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Common Myths About Supporting a Family Member in Recovery

Common Myths About Supporting a Family Member in Recovery

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When you’re supporting a loved one in the recovery process, it’s normal to feel uncertain about what the best course of action is. You might be asking yourself: When should I speak up? How do I even start a conversation about addiction? What role am I supposed to play? How can I be helpful without enabling their addiction or pushing them away? 

And while there are some best practices you can lean on (here’s our guide), there are also common misconceptions that can be detrimental to the recovery process. In this article, we’ll go over some of the most prevalent myths about supporting a family member in recovery and provide ideas about more effective approaches. 

Myth #1: It's All Up to Them

A common misconception is that the burden of recovery rests entirely on the individual struggling with addiction. And while it's true that the decision to recover and commit to the process ultimately lies with your loved one, supportive family members can be instrumental in their success. Family can provide encouragement, stability, and accountability, which often results in better treatment compliance and outcomes. Of course, it can be difficult to stand by someone going through recovery, but it’s important to remind yourself that your presence is valuable and appreciated — even if your loved one may not express that in the moment. 

Myth #2: Overcoming Addiction Just Requires Willpower

It’s essential that anyone supporting a loved one through recovery understands that addiction is not a choice — it is an illness. The American Society for Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a “treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences.” It is also known that substance abuse changes the brain over time, making it more difficult to give up substances or addictive behaviors even when an individual is dedicated to recovery. 

Educating yourself on the science of addiction can help you be a better partner in your loved one’s recovery journey. Whether they come to you to talk about their addiction, or you approach them to share your concerns, focus your conversation on their actions and behaviors – what happened and how it has impacted you. Avoid discussing their strength, character, or why they made the choices they did as this could increase the shame they may already be experiencing. 

Myth #3: They just need “Tough Love” 

"Tough love" describes an approach to recovery where family members believe that if they withhold support or affection, their loved one may feel more driven to seek help or change their behavior on their own. While overly pitying or indulging your loved one isn’t recommended by recovery experts, ignoring, shaming, or even being overly confrontational is an approach that could backfire — leading to increased resistance, lashing out, feelings of alienation, and greater likelihood of relapse.  

Instead, experts suggest a compassionate and empathetic approach tailored to your loved one that offers practical support with appropriate boundaries. This strategy tends to be more effective in fostering long-term recovery. Specific to drug treatment, research also suggests that people who voluntarily agree to commit to addiction treatment see better results compared to those who were forced to enter drug treatment against their will. While tough love may be an effective strategy in other areas of life, there are likely other options that can help more when dealing with addiction treatment. 

Myth #4: Relapse is Failure

Graduating from a treatment program or achieving sobriety is a significant milestone, but it doesn't necessarily mean that your loved one has fully recovered. Because recovery is an ongoing process that requires continuous effort and support, family members should be prepared for the possibility of setbacks without the fear of “failure” some mistakenly associate with a relapse.

It’s not unusual for people to return to treatment in order to maintain long-term sobriety, so it’s better to view relapse as an opportunity to learn more about what someone needs to better manage their addiction. Treating relapse as a learning opportunity instead of a failure makes it easier for people to admit they have gone off track and return to recovery. And having family members who stick by you through hard times can give your loved one the confidence they need to try again. 

Myth #5: We Can’t Afford Good Treatment 

With public discourse sometimes centering around “celebrity rehab,” no one could be blamed for assuming addiction treatment facilities are prohibitively expensive. And while there are residential programs that charge $1,000 per day, there are many free and lower-cost options as well — plus, some types of insurance provide coverage for addiction care. If you’re worried about getting your loved one the best possible care within your budget, you can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP) or visit https://findtreatment.gov/ for free, confidential treatment referrals.

Supporting someone you love through the recovery process can be challenging for anyone — but as they make progress in their journey, everyone benefits and can take pride in the strides being made. By eliminating these misconceptions about addiction, you’ll be in a better position to provide the support that your family member needs and deserves.

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