Thomas Cothern

Supporting a Loved One in Recovery: How to Be an Effective Ally

Supporting a loved one in recovery from addiction can be a challenging and emotional journey. While your support and encouragement can be invaluable, it’s essential to understand how to be an effective ally without enabling harmful behaviors or undermining their progress. In this blog, Thomas Cothren of New York will explore practical strategies and guidance for supporting a loved one in recovery, fostering open communication, setting healthy boundaries, and creating a supportive environment for their journey to sobriety.

Understanding the Role of a Supportive Ally

Being a supportive ally to a loved one in recovery involves more than just offering words of encouragement or sympathy. It requires empathy, understanding, and active engagement in their journey towards sobriety. As a supportive ally, your role is to provide encouragement, guidance, and accountability while respecting their autonomy and agency in the recovery process. Here are some key principles to keep in mind:

  1. Empathy and Understanding: Take the time to listen to your loved one’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings without judgment or criticism. Show empathy and understanding for their struggles, challenges, and victories in recovery.
  2. Education and Awareness: Educate yourself about addiction, recovery, and the challenges your loved one may face along the way. Understanding the nature of addiction can help you offer more informed support and guidance.
  3. Encouragement and Validation: Offer words of encouragement, validation, and support to boost your loved one’s confidence and self-esteem. Celebrate their progress, no matter how small, and remind them that you believe in their ability to overcome challenges.
  4. Setting Healthy Boundaries: Establish clear and healthy boundaries to protect your own well-being while supporting your loved one in recovery. Be firm but compassionate in enforcing boundaries around behavior, communication, and expectations.
  5. Avoiding Enabling Behaviors: Avoid enabling harmful behaviors or making excuses for your loved one’s actions. Instead, encourage accountability, responsibility, and self-reliance in their recovery journey.
  6. Creating a Supportive Environment: Create a supportive environment that promotes sobriety and well-being. Remove triggers and temptations from the home, encourage healthy habits and activities, and foster connections with supportive individuals and communities.

Practical Strategies for Supporting a Loved One in Recovery:

  1. Open Communication: Foster open and honest communication with your loved one about their recovery journey, concerns, and needs. Encourage them to express their feelings and thoughts without fear of judgment or criticism.
  2. Active Listening: Practice active listening by giving your full attention to your loved one when they speak. Validate their feelings, ask clarifying questions, and reflect back what you hear to demonstrate understanding and empathy.
  3. Offering Practical Assistance: Offer practical assistance and support to help your loved one navigate the challenges of recovery. This could include helping with transportation to appointments, assisting with household chores or responsibilities, or providing emotional support during difficult times.
  4. Encouraging Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Encourage your loved one to develop healthy coping mechanisms for managing stress, cravings, and triggers. This could include mindfulness practices, exercise, hobbies, or engaging in activities that promote relaxation and well-being.
  5. Attending Support Meetings Together: Offer to attend support meetings or therapy sessions with your loved one to show your support and solidarity. This can also provide you with valuable insights into their recovery journey and help strengthen your bond.
  6. Celebrating Milestones and Achievements: Celebrate your loved one’s milestones and achievements in recovery, no matter how small. Acknowledge their progress and resilience, and express your pride and admiration for their efforts.

Supporting a loved one in recovery from addiction requires empathy, understanding, and active engagement in their journey towards sobriety. By being an effective ally, you can provide encouragement, guidance, and support while respecting their autonomy and agency in the recovery process. By fostering open communication, setting healthy boundaries, and creating a supportive environment, you can help your loved one navigate the challenges of recovery with confidence, resilience, and hope for a brighter future.

Thomas Cothern

Why Helping Others is Good for The Brain

Helping others feels good. That’s a fact. But is there more to it? Can helping someone else benefit us in more ways than we know?

Helping others is both physically and mentally beneficial. Studies have shown that when we help someone in need, it dampens the part of the brain associated with fear and stress. Plus, our self-esteem improves, our risk of depression decreases, and we have more energy. There have also been links to physical health benefits such as getting sick less often and living longer.

Pretty amazing stuff, right? Thomas Cothern of Maryland explores below how the simple act of helping someone in need can trigger even greater benefits for you.

What Physically Happens to Our Brain

When people provide targeted support to someone in need, two areas of the brain are activated: the ventral striatum, or VS, and the septal area, or SA. Further, scans show decreased activity in the amygdala, which is the center of the brain that is linked to fear and stress. Plus, helping others directly can activate the reward centers of the brain, similar to receiving a gift or petting a puppy.

Effects of Decreased Amygdala Activity

The amygdala controls our emotional and physiological responses to fearful or threatening stimuli. When amygdala activity is high, our body is under a higher amount of stress. This leads to higher cortisol levels, which in turn raises your blood sugar. If you lead a stressful life, volunteering regularly or otherwise actively assisting those in need can lower your blood sugar and help prevent diabetes.

People with depression or anxiety can also benefit due to the effect on the brain. Anxiety and depression are associated with a larger amygdala, so calming this center of the brain can improve anxiety and depression symptoms.

Emotional Impacts

Regularly helping someone has been linked to improved self-esteem compared to those who rarely volunteer. This is most likely due to the feelings of purpose and satisfaction we gain by doing good deeds for others. It has long been understood that acts of kindness such as volunteering improve our mood, increase our energy, and improve our overall outlook on life.

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Physical Impacts

Aside from the mental benefits discussed above, aiding others can cause physical benefits as well. Regular volunteering has been linked to a longer lifespan, reduced illness, and improved heart health. These benefits can all be attributed to lower blood pressure when we reduce stress levels and feel more positive about life in general. Volunteering can even help with weight loss since you’ll be more physically active.

Final Thoughts

Overall, volunteering and helping those less fortunate triggers areas of our brain that produce a happy, fulfilled feeling. The positive benefits caused by these changes in our brain’s physiology may also be connected to increased physical activity or social activity when volunteering.

However, it’s essential that the motives for volunteering remain pure; the positive effects on mental and physical health only occur when volunteering with altruistic intentions.