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Why Are Support Systems Important for Those Pursuing or In Recovery From Substance Use Disorders?

Individuals who genuinely care and believe in you play a pivotal role in shaping behaviors and decisions. Their encouragement often becomes the driving force for successful recovery. A robust network of supportive relationships empowers an individual's recovery journey. This network provides a secure outlet to address underlying factors contributing to substance use disorders, such as mental health challenges, stress, and trauma. It creates an environment for sharing struggles and seeking help. Enveloping oneself with supportive individuals enhances the likelihood of a sustained recovery. A robust support system, whether through family, friends, or groups, equips individuals with tools and motivation for a fulfilling, self-driven life.

Who can be in a person’s support system?

A person's support system is composed of individuals and resources that provide emotional, practical, and psychological assistance during challenging times.

  1. Family Members: Immediate and extended family members are often crucial parts of a support system. They provide unconditional love, understanding, and a sense of belonging. Family members can offer emotional support, help with daily tasks, and contribute to decision-making processes.

  2. Friends: Being part of a friend group where substance use is not occurring can be vital in helping a person maintain a long-lasting recovery. Friends can be some of the strongest positive influences driving lifestyle changes and developing healthy hobbies.

  3. Support Groups: Participating in support groups, whether in-person or online, connect those in recovery with others encountering or have previously encountered similar experiences. These groups provide a safe space to share feelings, process experiences, receive support, and gain perspective from others with lived experience.

  4. Therapists and Health Care Providers Experienced in Treating Addiction: Professionals specializing in addiction treatment, such as therapists, counselors, and addiction specialists, offer specialized professional support. They assist in developing coping strategies and behavior modification techniques and provide therapeutic interventions to serve individuals pursuing or in recovery.

  5. Co-workers: Colleagues can be part of a person’s support system. They can provide encouragement, a distraction from personal challenges, and an understanding of work-life harmony.

  6. Members of Churches, Clubs, or Other Organizations: Religious or spiritual communities, clubs, hobby groups, or organizations can offer a sense of community and shared values. These connections provide opportunities to engage in positive activities and meet individuals with similar interests.

Every support system will be unique to the individual. Anyone can be a member of someone’s support system, and it’s important to understand precisely what that means and how you can help. The following section provides some tips to help support someone pursuing or in recovery.


How can I support someone pursuing or in recovery?

Supporting a person pursuing or in recovery requires understanding, empathy, and practical assistance.

  1. Be Informed: Educate yourself about the nature of substance use disorders, the recovery process, and the challenges an individual may face. This knowledge helps you understand what the person is going through and better prepares you to provide the right support at the right time. Learn about triggers, return to use prevention strategies, and the importance of a holistic approach to recovery.

  2. Be Accepting: People pursuing or in recovery may feel shame, guilt, or uncertainty about their past or circumstances. There is often immense social stigma surrounding substance use disorders, so it is vital for those in their support system to create a non-judgmental space where they can openly discuss their experiences and feelings. Avoid criticism or blame, and focus on their progress and efforts.

  3. Be Available:

    1. Emotional Support: Be there to listen without interrupting or offering solutions unless they ask for advice. People often just need someone to vent to or share their struggles with.

    2. Encourage Open Communication: Establish an open line of communication where they feel comfortable reaching out to you in a time of need. Support is only worthwhile if they can rely on you when needed.

    3. Offer Practical Help: Assist with daily tasks or responsibilities if needed, especially when they feel overwhelmed. Practical help can provide relief and show that you're committed to their well-being.

    4. Accompany to Supportive Activities: If they are comfortable, attend recovery-related meetings, therapy sessions, or support group meetings together. Your presence can provide encouragement and show that you're invested in their journey.

  4. Celebrate Milestones: Recognize and celebrate their achievements, no matter how small. Acknowledge their progress and efforts in their recovery. Positive reinforcement is critical in helping a person through recovery.

  5. Respect Boundaries: While your intention is to help, respect their boundaries and independence. Offer assistance when needed, but allow them to make decisions about their recovery journey.

  6. Understand Potential Return to Use: Return to use or setbacks may occur and should be met with empathy and support. The response to such an occurrence can play a significant role in what happens next - offering compassion and support is crucial.

  7. Ask How to Support: Ask the person how you can best support them in their time of need. Do not assume that what has been supportive for one person will be supportive for another; each person has different needs, coping skills, and preferences. Adapt your approach to what the person needs, and be flexible to adjust how you support them as they progress in their recovery.


Contributors: Vishva Iyer, Behaivior


Works Cited

Kelly, Sharon M., et al. “The Relationship of Social Support to Treatment Entry and Engagement: The Community Assessment Inventory.” PubMed Central (PMC), doi:10.1080/08897070903442640.


Jael. “Why a Strong Support System Is Essential to Lasting Addiction Recovery.” Reco Institute, 27 Sept. 2018, recoinstitute.com/why-strong-support-systems-are-essential-to-lasting-recovery.


Chris. “Why Support Systems Are Important in Recovery | Sea Change Recovery.” Sea Change Recovery, 1 Apr. 2020, seachangerecovery.com/los-angeles-addict-support-systems.


Champions, Recovering. “The Power of Support Systems in Addiction Recovery.” Recovering Champions, 19 Jan. 2022, recoveringchampions.com/power-of-support-in-recovery.


“Recovery and Recovery Support.” Recovery and Recovery Support | SAMHSA, 11 Aug. 2023, www.samhsa.gov/find-help/recovery.


“The Importance of Good Support Systems in Recovery and Sobriety.” The Importance of Good Support Systems in Recovery | Psych Central, psychcentral.com/addictions/the-importance-of-good-support-systems-in-sobriety.


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