A checklist for supporters of substance abusers

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash




Waving the flag


Have you ever been to a ball game or watch a match in a large sports arena?


It can be nail-biting and gut-wrenching to be a fan in the crowd, especially when you are supporting a team or someone you admire.


Some folks deal with the stress of the moment by waving flags or screaming profanities at the referee, while others may sit quietly, praying that the match passes quickly.


When your team loses, it’s agonizing and disheartening. When your guy wins, though, it’s exhilarating!  It makes the ticket price, the freezing weather, and the stale hot dog worth the heartburn and effort.   


Win or lose, you’ll be there to support your team tomorrow because that’s what real fans do; they’re there to support, irrespective of the outcome.         


Supporting someone with an addiction


Supporting someone with a drug or alcohol addiction is much the same.


Family members of chronic substance abusers also go through gut-wrenching experiences.


The situation can also be a nail-biting affair even though the experience differs vastly from person to person.   


If you are a parent of small children, you may work hard to compensate for the deficiencies of the addicted spouse.   Parents of adult addicts often cope by holding onto inappropriate bonds, while children are often called to act as surrogate parents in the household.


The same frustration


Though every supporter is called to respond differently, they do share the same frustration during every match: supporters never get to catch a ball or make a pass themselves.


Supporters never get to experience withdrawal, cravings, or the same depression that the addict does.


They can never win the match themselves; they can only cheer their person on from the side. Few people realize that the effort of doing so is extreme and often undervalued.  


Like fans, supporters of addicts also face the scorching sun and also have to stay to the very end.


They must keep encouraging, carry drinks, get up early, make lunch, and pay bills. The supporter also needs to stay in shape for their job, because the team will fail if they don’t.


That’s why supporters of drug and alcohol abusers must look after themselves. They have to make it to the end of the game because someone needs to be there to carry the hero off the field.


Here’s a checklist to keep supporters of substance abusers fit and on top of their game:


  • Live your life:Make an effort to continue doing the things you love. Play pool, swim in the sea, knit or climb Mount Whatever. Do hobbies, have fun and never, ever feel guilty for doing so.
  • End co-dependency:  Being a control freak, taking responsibility for the addict, putting their feelings first, slacking on boundaries, and being overly compliant is exceptionally tiring and counterproductive. Stop it!
  • Connect with peers, go for therapy and get help:Yes, you are allowed to get help. For yourself.
  • Exercise, sleep, and eat right: You need your strength, energy, and vigor.
  • Manage disappointments: Yes, losing sucks, but you can encourage your loved one to get up and fight again tomorrow. All supporters get disappointed. Who’s never lost a game anyway?
  • Know everything and more:Prepare, prepare, prepare. No fan will support their ice hockey team in the cold while wearing a bikini. Mittens, coat, and a flask with hot tea and a doughnut make it so much more pleasant for you, the supporter. Be prepared!




We love it when reporters interview supporters of the losing team after a hard-fought match.


They usually praise their team, applaud the coaching staff, and are ready to cheer them on in next week’s match. They don’t blame the athletes or the ref, because the athlete always tries their very best.


Supporting a person struggling with substance abuse is extremely hard, yet no World Series or Superbowl can compare to the joy of winning the battle against drugs and alcohol.  This is a one day at a time occurrence that requires patience and love for both yourself and the addict.  


It’s a whole different league and requires the support of an entirely different fan. One with the strength to wave his flag or pray quietly to the very end of the match! There are great support networks from group therapy, online forums and group chats to local and national resources that can help.  Don’t go at it alone as there are millions of us out there who know first-hand the “weather” you brave to support, encourage and help.  It is not an easy road but a journey and victory that make it all worthwhile!


As, the late, great, and legendary coach Jim Valvano said, “don’t give up, don’t ever give up!” So, no matter what side of the coin your one – addict or supporter – the sun does rise and it is glorious!  Don’t give up before the miracle happens!!!