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Why are Support Systems Important for Recovery?

We've got answers to your questions about support systems: What are they? Do they help? How can you be an effective support system for someone in recovery?

There are a lot of terms and jargon surrounding addiction treatment and recovery. However, one of the most widely-used terms — “support system” — may not necessarily be the best understood. For that reason, we decided to create a brief guide to support systems in recovery.

In particular, we want to answer some of your biggest questions, including: What is a support system? Why are support systems important for recovery? And how do you become a good support system for someone in recovery?

What is a Support System?

A support system is usually defined as a group of people who provide some sort of encouragement to help someone achieve something. This can include social or emotional reinforcement, physically helping someone with a task, or facilitating an achievement monetarily. But no matter which form the actual support takes, the idea is that a support system provides some guidance when things get difficult. In other words, they’re providing encouragement to someone who’s trying to achieve something, which makes the achievement somewhat more attainable.

Perhaps the most literal analogy for a support system would be cheerleaders for a sports team. Cheerleaders exist to get spectators excited and to provide encouragement to the players. So throughout each sporting event, they’re chanting positive reinforcement, which has the effect of making the players feel more confident and capable. 

But a more relevant example is when family and friends support someone in recovery. In this case, the support system is less about motivating success than it is for mitigating the risk of failure. They’re sober supporters for people in recovery who must regularly deal with stress, triggers, and other things that put sobriety at risk.

Why a Support System is Important for Recovery

Looking at substance abuse treatment programs, it should come as no surprise that we tend to look at addiction recovery as a solo venture. After all, family and friends aren’t completing treatment programs alongside the actual patients.

However, there are, in fact, forms of recovery that are communal in nature, particularly the recovery fellowships and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. Although drug rehabs and holistic treatment programs are widely considered to be a more effective form of recovery, countless people have experienced immense success in support groups, which is a clear sign that there’s something about the support group model that’s quite effective for recovery.

Why is it that support systems are so beneficial for addiction recovery?

Positive Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is one of the most common contributors to the development of an addiction. More specifically, when there are substance use and abuse in your peer group, you become far more likely to begin abusing those same substances. Then over time, that substance abuse turns into substance abuse, which paves the way to actual addiction. But what if the opposite was true, meaning that a person’s peer group encouraged sobriety instead of substance abuse?

As it happens, that’s what a support system is. Basically, a support system is a source of positive peer pressure. Rather than encouraging bad decisions, they encourage positive decisions and progress. In short, a support group is a source of positive reinforcement for a person’s recovery.

A Lifeline When Things Get Hard

Humans are inherently social creatures. While the extent to which we’re social varies from one person to the next, the vast majority of people have certain emotional and psychological needs that are best addressed through interpersonal interaction.

This is particularly true when it comes to significant challenges and difficulties. Whether it’s family support or the support of close friends, a support system helps to prop someone up when he or she is feeling torn down. In most cases, these supporters needn’t really even do or say anything, in particular, to be of immense help. Simply being there when the proverbial road gets bumpy does a lot to strengthen a person’s conviction, especially when it comes to addiction recovery.

Someone to Listen

If you’ve ever seen a counselor or therapist, then you’ll probably have experienced the relief of coming out of a session after having spent the past hour venting and getting things off your chest. There are a couple of key reasons why this is beneficial: First, talking about your thoughts, feelings, or problems is cathartic, almost like you’re liberating the emotions attached to your bad experiences simply by talking about them. Additionally, we commonly make new connections or realize something new while expressing ourselves aloud to someone else.

A support system is essentially just a group of people close to you who are there to listen when you need it. Even if they don’t have helpful advice to give, the act of just listening can evoke much of the same catharsis that you’d feel after a session with your counselor or therapist. Think of a support system as a soundboard for someone in recovery.

Friends talking by a lake
Photo: Yanapi Senaud

How to Support Someone in Recovery

Now that you know what value a support system has for recovery, let’s wrap up by briefly looking at how you can be a support system for someone who’s in recovery.

Be Accepting

You’re probably already aware that there’s a stigma associated with addiction. Combined with the very real mistakes often made while in the throes of addiction, people in recovery tend to feel judged by and inferior to most other people. As a result, individuals in recovery are hesitant to open up about their experiences.

To be a great support system for someone in recovery, it’s crucial to put all your prejudices and biases to the side. Even if you’ve been victimized by him or her, a person in recovery often experiences incredible guilt that makes maintaining sobriety exceptionally difficult. So rather than potentially making that guilt worse, you can safeguard his or her sobriety by simply accepting him or her.

Be Available

It won’t matter that you’re an incredible support system for someone if he or she is never able to reach you. In fact, a major part of a support system is availability. After all, if the person can’t reach you in times of need, then you’re not providing much support, meaning you’re not much of a support system at all.

Be Informed

You might consider this one an addendum to being accepting because the best way to put your prejudices and preconceived notions to the side is to be more informed. In short, this means you should take the time to learn more about addiction and recovery. Because the more you learn, the more you’ll understand what your loved one is experiencing, and the more you can help by supporting him or her in whichever ways are needed at any given time.

The Path to Health and Happiness Begins at Sea Change

As important as it is to have a support system during recovery, there’s not much that support systems can do if the person in question is still dependent on alcohol or drugs.

Sea Change Recovery is your premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. Offering residential and intensive outpatient programs in addition to medical detox treatment, the Sea Change rehab can meet virtually any recovery needs you might have.

To learn more about the programs and services at Sea Change Recovery, contact us today. And stay tuned to the Sea Change Blog for educational resources on addiction and recovery, published regularly.

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