Given that over 23 million people are dealing with addiction at any given point, it's important to take a sensitive and unique approach to each person. If there was one "one size fits all" solution, we'd clearly be advocating for it. Because every recovering alcoholic will have their own unique path to recovery, it's important to recognize that and foster it.
Here are 9 things that you have to avoid, as a non-alcoholic, when it's time to hang out with your friend who just finishes their program.
1. Don't Tell The Story For Them
Once a recovering alcoholic leaves rehab, their story is their own. They get to control the narrative of why they were in rehab, for how long, or if they went to rehab at all. Their business is not yours to tell.
While you might not think it's a big deal to talk to their sibling or their partner about it, ask your friend or loved one before you bring it up. They may have waited because they weren't ready or they didn't want another loved one to pass judgment. It doesn't really matter why they chose not to tell someone either.
It's simply not your business.
When you're a recovering alcoholic, people like to talk about your story and your struggle. It makes for an interesting topic of conversation and avoids talking about one's own problems. Avoid that crutch and show your loved one that you care.
The story of why they ended up in rehab might also be different from what they told you. They could have told you all the details but left some out for their mother, brother, or partner. You don't know why they did this and you don't need to know why. Just follow their lead in every respect.
2. Respect Their Privacy
Make sure that you don't pry. You can ask how they're feeling, how their day is going, or even how the recovery is going, but don't ask details.
When someone goes through a rehabilitation program, people begin to talk. They might get out of the program wondering who has said what about them and why. They could be paranoid but they could also be onto what people are actually saying.
Rather than dig up old memories or pry into their personal life, respect their privacy and allow them to talk as much as they want about any subject.
If it's clear there's a cutoff point, go ahead and ask if that's where they want to stop. Let them know you don't intend to pry and aren't trying to dig up dirt. Most importantly, keep to your word and don't continue to pry.
While many people say they respect the privacy of people who are going through a rehabilitation program but then don't. They post photos on Facebook, mention it through texts, and casually talk about it at work. If your loved one is going to truly turn things around, they're going to need your help.
Sometimes the most useful think you can do is just be quiet.
3. Don't Ask Them About Alcohol
It might be hard to avoid the topic, as it may feel like an elephant in the room, but whatever you do, don't start bringing up alcohol for no reason. If they do it, feel free to follow their lead but remember to respect their privacy and their limits.
If your friend or loved one has just completed a rehabilitation program, you should be proud of them. Talk about their accomplishments, not what sent them there. Talk about how things have been, do a little gossiping and just do your part to keep the conversation going as always.
Don't obsess about alcohol. your recovering friend or loved one is already doing enough of that for the both of you. Part of being an addict or an alcoholic is building an obsession with a substance. Once you start talking about it, it could be hard to stop.
If they've spent the entire day trying to think of anything else, you could upend all the work they've done with one simple comment. They're not around to be your Wikipedia article for alcoholism. Don't put them in that position.
Be a friend and just do everything you would otherwise, without being around alcohol.
4. Avoid The Same Old Haunts
One thing is for sure: you're going to have to find a new set of places to go.
When your friend or loved one, the recovering alcoholic, gets out of rehab, you might need to adjust your expectations of where you'll be hanging out. for most people who enjoy a drink or two, it's perfectly natural to want to get a drink after work or after dinner. Your Friday night might start at a bar before you go to a movie or a show.
You might even be intending on spending the whole night at a bar while you wait for friends to arrive.
This could be a nightmare for the person who is freshly out of rehab. The pressures of avoiding alcohol are hard enough without having to be in a bar or in a place that serves lots of alcohol.
Even if you aren't planning on heading to a place that has alcohol, if it's a familiar haunt where the recovering alcoholic spent drunken evenings, avoid it. Ask ahead of time if they want to go to this place you're thinking of visiting and if you sense any hesitation, then abort. Have a backup plan in your pocket if you suspect this might ever be the case.
5. Get To Know Where Alcohol Is Found
You might be shocked to know how many items contain alcohol. Even non-alcoholic beer can contain trace amounts of alcohol and if your recovering alcoholic friend is going 100% alcohol-free, you'll need to be aware.
You might end up starting something with kombucha. That's right, the healthy probiotic drink actually contains some amount of alcohol. In some states, you can't even buy it without showing proper ID first.
If they don't want to ingest even the slightest amount of alcohol, then you need to make sure to avoid kombucha.
Don't forget mouthwash. There are stories of super serious alcoholics drinking mouthwash because it leaves a fresh scent in your mouth while also intoxicating you. Whether this was the case or not for your friend who is in recovery, you should do what you can to avoid this as well.
If you plan to serve rum cake, beer-battered onion rings, or pasta with wine in the sauce, make a note of that to your friend. They might not want to take the risk. Be sure that you're fully supportive of them and their positive decision to abstain.
6. Be An Ear, Not A Therapist
When you're sitting around talking to your loved one, be sure that you're not overstepping your boundaries. You should always be an ear to the ones you love. However, when it comes to handing out advice, you're likely underqualified.
If you hear your loved one say something that alarms you, make note of it and be honest with them. Tell them you want them to seek help for that. While you can't be the one to help them, you can be there to walk them through the process of seeking help.
When your loved one asks for advice, don't tell them what to do. It's not your job and it can be irresponsible. Tell them what you have done in the past or what's worked for you and be candid.
However, given that your loved one is likely in a difficult place, you need to be sensitive to that. If they need professional help, be sure that they know you're not qualified to talk about anything other than your own experience. And the truth is, you're not.
7. Avoid Unreasonable Expectations
The problem with setting expectations for an alcoholic is that what might seem like a reasonable expectation for you just doesn't work for them. You can't expect people to never make mistakes, to never falter, or even to never drink again.
People who have struggled with addiction can tell you that they mean what they say when they say they never want to drink again. But that doesn't mean that they never will drink again. It's just not that simple.
Even if they never drink again, they might fall into patterns of the same selfish or inconsiderate behavior that they fell into before. This is because it takes time to change your behavior. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was anyone's personality.
IT takes time to change and your patience is necessary and appreciated. You can draw a line of how much you're willing to take. That's only reasonable.
However, you need to know that it's hard to always be honest with yourself. How often have you said you were going to clean the garage or finally take care of that pile of papers on the kitchen table only to put it off again? No one is perfect.
8. Don't Dwell In The Past
While you might have some old gripes and grudges that your recovering alcoholic friend might be a party to, you might have to just let them go. It can be painful to admit that you might never get the apology that you're looking for but you have to ask whether or not it's worth it. You have to decide whether it would be better to get that apology or to have your friendship.
The past is hard to overcome. No one would dispute that. But we can't let it dictate our lives now.
Just like your friend, the recovering alcoholic, has decided to take fate into their own hands, you need to do the same in a way. You need to take control of the pain that you've felt in whatever way that you can and orient yourself toward the future.
Let your friend in recovery know that that is what you're about and help them to do the same. Let them know your tactics and how you've managed to change your position. They'll respect that and want to know more.
You can help one another by keeping one another from dwelling in the past and ensuring that you're both looking toward a brighter future and better friendship.
9. Don't Be An Enabler
Being an enabler is tricky. No one wants to do it but it comes naturally to some people.
Even if you're only trying to help and be well intentioned, you might end up enabling an alcoholic to be destructive.
In order to know whether or not you're an enabler, you'll have to do lots of listening. If your loved one never normally gambles and only does because you do, that's enabling behavior.
If they're living in denial of their own actions and the consequences that arise, you could be enabling them. Your role is more to bring up the issues, without blame, in order to keep the conversation going.
10. A Recovering Alcoholic Needs Support
Every recovering alcoholic on the planet will need support in their own way. It's important that you're always working to make sure that the support you're giving is uniquely catered to them. Giving generic milquetoast support might feel good for you at the time, but it won't work for them in the long run.
Don't Give Up and Be Aware
Be sure that you're always aware of the meaning and dangers of cross-dependency. If you see your loved one trading one substance for another, that's the sign of a serious problem. A recovering alcoholic needs support to develop positive coping skills rather than developing new dependency issues.
If you're struggling to get someone into rehab in the first place, why not check out our guide.