If you’ve watched someone struggle with an alcohol use problem, one of the greatest feelings is seeing them successfully complete a treatment program. While alcohol rehab is an important step in the recovery process, there’s still much work to be done afterwards in order to maintain sobriety. Some days, your loved one will feel happy and strong about their alcohol-free lifestyle. Other days may be more difficult, where they feel vulnerable to triggers or urges to drink.

Although you cannot do the work for your loved one, there are many ways that you can encourage and support them along their journey to a lasting recovery. Sometimes it can be tricky to know what you should do or say. You may worry about choosing the wrong words or smothering them too much. Because of this, consider scheduling an appointment with an alcohol therapist before your loved one comes home from rehab. A therapist will be able to discuss your feelings and emotions, as well as guide you in the best ways to support their recovery.

The choice to go into recovery is a big deal for everyone who does it. We do have to be careful however what we say to people as they are getting ready to enter that process and as they are in that process so that we can motivate them to stay sober and make this big change in their life… Our words are very important when somebody has made the decision to go into recovery and we need to choose those words carefully.

Dr. Jason Hunziker
Psychiatrist at the University of Utah

What to Say, and What Not to Say to a Recovering Alcoholic

The alcohol recovery process is unique for each individual. There’s no precise formula that depicts everything you’ll need to know about your loved one’s recovery journey. But there are some basic thought-processes you can start from and build on. In doing so, your words and actions will be more personal and heartfelt.

Here’s some advice on how to keep conversations positive and uplifting when talking to a loved one in recovery:

What Not to Say: “Do you think you’ll ever be able to drink again? Even just have a couple of drinks from time-to-time?”

Instead Say: “I know you really enjoy going out and socializing. Let’s go grab lunch, hit up a movie or go mini golfing.”

After rehab, help your loved one find new activities and hobbies that interest them. While they may no longer stay out all night and close down the bars, there are plenty of other social things to partake in. Check out local community calendars for events and happenings around town. This is not only a fun way to include everyone in some fun, but it will also keep the focus off alcohol-related triggers.

Friends Support During Recovery What Not to Say: “I don’t think you had an alcohol use problem. You were just having a good time.”

Instead Say: “I’m proud of how much you’ve accomplished and the hard work you’re putting into your sobriety.”

No matter how minor your loved one’s drinking problem may have seemed, choosing to live an alcohol-free life is a huge decision. Recognizing how far a person has come and celebrating accomplished goals – large and small – provide a sense of motivation to continue pushing forward through the highs and lows. This is especially crucial during challenging days, as it will uplift your loved one and prevent them from falling back on old habits.

What Not to Say: “If you loved me, you wouldn’t have this problem. I can’t believe you put me through this.”

Instead Say: “Alcoholism is a disease, and it’s not your fault. I was by your side during treatment, and I’ll continue to be by your side through every step of your recovery.”

Your loved one’s dangerous alcohol use is a disease. It does not make them any less of a person. Rather than criticize, focus on healing. Make sure your family member or friend understands that you will be with them through thick and thin. The path to recovery can be an emotional rollercoaster, which why it’s highly recommended that you attend therapist meetings or support groups to learn how to cope in various situations.

Alcohol Recovery Support SystemWhat Not to Say: “You went through alcohol rehab. You’re fine now.”

Instead Say: “I want you to continue living a healthy, alcohol-free life. I’m happy to do anything to help you stay sober, like go to a support group meeting or counseling session with you.”

Individuals and loved ones should recognize that recovery is an ongoing process. While rehab is an important step in overcoming a drinking problem, aftercare programs help a person maintain their sobriety. Show interest in attending a support group meeting, like Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous, or a therapist session with your loved one. This helps rebuild your relationship, and shows them how much you care about their health and long-term sobriety.

Ongoing Recovery Support

Remember, you can help your loved one by something as simple as providing a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen when they’re in need. Small words of encouragement can go a long way in someone’s recovery and sobriety. For example, remind them that you love them and are here any time of day. Staying positive and upbeat will keep them focused on fighting their drinking problem.

There will be high times and low times during the recovery process. Throughout everything though, never, ever give up on your loved one. If they should fall, pick them up, dust them off and encourage them to try again. Because that’s what family and friends are for.

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