How To Support Yourself While Supporting Someone In Recovery

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There are many ways that Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) impacts family members beyond the person living with it, which is why the phrase “family disorder” is used frequently in the therapy world. Family members of folks with AUD are oftentimes assigned the role of rescuer or the rock to secure stability in the home.

Within the family system, trust has typically been broken. For those who are supporting a loved one with AUD, feeling helpless is commonplace. Supporters may even question the validity of their emotional reactions, as they appear secondary to their loved one’s substance use cycle. There is often a tug of war at play: ‘I want to support them,’ and ‘I want to leave.’

Making progress together: For family, friends, and those in recovery

One of the most effective strategies for achieving sobriety or moderation is engaging with friends and family. This group is for those looking to cut back on drinking and those supporting them. Join the discussion about how to better understand one another and support each other throughout this journey.
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We have to normalize getting support for those with AUD and for those in supporting roles, too. In opening up this dialogue, I hope that I can affirm that whatever your experience as a supporter looks like, it is completely valid. I also hope to give you the tools to begin your own recovery journey, because your pain and healing matters. Helping yourself and your loved one doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. With awareness, compassion, and actionable tools, you’ll be able to better care for others, and better care for yourself.

Reshaping the family dynamic

Therapists love alliteration, and I am no exception! I want to introduce a framework called the Three E’s. This framework helps build (or build back) resiliency at any stage of coping with a loved one’s disordered drinking cycle. Think, education, empowerment, and engagement. Let’s break it down.


What is alcohol use disorder? It’s important to recognize that AUD is a medical condition. More specifically, AUD is a biopsychosocial disorder, which means biological, psychological, and social conditions interact to influence someone’s drinking behaviors. Drinking habits are not in any way related to someone’s moral compass. Relapse is not indicative of a lack of understanding that right is right and wrong is wrong. Relapse is not a matter of ethics. Relapse is not an indicator that they don’t care about you and your feelings. Understanding that your loved one is navigating a medical issue, and possibly co-occurring mental health conditions, can help reduce resentment and build compassion.


It can be empowering to hold yourself accountable for the actions you take to support a loved one in a recovery-based lifestyle, whether their goal is moderation or abstinence. Empowerment comes with showing up for yourself and others when you say you will, doing the internal work you’ve committed to, and being there for your loved one in the ways you’ve said you would be. I want to emphasize the importance of self-care, which many supporters overlook.

Carve out separate time for you and the both of you. What reminders can you set out for yourself to make time for yourself? What actions can you and your loved one collaborate on to feel like you are a part of their network, but not their entire net? Your mental health is just as important as anyone else’s. Taking ownership over your wellbeing can bring genuine confidence, stability, and clarity to introduce into the family system.

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Lastly, Engagement

Engagement doesn’t necessarily mean engaging with others in your family. Engagement can mean carving out a space for something that nourishes you, on your own. Building moments that ground us set us up for groundedness in the face of challenges. Think of it as practice. Remaining centered or calm in light of your loved one’s challenges doesn’t mean you’re denying the severity of their AUD. When grounded, you can more easily access and leverage your education and empowered self to make sound assessments and decisions.

Remember, your needs matter.

In any relationship, an ideal circumstance is one where we are comfortable sharing our needs and wants with the other person. However, in many family systems, I often see how signs of codependency or avoidance can get in the way of that. Creating healthy boundaries is an important component of ensuring our needs are met.

When you’re assessing how to set healthy boundaries, it can be challenging if you don’t have a firm understanding of your own needs. When we understand our needs we can better articulate them to others without fear. I suggest identifying needs and boundaries based on the eight dimensions of wellness: social, emotional, intellectual, physical, spiritual, vocational, financial, and environmental wellness.

After reading about the categories, answer the following questions for each dimension:

  1. What is something I can do personally in this dimension?
  2. What is something my partner/child/sibling/parent can do in this dimension?
  3. What is it that we can do together to help each other?

This exercise works to separate the “me, you, and us” in relationships. The goal here is to build your sense of autonomy as a person and family member while acknowledging the space for your loved one to build theirs as well.

If you’ve taken on the responsibility of supporting a loved one navigating alcohol use disorder, that can be a lot of weight to carry. For today, I encourage you to take a moment, think about what you need, and give it to yourself — maybe that’s your favorite meal or a rom-com or a run. You deserve autonomy, self-care, and empathy. And you are not alone in this.

If you have any specific questions you’d like me to address about how to talk to someone about their drinking or how to support a loved one with AUD, I encourage you to post in the Community forum. We’re here to listen, and we’re here to support you.

Does someone you love struggle with unhealthy drinking? Get free expert resources ->

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

How To Recognize Alcohol Use Disorder & Depression

Many of our community members describe feelings of depression around the time when their drinking habits became unhealthy. Others share that they’ve used alcohol to help relieve depression, but it actually made it worse. There’s a cycle at play here: depression is a common driver of unhealthy drinking habits, and alcohol often intensifies depression.

In short, we can’t talk about alcohol without talking about commonly co-occurring mental health conditions like depression. And vice versa!

Navigating depression and unhealthy drinking can be incredibly challenging, and no one expects you to do it alone. You deserve relief and support. Both alcohol use disorder and depression are medical conditions that can be treated with the appropriate care, and understanding the connection between the two is an important step. First, let’s dive into the types of depression.

Types of Depression

Depression can be broken down into three main categories. Many of the depressive symptoms of each type are similar and can overlap with one another. Talking directly with a mental health professional is the best way to identify symptoms, diagnoses, and treatment options.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Individuals with major depressive disorder experience depression to an intense degree. These symptoms include feeling hopeless, helpless, gloomy, and having difficulty focusing. Other signs of MDD include loss of appetite, aches and pains, memory issues, thoughts of suicide, self-harm, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. If you are experiencing a crisis or emergency, please visit these resources.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

PDD is a type of depression where depressive symptoms persist over a long duration (typically over 2 years). Individuals with PDD may experience fewer overall symptoms than major depressive disorder. They can also demonstrate major depressive disorder symptoms when facing an overwhelming challenge.


Repressed anxiety is another form of depression. A persistent state of anxiety can cause fatigue, physical pain, bodily tension, loss of appetite, sleep issues, and difficulty relaxing.

Some other types of depression include bipolar disorder, psychotic depression, seasonal affective depression, and postpartum depression. While there is no one-size-fits all description of depression, these different types help group experiences by their commonalities.

How Do Alcohol and Depression Interact?

We spoke with Monument Advisor Laura Diamond, the Counseling Supervisor of the dual-diagnosis inpatient detox and rehabilitation unit at The Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai West Hospital, about what a dual diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD) and depression looks like, why it’s so common, and how to treat both medical conditions.

Laura explained that patients with a dual diagnosis of AUD and depression often suffer from a combination of negative self-talk and unsuccessful efforts to decrease their alcohol consumption. With each unsuccessful attempt, combined with increased alcohol tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, shame, guilt, and a loss of pleasure can become paramount.

“Many individuals with symptoms of depression are drawn to the temporary calming effects of alcohol and use it to ‘soothe,’ helping to distract from symptoms of depression,” Laura explains. “AUD frequently impacts every aspect of an individual’s life, and as negative consequences increase secondary to alcohol use (such as interpersonal stressors and career consequences), their depression worsens.”

And while there is no one-size-fits-all image of someone living with a dual diagnosis of AUD and depression, Laura affirms that in her professional experience, she has seen more individuals develop AUD after showing signs of depression. Many folks with alcohol use disorder (and even those without) perceive alcohol as an instant stress reliever. Patients often ask ‘is alcohol a stimulant or depressant?’ While many folks with alcohol use disorder (and even those without) perceive alcohol as an instant stress reliever, alcohol is actually medically characterized as a depressant — the antithesis of relief.

Laura broke it down like this: “While alcohol can feel like it is temporarily relieving or reducing stress, it can ultimately lead to an increase in symptoms of depression. Alcohol is a depressant that alters your brain’s natural levels of neurotransmitters, which transmit chemical signals throughout the body and play a big part in regulating thought processes, behavior, and emotion.”

Drinking might act as a temporary crutch, but its impacts on healing from depression can endure much longer. Laura shared that alcohol misuse can actually worsen depression symptoms and hinder individuals from developing new, healthy coping skills.

The good news is, depression and alcohol use disorder can be addressed and treated.

Seeking AUD and Depression Treatment

We understand that drinking alcohol can feel like the only option. Perhaps you believe it’s been keeping you afloat, or maybe it’s felt like a companion. Dismantling and rebuilding your toolbox of coping skills can take time. Still, it is absolutely possible with access to online alcohol treatment and supportive resources, whether that’s a specialized alcohol therapy program, physician care, support groups, or all of the above.

Addressing anxiety while managing your drinking

f you're feeling anxious, you are not alone. Anxiety and drinking are often interconnected. Join a candid conversation about building coping skills to address anxious feelings while navigating sobriety or moderation.
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Preventing Relapse Through Self-care

The path to changing your relationship with alcohol is rarely a straight line. Join the discussion about building behaviors to help prevent relapse, and moving forward through ups and downs.

And with the support of a therapist, Laura advises teasing the two diagnoses of AUD and depression apart so that both can be honored and addressed equally. One impacts the other, so by confronting both alcohol and depression, we can intercept the cycle. Before we can identify alternative coping mechanisms, we need to identify what we are trying to escape through drinking alcohol.

While challenging, confronting uncomfortable feelings can give you so much more out of your life. In Laura’s words, “if an individual immediately uses alcohol when experiencing a negative emotion, they miss an opportunity to learn and practice more positive coping skills, which leads to increased health and happiness in the future.” You deserve health and happiness, and it’s within reach.

If you’re interested in exploring specialized therapy to change your drinking and build healthier coping mechanisms, check out Total Care treatment plans. If you’re still exploring your options and assessing your relationship with alcohol, join our free community to hear from others. We’d be honored to have you.

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  1. WedMD. “Alcohol and Depression,” Accessed Sep, 7. 2020.
Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.