Sober Etiquette: How to Support Friends Recovering from Addiction
One of the best aids in achieving long-term sobriety is positive social influence. The behavior of a person’s social circles is a great predictor of the success of long-term sobriety. So for those of us who have friends in recovery, but are ourselves unfamiliar with the community, how can we best lend support and avoid potential landmines?
In many ways, it’s just the basics of being a good friend in general, modified for the unique needs of your friend in recovery.
Every person’s experience and recovery are different, but here are a few pointers:
Recovery is a long journey, and not a linear one. Like anyone else with a mental health disorder, someone in recovery will have good and bad days, weeks, and months, and it is important to know that. There may well be backsliding into unhealthy behaviors. Whether or not you were personally hurt by your friend’s addiction, your friend will need to be selfish with their time and their emotions for some time to continue healing.
Be Supportive of Their Recovery
If you are not familiar with recovery and addiction, educate yourself. While it is important that you and your friend have conversations about specific boundaries, it is not your friend’s responsibility to teach you about addiction. Especially in the early stages of recovery, it is your friend’s job to focus on themselves. So, educate yourself. Offer to join in relevant support groups. Be a part of their sober support system.
Plan Fun Sober Activities
Plan some fun activities together. It’s pretty simple—what do you like to do? Invite them out for a hike or a run. Grab coffee together and catch up. Try a painting class together or organize a fun board game night. There is a world of activities that have nothing to do with substance use of any kind. You may even find a new healthy habit to enjoy together.
Provide Emotional Support
Be a safe, nonjudgmental ear for your friend. Let them determine when and how they come to you, but make sure that hard conversations are always met with understanding or failing that, willingness to learn. Practice good listening with open body language, eye contact, and cues to continue as appropriate.
Don’t Drink or Use Substances around your Friend
This should be fairly obvious, particularly if your friend is in early recovery. Don’t invite them to parties and gatherings that revolve around consumption. A good rule of thumb is not to expose your friend to potential triggers.
Don’t Be Judgmental
If your friend confides in you, don’t abuse that trust by reacting judgmentally. In the short term, it will quickly make a conversation awkward. In the long term, you may well lose a friend. Your friend has spent a long time ridding their life of toxicity—don’t put them in a position where you are a source of toxicity in their life.
Don’t Offer Unsolicited Advice
Leave advice surrounding your friend’s recovery to the experts. Unsolicited advice is patronizing and rude at best, unfounded and harmful at worst. To have reached this point in their recovery, your friend has received a lot of advice and implemented what was effective into their life. They know how and when to ask for advice. You need to know when not to give it.
Don’t Question Them
Recovery is your friend’s journey, and no two recovery journeys are alike. There is a difference between being an ally and being a helicopter. Be a friend—let them lead their life with the knowledge that mistakes can and do happen, but you cannot make their choices for them. It is also not your responsibility to question their choices. Your friend is the one most intimately aware of their own boundaries, and they get to create their own sober lifestyle.
Just like there aren’t hard and fast rules for being a friend, there aren’t hard and fast rules for being a friend to someone in recovery. Support ideally starts with a conversation: How can I best support you? What do you want and need from me in your recovery journey?
The fact that you’re reading up on how to support your friend is a great start.
We’d love to hear from you—how are you supporting friends in recovery?
If you or a friend needs help fighting addiction, please reach out to us: