For people who have little experience or knowledge of addiction, recovery may seem relatively straightforward. A person addicted to alcohol or drugs just needs a stint at rehab to get clean, right? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.
Addiction is a powerful, chronic brain disease that’s as much psychological as it is physical. Its effects are encompassing, extending to virtually every aspect of one’s life. After living for a period of time—months, years or even decades in some cases—in active addiction, returning to a state of health and independence from alcohol or drugs can take a lot more than just attending a rehabilitation program. In fact, it’s often said that the real work of recovery doesn’t start until after getting out of rehab because that’s when a patient returns home and must assume total responsibility for remaining abstinent.
Success in recovery is dependent on a number of things that come together like pieces of a puzzle. However, one of the most important—and often overlooked—components of a long-lasting recovery is a solid support network. A person’s support network, or lack thereof, can actually make or break his or her recovery, which is why it’s essential for family, friends and other loved ones to be fully aware of the very important roles they play in an individual’s recovery.
A Lifeline in Difficult Situations
We all experience situations that are stressful, emotional or otherwise difficult in our day-to-day lives. These difficult situations are an inevitability and the infinite number of ways in which we can react to or cope with those situations is a major part of what makes us human. Even though there are many potential responses to any given situation, some people—including alcoholics and drug addicts—are innately less capable of utilizing effective coping strategies in these types of situations than others, which is one of the most common reasons people turn to substance abuse in the first place.1
While in rehab, recovering addicts are taught about triggers, how to identify them and how to resist the urge to relapse in instances when they feel compelled to use alcohol or drugs to cope. Ineffective coping is one of the most common reasons for relapse, but it is significantly helped by having a strong support network. An addict’s support network offers him or her a number of encouraging individuals to whom he or she can turn in times of need. When confronted by a difficult situation, a recovering addict can turn to close family members and friends for advice or assistance. Consequently, having a support network as a resource during crisis situations or even after having a bad day significantly reduces a person’s potential for relapse.
A Safe, Sober Environment
After getting out of rehab, recovering addicts must begin the very difficult task of avoiding the people, places, things and situations in their lives that pose any level of threat to their overall wellness and sobriety. In many cases, this means a complete transformation of one’s life, which compounds the difficulty and intensity recovering addicts face upon getting out of rehab and having to be accountable for their own recovery. Another benefit of having a strong network of supportive, encouraging loved ones is that they make the transition from the lifestyle of addiction to the recovery lifestyle much easier. An individual’s support network of sober family and friends can help fill the void where addiction used to reside, effectively surrounding the individual with people who are overtly supportive and can help maintain a safe, substance-free environment.
A Source of Motivation
Of the many numerous things that can cause an addict to relapse—peer pressure, strong cravings and unexpected triggers are just a few—one that is both extremely common and easy to mitigate is complacency in recovery. Specifically, complacency refers to when an individual in recovery has a period of success that causes him or her to believe that continuing to sustain sobriety and remain abstinent will require very little effort going forward. Additionally, the individual will often stop attending support group meetings, going to therapy and participating in any other forms of aftercare because he or she no longer feels they are necessary.2 Understandably, becoming complacent in recovery is a major problem because it causes recovering addicts to let their guards down and has proven to be many individuals’ downfall. It’s currently estimated that between 40 to 60 percent of all addicts relapse after getting out of rehab.3
However, a recovering addict’s support network can provide motivation as he or she continues in recovery. In short, they can provide “positive peer pressure,” encouraging the individual to sustain his or her efforts and ensure that the motivation to remain sober is constant.4 In fact, providing motivation and encouragement—especially through the celebration of progress—is a crucial, determining factor in the longevity of one’s recovery. The takeaway is that, although the ultimate success of one’s recovery is in the addict’s hands, the loved ones of an addict can offer monumental reinforcement, maximizing his or her potential for indefinite sobriety.