Tips For Communicating With A Loved One In Recovery

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 29, 2021

Knowing what to say to a family member in recovery from addiction can be a challenge, particularly if you’re rebuilding a relationship that’s suffered strain. Learn more about positive communication strategies for family members and finding additional support.

Tips For Communicating In Recovery

Addiction recovery can be a rewarding journey.

Even so, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with challenges, both for the person in recovery, as well as loved ones who wish to effectively support them.

Families with loved ones in recovery may wonder how to talk to their recovering loved one, as well as how to repair relationships, strengthen them, offer encouragement, and avoid saying the “wrong” thing.

There are a number of ways to communicate during recovery and tips for working through issues without causing further harm to familial relationships.

Learn more about how to help a loved one in recovery

What Role Does Communication Play In Recovery?

Communication plays a key role in addiction recovery. It’s through communication, by way of both words and actions, that family members can convey where they are and what they are feeling.

Addiction can be tough on a family. It can cause dysfunction in the home, secrecy, isolation, as well as anger, loss of trust, and resentment.

It’s for that reason that learning supportive communication strategies in recovery can be important to the healing process, both for your loved one and the family unit.

What this can help to do:

  • demonstrate support for your family member
  • help you to have productive conversations
  • address misunderstandings
  • strengthen relationships
  • increase motivation for recovery

It’s okay if it’s not easy at first. Positive communication strategies for families isn’t something that individuals typically learn—at least, not without receiving professional support.

Being willing to learn, and to try, is the first and most important part of the process.

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Tips For Communicating With A Family Member In Recovery

In early addiction recovery, there are several ways that family members can work to foster positive, supportive communication with their loved one.

Here are 10 tips for positive communication with a family member in recovery:

1. Listen To Them

If you’re unsure what your family member needs from you, consider asking them directly.

While this might catch them off guard, this could also demonstrate to them, at the very least, that you care about supporting them in a way that’s healthy for their recovery.

Questions you might ask could include:

  • What do you need from me in our conversations?
  • What do you want to talk about?
  • Are there topics I should avoid?
  • How are you feeling?

Simply offering your family member the chance to speak their mind and guide your conversation can speak volumes.

2. Avoid Making Assumptions

Most everyone has been exposed to the treatment and recovery process in some way, whether it’s through media or the experience of another person in their lives.

At the same time, it’s important not to assume one person’s experience will be the same as another’s. Or, that there’s a right or wrong way to get help or achieve recovery.

Allow yourself to have an open mind and refrain from casting immediate judgment. Addiction is a complex condition that can affect people in different ways. And so, too, can the path towards recovery.

3. Offer Encouragement

Getting help for a drug or alcohol problem can be difficult. Even harder is remaining in treatment and actively participating in the treatment process.

Providing encouragement throughout their journey is a simple way that you can offer your support. For instance, telling them “I’m proud of you,” or “You can do it.”

At the same time, be sure to consider their reactions and their body language. Do they appear uncomfortable? Embarrassed? Put-off?

Learn as you go. Listen to them if they offer feedback. It’s the little things, like offering encouragement, or pulling back if they express discomfort, that sometimes matter the most.

4. Have Realistic Expectations

Overcoming a substance use disorder doesn’t happen in a day. It’s normal for someone to have set-backs, or for people to have days where they’re feeling more or less motivated.

To avoid feeling disappointed or frustrated at where your family member is in their recovery process, try to keep your expectations practical.

This might include expectations for:

  • their motivation for recovery
  • their progress in treatment
  • how talkative they are one day to the next
  • their general attitude
  • their hopes for recovery

Expecting someone to be further along in their recovery, or to consistently maintain their motivation for it early on, isn’t what you or your loved one needs.

This can become frustrating for you, and could also make your family member feel inadequate, embarrassed, or attacked.

5. Be Considerate Of Where They Are In Recovery

Healing occurs along a spectrum. A person’s motivation in recovery, and their progress, can sometimes change from week to week, or even day to day.

The best way to offer support and play a supportive role in their recovery is to be considerate of where they are and to recognize that recovery isn’t a race—it’s a journey.

6. Honor Their Boundaries

Treatment programs for drug and alcohol abuse often encourage individuals to create boundaries with others to help them forge and maintain healthy relationships in recovery.

Common types of boundaries include:

  • physical boundaries (e.g. not invading personal space)
  • emotional boundaries (e.g. not forcing someone to talk about something)
  • time boundaries (e.g. needing time alone)
  • financial boundaries (e.g. limits/restrictions on lending money)
  • intellectual boundaries (e.g. respecting different perspectives)

Be mindful of boundaries that they express explicitly to you, or imply through their actions. If you’re unsure whether something you’re doing is crossing a line—ask!

7. Be Honest With Them

When it comes to conversations in recovery, there’s truth to the saying that honesty is the best policy.

While recognizing that there’s a time and place for certain conversations, your family member deserves to have you be honest about what you’re feeling and what you have the capacity to give.

Tips for doing this include:

  • Use “I” statements (e.g. “I feel this way” vs “We feel”).
  • Consider the weight of your words before saying them out loud.
  • Choose the right time and place for difficult conversations.
  • Avoid raising your voice or casting judgment.

Of course, honesty in communication goes both ways. By being honest, the hope is that this will show them that they can be similarly honest and sincere with you as well.

8. Practice Positive Affirmations

Sustaining recovery over the long-term doesn’t come without its challenges.

Whether your loved one has been in recovery a week, a year, or several years, there’s value in affirming the progress a person has made.

Consider offering affirmative statements on occasion, such as:

  • I’m proud of you.
  • Look at how far you’ve come.
  • You handled that situation very well.
  • You should be so proud of yourself.
  • I see how hard this is, and that you’re trying.
  • I support you.
  • I know you can do this.

Offering that extra encouragement can mean the world. It can offer clarity, and ground a person in the reality of where they’ve been, and how far they’ve come.

9. Consider Attending Family Therapy

Many rehab programs offer the opportunity for family members and spouses to actively participate in their loved one’s treatment. Typically, this takes the form of family therapy.

Family therapy can offer an opportunity for both you and your loved one to learn positive communication skills and have productive conversations with a professional to help guide you.

This can be a useful time to start having the tougher conversations: the impact of their addiction, what you need from them, and how to continue strengthening your relationship after treatment.

10. Be Patient

Talking about an experience with addiction, and life in recovery, can be difficult for some. Give your loved one time. Recognize that this is a process.

Offering time and space can speak volumes. This can demonstrate that you are, or will be, a safe person for them to open up to, when they’re ready.

What To Avoid In Communication During Your Family Member’s Recovery

Equally as important as knowing what to do while communicating with a loved one in recovery is knowing common pitfalls, or what not to do.

For instance, here is what to avoid in communication with someone in recovery:

  • crossing emotional boundaries
  • casting judgment
  • projecting
  • making promises you can’t keep
  • dishonesty in conversation
  • making threats
  • forcing discussion
  • expressing cynicism

While it’s not uncommon to make mistakes, what’s most important is learning from them—and committing to do better next time.

Finding Additional Support In Recovery

Sometimes it can be difficult to repair the damage that addiction and poor communication in families has had on a relationship. If this describes your current situation, you’re not alone.

Finding professional support through a substance use counselor, family counselor, or rehab center in the event of relapse can help to repair relationships with family in recovery.

If you need additional help, call us today to learn more about available support options or how to find the right rehab program for an addicted family member.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 29, 2021
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