Building a Support System When You Have a Drug Addiction

Having a drug addiction is a medical condition that usually requires professional treatment. You may need medical detoxification, addiction therapy through mental health counseling, and/or anti-depression or anti-anxiety medication. You also may benefit from finding a rehab center near you where you can spend some time distancing yourself from the circumstances and people that contributed to and fueled your drug use.

There is another critical component of drug addiction recovery that will be beneficial no matter the type of treatment you receive: a support system. Your support system will likely consist of a few key players:

  • A general physician
  • A mental health professional (a psychiatrist who manages your medication, a psychologist who provides counseling services, or both)
  • A peer support group (such as Narcotics Anonymous)
  • Your loved ones

With both the professional and personal members of your support system, remember that it’s not their responsibility to help you navigate the path to drug addiction recovery — it’s yours. These people will, however, be instrumental in lending you the emotional and even physical support that will help you find and maintain your sobriety.

Why do I need a support system when I have a drug addiction?

You probably never felt lonelier than you did at the peak of your drug use, even if you used with other people. That feeling of isolation is one of the many aspects of your addiction that you should be working to mend, and having a dependable support system is a very effective “treatment” method for it. Recovering from drug addiction is a long and difficult journey, and having a team of professional, personal, and peer support will make the road less lonesome and help solidify the foundation for your new, healthy life free from substance abuse.

Furthermore, there are certain parts of your recovery that you won’t be equipped to handle on your own. For example, if your recovery requires medical treatment — such as medication for a co-occurring mental health disorder or treatment for an issue related to your drug use, such as tremors or heart palpitations — you’ll need to work with your psychiatrist or general physician to manage your health. While self-reflection activities like meditating, journaling, and yoga are often helpful for people in drug addiction recovery, you’ll benefit from therapy sessions with a licensed psychologist or counselor. People who have experiences of their own with drugs are also helpful advocates; they’ll not only help you understand that you’re not alone in your addiction, they may provide you with helpful coping techniques or even sponsor your recovery. 

Finally, your family and friends will provide you some stability, and of course, lots of love. They probably won’t be able to offer the expert- or experience-based advice you’re getting from other members of your support system, but they will offer you a sense of normalcy that will help keep you grounded in your recovery. As much as your addiction and journey to sobriety may have shaken up your relationships with certain loved ones, their lives didn’t stop when you were using or when you sought treatment. They continued on with their normal routines, schedules, and obligations, and along with the hard work you’ll do on your own to fit into their lives as a sober person, they’ll help you figure out your new normal so you can still be in each other’s lives.

How to build a support system when you have a drug addiction

If you enter a formal rehab program — an in-patient facility for meth addiction or opiate addiction, for example — much of your support system will come together organically. You’ll be partnered with physical and mental health specialists to care for you during your stay and for any outpatient therapy you receive. You’ll also participate in peer groups, and your team will refer you to sources of ongoing support as part of your aftercare.

When it comes to your loved ones, you don’t need to formally ask your friends and family to be in your support system, but having a conversation discussing the situation you’re emerging from and the new life you’re trying to build while restarting your life after addiction is a good idea. It provides them the opportunity to let you know how much of a role they’re willing to play in your recovery process — including if they’re not ready to have you back in their lives yet.

Whether someone you know personally or professionally, not everyone in your life is qualified to be in your support system. Consider these questions when building your support system when you have a drug addiction.

Am I getting what I need from my general health or mental health professional? You don’t have to test the waters of working with multiple doctors or counselors, but if the chemistry isn’t right, you may benefit from working with a different specialist. For example, if you feel your general physician is judging your past drug use when you go in for appointments to manage a disease you contracted while you were using drugs, you’ll feel more confident finding someone supportive of the clean future you’re working to create. Similarly, if you don’t feel you’re making progress in your therapy sessions, look into working with another counselor. It’s not uncommon to work with multiple mental health professionals before finding the right fit.

Is this someone I can trust? Whether a medical professional, recovering peer, or a loved one, you need to know you can trust every person in your support system to have your best interests at heart. Keep in mind that being reliable will probably mean something different for every person in your circle. Trusting a peer in Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to protect your identity is different from knowing your co-worker won’t divulge the details of your drug addiction with the entire office, but both are equally important.

Will this person be honest with me? You don’t want members of your support team to be afraid of being honest with you, because you won’t grow by hearing sugar-coated white lies. This doesn’t mean you should accept people being hostile or aggressive, but it’s hard to rely on someone who is too polite to tell you the truth.

Is this person a threat to my sobriety? It should go without saying, but as much as possible, you should avoid spending time with anyone who participated in your past drug use or who currently uses drugs. It may be triggering to be around them, whether due to the memories you have of using with them, being tempted to use again because of their current behavior, or even feeling guilty that you’ve moved on to a new chapter when they haven’t. 

How to strengthen your support system when you have a drug addiction

In order for every member of your support system to help you find success in drug addiction recovery, there are actions you can take that will ultimately help both you and your teammates.

  • Direct them to educational resources to learn more about drug addiction so they have a better understanding of what you’ve experienced and what your recovery will be like.
  • Let them know what you need from them so they know what’s helpful and what’s not.
  • Don’t make every visit with your loved ones about your addiction or their role in your support system.
  • Avoid triggering circumstances at all costs. Having a solid support system doesn’t give you a pass to put yourself in a risky situation that may lead to relapse.
  • Check in regularly. You probably don’t need to call members of your support group every day to let them know you’re doing OK, but loved ones who don’t hear from you for a week or more could worry, especially if they’re making an effort to play an active role in your newfound sobriety.
  • Stay positive, and avoid blame. Remember, you’re ultimately responsible for your actions, including your behavior when you were using drugs.
  • Always be patient, especially if they are having trouble understanding or relating to you, or if they get overwhelmed.

Not everyone you want to be in your support system will be, especially when it comes to friends and family. They may be hurt by your past behaviors and need time to decide whether you still have a place in their life. This may be painful, but you’ll need to respect and accept their decision. More than likely, you’ll have other people — both personal and professional — who are willing to support you as you build a new life in recovery. Your journey won’t be easy, but it will be worth it when you’re living a clean, sober life free of drug abuse and all of the hardships that came with it.