When supporting someone on the journey of recovery, there is a fine line to walk. We long for a loved one with a substance use disorder to overcome it, to live their healthiest, best lives, substance-free. Sometimes that can make us push in a way that is not helpful to them. For example, we may provide well-intended advice and support that is closely connected to expectations. While expectations can help motivate someone, it is important that the person knows that our love for them is not connected to them meeting those expectations. 

What It Means to Be in Recovery 

We need to remember that each person needs to follow their own path of recovery. We may not agree with their path, but it is not our path to direct. It is theirs. And that path might meander a little. It might go up and down. It might go on a side path for a while. That’s okay.  

When someone identifies themselves as “being in recovery,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are substance-free in this moment. It means they are trying their best to get there. Perhaps the road to recovery for someone you know looks more like a deer trail than a highway. That might be a bit discouraging, especially when someone steps off the path altogether, but remember that a deer is getting fed along the trail. For a person in recovery, human connections are the “food” that gives them strength.  

Spending time with friends provides a person in recovery with a sense of being valued.
It has been said that the opposite of addiction is connection.
Spending time with someone in recovery is the most important thing you can do.

Supporting Recovery: Walk Alongside 

One of the most important things we can do is recognize and celebrate each step, both large and small, to encourage them and build up their confidence. By celebrating when a loved one makes progress and providing encouragement when they stumble, we can help people in recovery continue to move forward. No one can dictate the speed or path of their recovery, but we can be there for them.  

People with substance use disorders usually struggle with more than one substance. So maybe recovery begins with getting through one day without one of the substances. Maybe it’s getting through an hour without any. Perhaps it is finally making that call to a Peer Support Specialist, a doctor, or a counselor. Or it could be the simple yet extremely difficult acknowledgement that they cannot complete this journey of recovery on their own.  

What does it look like to celebrate each step forward? It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or grand. Celebrating can just mean an acknowledgement of the progress and/or an affirmation that you believe in the person and their strength to continue. It could be a hug. It could be giving them something small and fun, like a favorite candy bar, a small bouquet of wildflowers, or a card. You could make their favorite dessert or meal, or take them out for a cup of coffee.  

Giving someone a hand up with they fall lets them know you care. The same is true when someone who is in recovery "falls."
Always approach someone from a place of love. It is okay to let them know you are disappointed in a decision they have made, but remember to remind them they are loved.

Facing Setbacks 

Know that this journey is a long one. It is very possible, even likely, that your loved one will begin using again, and how you treat them during that time can make a huge difference in their journey. When someone begins using substances again, they often feel shame. Displaying anger and disappointment around their decision to use again will only add to that. We might think, “Good! Maybe they’ll be so ashamed they won’t do it again!” However, that is not how this works. That sense of shame disconnects the person from you, a person they trusted. They then find it harder to trust others and admit that they need help. Their sense of loneliness increases, creating an emotional pain that can drive them towards substance misuse instead of away from it.  

Anger, disappointment, fear—those are natural feelings, and it is important that you acknowledge them. It is how you express them that makes the difference. Yelling, belittling, insulting—those will drive the person away. Instead, try to let them know (as gently as possible) that you are angry or disappointed, but that you still love them and you are always ready to help them move forward again. If you can’t do that right away, it is okay to tell the person that this is very emotional for you, and you need some time to process it. Again, emphasize love and support. People who misuse substances often have a history of emotional pain. They often expect others to abandon them. Your immediate reassurance builds up a piece of resilience within them, so maybe next time, they can make it further on their journey of recovery. 

Remember, the journey of recovery looks different for every person. What one person steps over, another person might stumble upon. What helps one person might have no impact on another. While “perfection” might be the goal of a substance-free healthy lifestyle, each step of progress must be directed by the person in recovery. We can hold their hand along the way. It might seem like a small thing to us, but it can mean the world to them. 

In the struggle against the stigma of opioid use disorder (OUD), one of the greatest challenges is the stigma of using medication to recover from OUD.  Even some members of the recovery community frown upon the idea of using medication, holding to the idea that only complete and total abstinence is truly recovery. This belief can keep many people from getting the help they need. 

As we’ve noted before, there are many roads to recovery [link to article]. Think of a child learning to walk. Some “cruise” along, holding furniture before they walk on their own. A few simply stand up and walk unexpectedly. Recovery isn’t all that much different. Some people can quit “cold turkey,” while others require additional assistance.  

The fact is, there is no basis for the idea that someone who is on medication is not truly in recovery. Those who use medication to overcome an OUD are actually more likely to remain in recovery. One study of naltrexone, one of the medications for opioid use, demonstrated a 43 percent return to use versus a 64 percent return to use by those who were not using naltrexone.1 


Within the recovery community, Medication-Assisted Treatment or Medication-Assisted Therapy is a commonly used term. However, MAT is not a single-prong approach. Rather, it encompasses therapy to address the underlying emotional pain that led to drug misuse in the first place. It may also include support groups, peer recovery specialists, and other support systems.  

But in recent years, some have begun to question the term of “MAT,” seeing it as stigmatizing because it only applies to people who have a substance use disorder. We don’t, for example, say that someone who is taking medication or insulin for diabetes is receiving medication-assisted treatment, even though the medication is just one part of their recommended treatment.   

Using MAT/MAR/MOUD can be life-saving.

To help address the stigma of MAT, some of the recovery community is trending towards using the term MAR, or Medication Assisted Recovery, instead. This helps to place the emphasis on the recovery process, rather than the medication. That’s important because regardless of what path someone is on, recovery is a day-by-day—and sometimes even a moment-by-moment—journey. By controlling the overwhelming cravings caused by addiction, medication gives the person the clarity and opportunity to be able to focus on daily tasks, relationships, and healing. The end goal is overall health and wellness, regardless of how long that takes.  

What About MOUD? 

Those within the medical and health industry often use the term “Medications for Opioid Use Disorder,” or MOUD, in place of MAT, especially when addressing the use of medication as a stand-alone approach for addiction. There is increasing scientific evidence that this is a viable approach to recovery; however, the more common approach is to continue to focus on the whole person. The best approach needs to be explored with a medical professional.  

The term “MOUD” is sometimes used interchangeably with “MAT,” because the belief is that the term MOUD is less stigmatizing. Regardless of which term is used, the important thing to remember is that medication for opioid use disorder is a life-saving treatment. “…just as it is inadvisable to deny people with diabetes the medication they need to help manage their illness, it is also not sound medical practice to deny people with OUD access to FDA-approved medications for their illness.”1 

Sources and Additional Information: 

  1. Medications for Opioid Use Disorder: For Healthcare and Addiction Professionals, Policymakers, Patients, and Families [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2018. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 63.) Part 1, Introduction to Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Treatment. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535270/ 
  1. Promises Behavioral Health: https://www.promises.com/addiction-blog/why-what-we-say-matters-mat-vs-moud/ 
  1. Plymouth County Outreach: https://plymouthcountyoutreach.org/portfolio/moud/#:~:text=The%20term%20%E2%80%9CMAT%E2%80%9D%20implies%20that%20medication%20plays%20a,medication%2C%20often%20coupled%20with%20counseling%20and%20other%20supports. 

During the Recovery Ally Training hosted by NPC, presenter Thomas Bannard (MBA, CPRSS, CADC, Assistant Director Substance Use and Recovery Support at Virginia Commonwealth University) shared many facts that stuck with the attendees. One of those is the idea that a person who has a substance use disorder (SUD) may suffer from Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), causing family members to believe the person is misusing substances again.  

For family members new to recovery, who are trying their best to be supportive, constantly wondering if they are crossing the line of enabling or going in the other direction and acting judgmental, knowing about post-acute withdrawal symptoms is critical.  

Withdrawal Symptoms 

Withdrawal symptoms can occur right away when a person stops drinking or using drugs. They are acute, consuming, and certainly uncomfortable. Depending on what type of substance a person has been using, the withdrawal symptoms may include effects such as sweating, fatigue, insomnia, aches and pains, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, cramping, headaches, and more. Fortunately, the symptoms are likely to end within weeks, though this will vary from person to person. When withdrawal symptoms continue after this initial stage, the person has entered PAWS. This is most likely to occur among those who have been using opioids, due to their highly addictive nature, but can occur with nearly any substance, including alcohol. 

Withdrawing from others can be a sign of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome.

PAWS Symptoms 

Long-term PAWS can continue for months, even years, making it extremely difficult for the person to remain in recovery. The symptoms can also occur intermittently, meaning that the person will feel well for a few days, then suddenly have symptoms. This irregularity is what causes some loved ones to think the person is misusing drugs or alcohol again, because the person was “fine” and then suddenly isn’t. In the mind of the family and friends, the only plausible explanation is that the person is misusing substances again, but this is often not the case. It is often the result of PAWS. 

Some common PAWS symptoms include: 

  • Anhedonia (lack of pleasure) 
  • Anxiety or panic attacks 
  • Cravings 
  • Depersonalization (not feeling like yourself) 
  • Depression  
  • Difficulty setting priorities/focusing/concentrating 
  • Difficulty sleeping/insomnia 
  • Fatigue 
  • Hypersensitivity (feeling overly sensitive to lights, sounds, touch) 
  • Irritability, aggression, hostility 
  • Lack of motivation 
  • Memory loss 
  • Mood swings 
  • Poor impulse control 
  • Social withdrawal (finding it difficult to interact with others) 
  • Stress sensitivity 
  • Suicidal thoughts 

Families can help a loved one through PAWS simply by listening and walking alongside them.

How Friends and Family Can Help 

Familiarizing themselves with PAWS is one way that families and friends can help a person in recovery stay in recovery. Be aware that the brain is correcting the chemical imbalances that the SUD created, and that process is similar to exercising—there will be good days and bad days. There may be a month of good days, and then suddenly the symptoms reappear. Making yourself available to listen and support is a critical part of someone in recovery staying in recovery. If they feel they have someone to turn to, someone who will believe in them and listen to them, they are likely to reach out for help. If they feel alone, isolated, and/or judged, then they may turn back to substance misuse.  

Encourage your loved one to practice self-care consistently, through exercise, learning healthy coping mechanisms, and positive self-affirmations, such as “I am enough,” or “I am worth it.” Getting enough sleep and eating right are critical. Maybe you can walk part of that journey with your loved one—maybe you need to eat better, exercise more, or get more sleep. Small ways of walking alongside them can make a world of difference.  





There are times in life when it’s okay to focus on yourself. Finding a way to enter and stay in recovery from substance misuse or a substance use disorder is one of those times.  

There are a thousand opinions of what’s right and what’s wrong, what makes up recovery and what doesn’t, but there’s only one judge of whether you are truly in recovery: you.  

You know if you’ve made it a step further than you did yesterday. You know what you need to make it to the next step tomorrow. No one has the right to force someone onto a certain path of recovery—though it should be noted that when people try to intervene, it is usually done out of love. Your history, your genetics, your circumstances, your past trauma, your innate resiliency developed in your youth—all of these play a part in your path towards substance misuse, and they will play a part in your recovery.  

Start with a Peer Support Specialist 

We encourage you to begin your journey by contacting a Peer Support Specialist. These are people who have a personal understanding of what it means to struggle with a substance use disorder. They are there to offer support and guidance, but they let you take the lead on what your path to recovery looks like.  

One of the most important things to realize is that your recovery includes more than stopping substance use. Most people who develop a substance use disorder are seeking to escape some sort of pain in their lives. Your recovery needs to involve a plan that addresses that pain in a different way.  

Let’s look at some of the options for recovery and one of the biggest stumbling blocks in recovery: stigma.  

“Cold Turkey” Abstinence 

“Just stop,” people say, and sometimes, they say it because they know someone who has done so. There are indeed some people who have walked away from addiction and never looked back. Their stories should provide a sense of inspiration that it can be done, but at the same time, they should never be the standard to which everyone is held.  

Have hope! Recovery from substance misuse and substance use disorders is possible.

12-Step Programs (or Something Similar) 

Most people are familiar with the 12-step program concept used by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. It focuses on developing a sense of self-awareness and an acknowledgement of a higher power, accepting that we make mistakes and that we need to accept responsibility for those mistakes. It is a very methodical approach, and it is again, usually abstinence-based. You attend meetings as frequently as you need.

Visit the Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous website to find a local meeting.

This approach can work well for someone who has a lot of family support and positive influences. If, however, you need to get away from a situation that is making it easier or more desirable to misuse substances, you might want to consider the next option instead.  

Residential Rehabilitation Facilities

This seems to be the popular portrayal in the movies: go to a beautiful “rehab” and come out looking like a different person. That might be possible, but it takes a lot of hard work to get there. You might stay at a facility for anywhere from 30 to 90 days, or even longer if needed. While each rehab facility is different, they usually offer detox programs and medical care. They also provide group and/or individual counseling, so you can begin to get to the root of your pain and learn to cope with it in a healthy manner. They also teach stress management techniques. The setting provides an opportunity for you to focus on self-care and your recovery.  

Upon leaving a residential facility, you should not expect to be magically cured—addiction is a lifelong illness for many people. It is important that you connect to others who can support your recovery. You can find that through the 12-step programs discussed above, through sober-living facilities (homes where you can live with other sober people), or continued counseling.  

American Addiction Centers offers some advice on choosing a facility on their website.

Jennifer shares her story of recovery in hopes of inspiring others. Remember, every person has a different story.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication is available to assist with recovery. Although popularly known as MAT, this recovery option is also referred to as Medication-Assisted Recovery (MAR), and for opioid use specifically, it is also known as Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD). Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is the most widely known (and stigmatized), but there is also medication to assist with Alcohol Use Disorder.  

MAT is clinically proven to be the most effective way to overcome a use disorder, especially regarding opioids. Unfortunately, many people in the recovery community, as well as those in the general public, have created stigma around the idea of using MAT to aid in recovery, promoting the false idea that to be in recovery is to be abstinent of all drugs. But don’t let that stop you. The opinion of others isn’t important. Your recovery, your life—those are the things that matter.  

We’ve placed the story of Jennifer on this page to help you understand the difference MAT can make in someone’s life. Jennifer was reluctant to try MAT because of the stigma. But while she had tried to overcome her addiction on her own, and was able to cut back, she was unable to stop completely. MAT made her recovery possible. “MAT saved my life,” she said. “The biggest thing it gave me was time—time to focus on myself and my relationships.”  

You can learn about some of the options for MAT in this article.

Your Recovery Is Your Own 

Although we’ve listed some of the main options for recovery on this page, these aren’t the only pathways. Some people find success in creating their own plan—for example, getting counseling, changing routines to avoid temptation, increasing exercise, going to church, practicing meditation. Your path to recovery is going to look different than anyone else’s. However, there are a few key things you need to focus on: developing coping skills to deal with emotional pain and stress, and connection.  

You must have a support group of some kind. Sometimes that is your family, but sometimes it can’t be. Find other ways to connect. Join a recovery group, volunteer somewhere on a regular basis, join a civic organization, join a church, join a quilting club—anywhere you can get connected to people. Because, as Jennifer reminds us in her video, “The opposite of addiction is connection.” It is nearly impossible to overcome a substance use disorder in isolation. You need the support of others. And others want to be there for you—even if you might have to give them some advice on how best to do that.  

Take the First Step

It is brave to ask for help. It takes courage. When you’re ready, a Peer Support Specialist is ready to talk with you and help you navigate your path to recovery.  In our local area, you can reach a Peer Support Specialist through Warren Coalition or Within Reach Peer Resource Center.

What is Stigma?

When you hear the word “stigma,” what do you think of? What picture comes to mind?  

Dictionary.com defines stigma as “a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation,” or “a mental or physical mark that is characteristic of a defect or disease: the stigmata of leprosy.” 

Perhaps this brings to mind the classic book The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The red “A” on Hester’s dress was certainly a visible mark of stigma, placed there by society.