Supporting a Woman in Substance Abuse Treatment

Aug 29, 2011
 by Heather Wiszczur, LLMSW, CAADC 

When a woman enters treatment for addiction, the people in her life often want to be supportive, but may not know exactly how to do that. Here are some tips.


Ask what you can do and be open to feedback.

Every woman is different, so if you want to be supportive of a woman in substance abuse treatment, ask how she would like to be supported. Often times friends and family act in ways they believe are supportive or helpful, when that is not how the recovering woman receives it. Many times, women in early recovery feel so guilty for the ways they have hurt their friends and family, that they have difficulty asking for what they need or confronting unhealthy or unhelpful behaviors in those they have hurt. Asking how you can be supportive and being open to feedback about your behavior is a great way to move forward in a healthy way.


Show a genuine interest in her treatment and recovery

Women in substance abuse treatment sometimes feel that others are not interested in what they are doing. They are working on an enormous transformation, but may think their lives in treatment are not interesting to others. Encouraging her to talk about her experiences to the extent she is comfortable sharing can be very helpful.


Notice and help her celebrate progress

Change happens gradually and it is important to celebrate every step in the right direction. If you notice positive change, point it out. If she tells you about progress she's made, offer encouragement and help her celebrate successes large and small.


Express how you've been affected by her addiction in healthy ways

Chances are if a woman you care about has an addiction, you've been hurt by that addiction. Some people want to hide this from women in early recovery or pretend it never happened. Others may act in ways that punish or get back at her for her past behaviors. Neither of these approaches are healthy or conducive to recovery and healing for anyone involved. It is often helpful for women to hear honest accounts of how others have been affected by their addiction. This could happen in a letter, a therapy session, or a private conversation. It is important to be direct and descriptive, while still having compassion. This can be accomplished by focusing on behaviors instead of character traits and by using “I” statements and describing your feelings and reactions to her past behaviors.


Be supportive of her need for alcohol and drug free spaces

It is important for women in early recovery to avoid places and situations that trigger her to use addictive substances. This means avoiding establishments and events where alcohol and/or drugs are present whenever possible. You can support your loved one in this by choosing restaurants that do not serve alcohol when you eat out, not having alcohol or drugs at social events, being understanding and supportive if she does not attend an event due to the presence of alcohol or drugs, or being a support person for her if she is in a situation where alcohol or drugs are present.


Learn about Addiction and Recovery

Learning about addiction and recovery can help build compassion for women in early recovery and can help you to set healthy boundaries, avoid enabling unhealthy behaviors, and have realistic expectations for your loved one's behavior and progress.


Attend Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and/or an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous Speakers Meeting

Al-Anon and Nar-Anon hold meetings for people who have a loved one with an addiction to alcohol or other drugs. These meetings can be helpful to you and your loved ones, in that they help you learn to cope with your feelings in healthy ways, set healthy boundaries, and learn more about addiction and recovery. Attending an AA or NA Speaker's Meeting with your loved one can also be a great way to be supportive and learn more about addiction and recovery.


Don't Panic if she tells you she feels triggered or is having cravings

Cravings are normal and expected in recovery, but loved ones often panic if they hear about them. Good recovery involves talking about cravings when they happen and utilizing healthy coping skills to get through them without actually using an addictive substance. You can be supportive of your loved on in recovery by listening and encouraging her to talk about cravings and triggering situations.


Work on interacting in healthy ways

You may have your own unhealthy behaviors or may have developed some unhealthy or dysfunction patterns of interacting with your loved one who has an addiction. Gaining awareness of these patterns and working on practicing healthy communication, boundaries and coping skills can help both of you move forward in healthy ways.

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