someone in recovery may be used to being told what to do and not have the ability to advocate for themselves, fearing that if they go against the authority they may be penalized. As a loved one, you may be the best person to advocate on their behalf. To do this, it may be helpful to educate yourself about available treatment options and recovery supports.

If someone you love has substance use issues, remember that you are not alone. Reach out for free, confidential support from someone who has been through a similar challenge with a loved one. Call 410-730-8267 or click here to learn more.

For Maryland substance use prevention, treatment and recovery information, visit