Who doesn’t like receiving a compliment? Well, your addict/alcoholic in recovery is no different. True, it might be a tad harder to come up with one at first, but you gotta try.

No one but another addict/alcoholic or worker in the field knows how much hard work is involved in getting and staying sober. So honest, specific praise is very much appreciated and helps the healing. But be sure it’s specific, and not just a general “way to go” sort of thing.

When praise is generalized, most of us don’t react to it. See the difference between: “It’s good you go to meetings,” as opposed to: “You seem different somehow when you come back from a meeting, more relaxed and confident.” It’s the same thing when you want to praise your child. They can see right through your “fake” praise when you say, “That’s a really great picture you just drew.” It's better to be specific and say, “I love the color green you put on that house. And, look at that tree. It has personality.”

So here are a few things you might say to your guy/gal in recovery. Some topics:

Sober supports are essential. You might say, “I don’t get why you go to all those meetings, but I don’t really need to get it do I? You seem different somehow when you come back from a meeting, more relaxed and confident. That’s so wonderful.”

Emotions change with recovery: “It’s so nice to see you playing with the kids and hearing them giggling with you.”

The sober person begins to change: “I like the sober you so much. You look and sound so much better. We’re laughing together again.”

You feel differently about your addict now: “I’m very proud of you. Of all the hard work you are doing.” Or, “Keep up the good work honey, we are lovin’ the new you.”

Recovery is hard work: “I don’t understand the hard work you are doing at the agency, but I am so happy you’re doing it. I notice you seem more considerate and thoughtful.”

Recovery is more than not using: “It’s wonderful how you are embracing sobriety. I hear it when you say you like your new sober friends, and when you say 'thank you.'”

Addiction is a disease: “I’m glad you realize that you have a medical condition and that you are getting treatment for it. It’s good to see you in recovery and enjoying it. Most of the time anyhow.” Humor is good.

Addiction can include a brief relapse or one that is much longer: “I’m so sorry you had a relapse. You must be sorry, too. I have faith in you and that you can learn from this.” Or, “Don’t quit before the miracle. I believe in you. You can do this.”

Sobriety means changing people, place and things: “It must be hard not to see your old pals. You must be proud for making that sacrifice and making the effort to meet new people.”

Ongoing sobriety doesn’t mean your addict can let his guard down, or “now he’s cured.” Addiction can be put into remission, but it never goes away. Staying sober, though, becomes easier with time.

And keep in mind after having a relapse it isn’t about “trying harder.” It’s about looking at what happened and making specific changes so it doesn’t happen again. For example, not going to parties where drugs/alcohol are being served.

And remember: Staying sober isn’t about being “good.” Too many folks think of addicts and alcoholics as being “bad” when they are active in their addiction and becoming “good” when they stop their use. It’s more that they have a medical condition and are becoming well, as opposed to continuing to be ill.

Keep on being your addict’s main cheerleader. They need it.

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Cayuga County resident Liz Barnes has been a credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counselor for more than 25 years. This column is not meant as medical advice; for that, see your health professional. If you have a question, write to this column at The Citizen, 25 Dill St., Auburn, NY 13021 or use the comments section on www.auburnpub.com.


Features editor for The Citizen and auburnpub.com. I also cover local arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.