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Supporting a Friend Who Just Left Rehab

Posted on 13 October 2017 by sam

It’s tough to know what to say after a friend goes through rehab for a drug or alcohol addiction. It’s tempting to just pretend like it never happened, to proceed as if everything is fine and normal. But it’s not fine and normal. It doesn’t mean you have to treat your friend with kid gloves, but you do have to acknowledge that things have changed. You need to give your friend support without smothering them. It can be a bit tricky to pull that off, but it’s worth a shot.

Recovery is an ongoing process

Addiction isn’t a small thing. It’s not a sprained ankle or even a hairline fracture; you can’t set it, wait a few weeks for it to heal, and then act as though there was never any sort of injury. It’s a long-term condition. There’s a reason why addiction experts say an alcoholic is always an alcoholic, even if they’re in recovery and have been sober for years. It’s also why so many people often relapse at least once or twice before they can stay on the straight and narrow path of recovery.

When your buddy gets out of rehab, feel free to ask some questions, although you shouldn’t be too nosy (don’t ask for details on other patients in rehab, for instance), and back off if your friend indicates they don’t want to talk about it anymore right now. It’s natural to want to know the name of the facility. Don’t be surprised if your friend says something like “I went to a place called Beachside Rehab. Their website is, so feel free to look them up.” Then do that. There are some misconceptions about what rehab is and isn’t, so educate yourself on the reality of your friend’s situation.

If they were receiving inpatient treatment, you may want to throw them a big welcome home party, but resist the urge. They’re still in the early stages of recovery, after all. It’s great that they recognized they needed to make a change, but don’t celebrate too much. You can be supportive without acting like All of Their Problems are solved forever. Buy them a gift if you want, but don’t get too crazy. It should be something helpful, like a relaxing piece of artwork or a massage at the local spa.

Offer yourself up as a sounding board for your friend, but only if they’re open to it. They may be participating in a group like Alcoholics Anonymous, which means they should have a sponsor tasked with helping them stay sober. So they may not take you up on your offer, but they’ll probably appreciate it all the same. Tell them they can call you and talk anytime, but only if you mean it. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver.

It’s important not to make your friend’s addiction all about you. For instance, maybe you bought your friend a bottle of wine five years ago without realizing they were an alcoholic. There’s no need to bring that up, especially since your friend probably doesn’t even remember it anymore. It’s very unlikely you had anything to do with their descent into addiction. If you did, then they probably wouldn’t be talking to you right now. Recovering addicts are supposed to keep away from bad influences. So if you’re still in your friend’s life, it’s unlikely that they’re mad at you or think it’s all your fault.

It’s common to wonder how you should approach parties with a friend in recovery. Even if they weren’t receiving treatment for alcohol abuse, you may wonder if the mere act of serving alcohol could send them over the edge somehow. Talk to them and ask. If they wave it off, you’re probably fine serving a little beer and wine. If they admit it might be an issue, then it would be nice of you to avoid serving alcohol, at least at the first few social events. Keep in mind, though, that eventually your friend is going to have to figure out how to manage in a world where people drink alcohol at parties. Never serving it again is probably not realistic.