Talking to a Newly Sober Person
If you know a friend or loved one who struggled with addiction, you may be wondering how to talk to them now that they’re sober. It can be tough to know what to say or act around someone new to sobriety. But with a bit of patience and understanding, you can help your newly sober friend get on the road to recovery. Here are a few tips for talking to a newly sober person.
Don’t Be Judgmental or Critical
When a loved one or your friend finally decides to get help for their problem with addiction, you may feel relieved. In many ways, drug or alcohol users hitting rock bottom is a good thing. They’re finally ready to seek treatment and put their life back together. But when they begin telling you about rehab or attending 12-step meetings, don’t be critical of their efforts.
Avoid making assumptions about someone’s recovery. Many newly sober people relapse, which can happen several times before they find lasting sobriety. If you’re worried about the changes that addiction recovery brings, express your concerns without judgment or criticism. A simple “I’m happy that you’re getting help” will set their mind at ease.
Don’t Go on the Attack
Loved ones may not be able to pinpoint the moment they went off track, but chances are that their substance abuse has hurt you somehow. When a loved one stops drinking or using drugs, it’s understandable for you to be upset. Your anger may also stem from the many years of anguish that addiction has caused. However, venting at your friend won’t do anything but inflict more pain. Instead of going on the attack, come from a place of compassion and understanding. If you feel like lashing out, take a step back from the situation until you cool down.
When those you care about decide to get sober, they’re probably feeling pretty alone. Even if they have other friends and family who support them in their sobriety, it’s essential that you also show your love and support.
Be encouraging without being too pushy. If your friend hasn’t yet started attending 12-step meetings, don’t guilt-trip your friend into going. Allowing people to choose their own path is essential for their recovery. Even if they’re following all of the steps in AA or NA, you can still offer words of encouragement.
Support them in their early days of sobriety, and they’ll start to feel more confident about their recovery.
Know When to Back Off
Not everyone is comfortable talking about addiction. If your newly sober friend isn’t ready to talk about the details of their substance abuse, drop the subject.
It may seem like common sense to avoid triggering drinking or drug use topics, but even seemingly innocent subjects can be dangerous ground for your friend. For example, if you’re catching up over coffee and mention sharing a bottle of wine with friends that evening, it’s best not to go into detail about that night.
Those recovering from addiction need time to adjust to their new life. The more you avoid triggering topics, the easier it will be to focus on their recovery.
Listen to Your Loved One
If your friend or loved one has been in rehab, they likely have a lot of insight into addiction. When they tell you their story, listen without judgment. Don’t try to fix the problem by offering advice if it isn’t asked for.
Newly sober people may not be ready to speak about their addiction. Some recovering individuals may even avoid talking about the darker days of their addiction out of fear or embarrassment.
If your loved one does want to open up, let your loved one take the lead. Your job is to listen with an open mind and heart. Don’t feel the need to jump in with advice, offers of assistance or anything else. Just let your friend or loved one speak their mind without interruption.
Respect Their Sobriety
When people go through addiction recovery, they probably had to make some sacrifices along the way. For example, they may no longer spend time with certain bad influences and friends. Even if you feel like it’s unfair that your newly sober friends can never have a drink with you again, respecting their sobriety is crucial to their recovery.
If your friend or loved one invites you out for drinks and you turn them down, they might feel rejected or even angry. Most recovering individuals are just trying to be responsible and avoid hurting themselves or others, so indulge in a night out at the movies instead.
Promote Sobriety Without Being Condescending
If you want to newly sober people stay sober, there are plenty of ways that you can support them without being condescending about it. The most important thing is to give them room to choose their path. If you want to get involved in their recovery, suggest an alternative activity that you can both enjoy. If they ask for your help, be ready to assist them without insisting on taking over the reins.
Don’t act like it’s up to you to keep them sober. Let them choose how to take care of themselves.
Offer to Help Without Making It About You
If you want to help your loved one stay sober, remember not to make it about yourself. Offering assistance will feel more genuine if you act out of selfless motives instead of expecting something in return.
For example, don’t offer to drive them to a meeting or take them to the gym if you want to spend time with them. Instead, take your loved one out for ice cream without offering to have a drink together. If there are certain chores that they need help completing around the house, offer to do those instead of suggesting an activity that involves drinking or drug use.
If your friend or family member is newly sober, they may need time to adjust to their new life. Don’t push them too hard or too fast. Your role is to support them in any way that you can while respecting their boundaries and privacy. Just being there for them is a big help!
Don’t Be Afraid to Spend Time Apart
Not everyone wants to talk about their recovery all the time. It’s perfectly natural for you to want to spend some time apart after spending so much time together in early sobriety.
If your friend or loved one is pushing you away, it could be because they need some space, or it might mean that they’re trying to protect you from their addiction issues for your own sake. Either way, don’t take the rejection personally, and don’t feel like you have to spend every waking moment together just because you were close before your loved one went into rehab. Not everyone wants to talk about their recovery all the time.
Forgive and Forget
No matter what your relationship was like before your friend or loved one’s unexpected visit to rehab, they’re bound to change in some ways now that they’ve gone through addiction recovery.
Don’t hold grudges or seek revenge for past mistakes. Allow yourself and your loved one to move forward. The past is the past. Concentrate on making your friendship healthy and robust again by concentrating on the present.
Just enjoy each other’s company without feeling like you have something to prove. If you’re willing to put in the time, energy and patience that it takes to rebuild a damaged relationship, then your loved one will be willing to do the same.
Avoid Giving Ultimatums
Newly sober people may be dealing with a lot of pressure as they try to rebuild their life after rehab. Ultimatums can feel unfair and unnecessary, so avoid giving those kinds of orders if you want your loved one’s recovery to remain solid and steady.
Instead of telling newly sober friends that they have to attend specific rehab meetings or go back to treatment, try suggesting other ways that you can support them. You might offer to help them pay for their bills if they need financial assistance, or you could invite them out on a night when they feel like going out and staying sober is almost impossible.
Balancing the Needs of Self and Other
If you want to build a robust and healthy relationship with your friend or family member after addiction recovery, you must take care of yourself. Don’t get too wrapped up in their problems because doing so can make you feel frustrated, stressed out, burnt out or emotionally drained.
If you’re struggling to take care of yourself, it might be better for you to prioritize your own needs instead of focusing on someone else’s. Remember that your friend or family member is only human, and they may not always give you what you want even if they can be trusted to do so. Don’t let your expectations get the best of you.
Sometimes, it’s okay to set boundaries and take care of yourself instead of putting all your effort into helping others. Your loved ones want the best for you, too; they might not know how to show it because they’ve been struggling with addiction and recovery for so long.
Take Care of Personal Affairs
If your friend or family member is in early sobriety, then they might not be ready to handle specific responsibility for themselves. If you can offer your time and assistance with their personal affairs, then that’s great! The more willingly you help them get back on their feet, the stronger your relationship will become.
Remember that you don’t need to do everything for your friend or family member. Focus on what you’re good at instead of trying to do everything yourself. For example, if they need someone to watch their kids while they go to rehab meetings, see if you can help them out by taking care of the children for a few hours each week.
Don’t Keep Things Bottled Up
If something’s bothering you, then talk about it. Don’t let your emotions build up inside you until they become too powerful to control. Talking to someone about your problems can help you feel less stressed out and broken down. You don’t have to tell them everything if you don’t want to; be honest with yourself and the other person so that they’re aware of the difficulties you might be facing.
Be Receptive to Their Needs and Wants
Newly sober people are going through a lot after their addiction recovery, so let them take the lead in your relationship for a little while. Don’t try to fix everything yourself because that can feel overpowering instead of helpful. Keep your mind open to their needs and wants so that they can slowly begin to feel more comfortable with you.
Remember that you don’t need to be perfect to help someone else. Sometimes, all it takes is a little bit of compassion and understanding for both people to build up their confidence together. Your loved one may not always be ready or able to help you, but that’s okay! Work on yourself instead of putting all your focus on them.
Respect Their Privacy
After addiction recovery, many people have to relearn how to live everyday life. Everyone deserves a bit of privacy after struggling with addiction and getting well after a long time.
Respecting their space can help you feel good about yourself. It shows that you’re mature enough to handle the situation without controlling them or telling them what to do.
Your friend or family member will get better at sharing their life with you, but let them take things slow for now. Slowly work your way into their world instead of forcing yourself in there right away because it’s not always easy for people to open up about themselves.
Don’t Try to Fix Every Problem
It can feel overwhelming to see someone struggling after addiction recovery. You might be tempted to try and fix every problem yourself because it’s the only thing you can think of doing.
If your friend or family member asks for your help with something, then, by all means, give it to them! But don’t go out of your way to solve their problems if they haven’t asked for your help.
It’s easy to get carried away when you see people in need, but it won’t be beneficial if you try to solve every struggle independently. If they’re working on something complex, then give them time and space instead of trying to push their boundaries because that might overwhelm them.
Helping a loved one recover from addiction is a huge challenge, but you can do it! You don’t need to do everything yourself or fix all of their problems as that will probably be more stressful than helpful.
First City Recovery Center is here to help you create a more positive life for yourself and your loved ones after addiction recovery. Contact us today to learn how we can help someone you know get started along the path of lifelong sobriety.
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN.
Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.