Until pretty recently, most people in recovery from addiction generally kept the topic between themselves, their sober fellow-travelers and their close friends and family. But for a number of reasons, more people are choosing to be open about their recovery, which takes no small amount of courage, and to send a message of hope and solidarity to those who still struggle with addiction or sobriety.
You, however, are not in recovery. Can you help?
Yes! Absolutely, yes. By even asking, you’ve taken the first step to becoming a sober or recovery ally.
Maybe you’ve watched a friend or family member go through the wringer of damaging substance use, but maybe you haven’t. All you need to become a sober ally is a willingness to support people seeking help for addiction issues or finding their way through recovery. With that alone, there’s plenty you can do …
What Is a Sober Ally?
A sober ally provides support, encouragement and resources to individuals in recovery.
It’s especially important that the friends and family of people in recovery try to be sober allies, and it can make the difference in seeing a loved one succeed in recovery. According a recent study published in the journal Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, “Supportive relationships with caring family, partners and friends — including individuals who do not use substances themselves — have proven to be helpful in abstaining and maintaining sobriety.”
But again, you can be an ally even if you don’t have friends in recovery. (Besides, you will soon!)
As an ally, you play a critical role in others’ recovery by providing motivation, inspiration, and emotional or practical support. An ally does the following:
- Actively listens and communicates clearly
- Sets healthy boundaries
- Offers safe and comfortable spaces for people in recovery
- Avoids or helps address triggering topics, places and activities
- Advocates for and amplifies the voices of those in recovery
Being an ally is all about including sober friends in your life in ways that support their continued recovery. You are someone they can rely on to provide encouragement during challenging moments.
Educate Yourself! It Will Help You Help
Learning about addiction recovery doesn’t require you to take a college course or ace a quiz. But take a little time to learn what it’s like to be in recovery and see the world from that perspective. You could try:
- Talking to mental health and addiction recovery experts, counselors, case managers or advocates
- Educating yourself on how addiction recovery translates to the real world by reading up on the psychological and social elements of it
- Reflecting on how you think and talk about substances and those who use or used them
- Working alongside people at all levels of recovery — learn firsthand from lived experiences
Allies play an important supporting role in the recovery community. Some may even become certified to provide addiction recovery services, while others offer support in an informal — but informed — way. It probably goes without saying, but no matter how you choose to be an ally, you should treat people in recovery with respect, dignity and compassion, even (in fact, especially) if they’re having a hard time.
Superstar sober allies go the extra mile to treat others with kindness, patience and empathy.
Use Your Skills! Specific Ways To Be a Superstar Sober Ally
Allies empower people they care about to feel more confident in their ability to maintain sobriety. As an ally, you have a unique perspective on the recovery journey and can share what you learn with the people around you. Your suggestions and insights could help someone overcome a crisis.
A few other ways you can be a superstar sober ally:
- Invite friends in recovery to sober events and activities, or, better yet, host substance-free gatherings yourself.
- Engage friends in frequent communication through texts, phone calls and meet-ups. Be a willing listener.
- Be mindful of triggers and triggering behaviors. Don’t use substances in front of friends in recovery unless you’ve discussed it with them. Avoid places that make them uncomfortable.
- Talk the talk: Use empowering language, and understand which terms and stereotypes can be stigmatizing and harmful. Not all are obvious.
As you can see, being a superstar ally takes a little work, but it’s not all that hard to figure out.
In the real world, of course, things can get heavy when someone you care about suffers. This is when your support counts the most. If you’re there for them, that will help them get through whatever’s going on.
Know Your Power, Respect Their Boundaries
With great power comes great responsibility! And the power you have as an ally can put you in a position of pressuring people into making changes they may not be ready for yet, intentionally or not. You may believe a change may benefit someone, but there are limits to what you understand.
Never hesitate to help, but unless someone is at risk of self-harm, choose the path of actively listening to them, establishing healthy personal boundaries and allowing them to make their own choices. You can respect their autonomy while holding them accountable for their sobriety.
Tools You Can Use as a Sober Ally
A final note: Educating yourself on how to respond to a potential relapse, recurrence of use or overdose can save lives. You are a resource to people in recovery, and it is important to know how to help protect them from real danger, should it come to that.
Experts in addiction recovery and online resources can give you information about how to locate and use certain harm reduction tools in these situations. A few to know:
- Narcan (naloxone): A medication you can keep on hand that can halt the effects of a drug overdose
- Fentanyl strips: If a friend is using, these can test if fentanyl is in a substance, which can reduce the risk of accidental overdose
A therapist or addiction recovery specialist can teach you more about how to respond to a crisis situation. The more you understand about addiction recovery and mental health issues, the better prepared you’ll be to step in.
It’s important to know that there are real-life stakes in being a sober ally, and worst-case scenarios happen. But beautiful moments are far more common. Being an ally means being there — and you won’t want to miss those.
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