Living with a person who is in early recovery can be a challenge. Whether they are a friend or a family member, there are several steps you can take to make the situation supportive of their recovery efforts without sacrificing your needs or lifestyle. It is important to make sure all parties are aware of expectations and intentions and have the communication skills necessary to resolve conflict in a healthy manner. The following will address several tips for living with a person in recovery.

Before Living with a Person in Recovery

Prior to an individual leaving treatment, it is helpful to have a discussion between the two parties that will be living together. This is often done in a therapy session. It is helpful for the person in recovery to create two lists. The first list would consist of as many triggers, both internal and external, as possible—for example, feeling anxious, seeing other people use, job stress, etc. The second list would be a compilation of warning signs to a potential relapse. This might include isolating behavior, inability to regulate mood, not attending 12 Step meetings and glorifying drug use. Prior to leaving treatment, these two lists would be discussed during a therapy session. The client would give copies to anyone they would be living with and offer permission to bring it to their attention when they do see the individual engaging in any of the warning signs. Prior to living with a person in recovery, it is also helpful for the two parties to have a discussion about expectations, rules of the house and how conflicts will be resolved. This will hopefully prevent any potential conflicts or boundary violations. In addition to this, education about addiction, the process of recovery and any mental health diagnoses can assist in creating a supportive environment. Knowing the difference between helpful and enabling behaviors can also help to foster a healthy relationship dynamic. While going to treatment for substance use is a huge step toward living a life of sobriety, it is by no means the finish line to recovery. Managing a substance use disorder is a life-long process. Ideally treatment will help provide stabilization, adaptive coping skills and support during a fragile time. Expecting that the person will be “cured” when they leave treatment could be a set up for disappointment.

Know Your Limits

For those living with a person in recovery, it is important for them to know that it is not their responsibility to keep their loved one sober. Family and friends are often worried that if they say or do anything wrong, it will lead to a relapse. The person in recovery is the only one responsible for their sobriety. With that being said, here are some additional helpful tips when living with a person in recovery:
  • Keep alcohol and medications in a locked cupboard.
  • Avoid rehashing the past and maintain your focus on moving forward.
  • Create new and healthy routines.
  • Decrease stress in the home when possible.
  • Attend your own therapy for support.
  • Attend Al-Anon meetings on a regular basis.
  • Understand the difference between healthy and enabling behaviors.
  • Practice regular self-care, including activities that leave you feeling balanced, refreshed and emotionally strong.

Identifying When It’s Not Working Out

Another critical point to consider when living with a person in recovery is knowing when to change or end the living situation. The living arrangement needs to be a mutually beneficial situation. If the person in recovery is not contributing to the responsibilities of the house, if they continue to experience relapse or if their presence creates increased anxiety, distress and conflict, it may be time to find alternative living arrangements. Remember that holding strong boundaries is a sign of love, not a sign of abandonment. For more information or to find an Al-Anon meeting in your area, visit: