When someone you love has been focusing on becoming and staying sober, you might not know exactly what to say and what not to say when discussing their recovery. Acknowledging their strength in choosing to be sober is extremely important to your loved one. 

Your support means everything to them, and it makes it easier to continue on in their journey knowing they have people backing them. There are ways to approach congratulating your loved ones on their sobriety without feeling uncomfortable about it, and we are here to tell you how!

The Dos

There are things that you should think about when congratulating someone on their sobriety. No matter if it’s been one year, two weeks, or five months, being sober for any amount of time is something worth celebrating. It’s important that you know the right things to say to someone in order to prove that you are aware of their circumstances and fully support them. 

Learn Affirmations

What you say to someone who is in recovery and trying to stay sober can really impact them. You want to make sure that they know that they are supported by you and can feel comfortable in your presence. Often, people in recovery feel shameful of their past actions and their situation, and by showing them that you back them, you can help to alleviate that stress

Affirmations are sentences that express healthy support to someone who is in recovery. Some examples of affirmations are as follows:

  • I’m so proud of you: Letting them know you recognize their strength and praising them for it can be extremely helpful to hear. Knowing that someone is proud of you can be motivation to keep on fighting.
  • You deserve to be happy and healthy: A lot of times, people struggling with addiction and sobriety don’t believe that they deserve a life where they are not suffering. Telling someone that they do deserve to live a happy life can be uplifting and eye-opening. 
  • Keep up the amazing work: Recognizing the hard work that they have been putting in to stay sober is important. When people show up for their loved ones with this kind of support, it’s inspirational to continue to work towards staying sober.
  • Let me know if I can do anything to help you: Offering your physical, mental, and emotional support to someone who is working towards sobriety lets the person know that they are not alone in fighting for their life. Other people care about them, they just need to be able to see that.

Show Your Support With Action

While words can compel a person to work harder and push themselves to maintain sobriety, sometimes a physical push is what they need. There are ways to show up for your loved ones that aren’t just about motivational speaking:

  • Attend meetings with them: Sometimes it can be hard to get up and go to a meeting alone, so offering to attend meetings with your loved one can be helpful in pushing them to go. Even just offering rides to and from can eliminate a potential barrier for your loved ones. Making it as easy as possible for them to access the resources that they need can be helpful during recovery.
  • Refrain from using or discussing substances around them: Without knowing, you could trigger your loved one by discussing or using substances around them. To avoid any urge of relapse, it’s best to avoid the discussion or action completely. Instead, focus on other activities or topics that help to get their mind off of it. 
  • Answer their phone calls and text: It may seem small, but letting your loved one communicate with you through the tough times can be critical during recovery. Sometimes, people dealing with addiction who are trying to be sober feel like they are alone in the journey. Having someone they can rely on talking to them helps to show that you are serious about their recovery just as they are. 

The Don’ts

On the contrary, there are things you should not do when trying to congratulate your loved one on their sobriety. There are questions and language that should be avoided as it can turn your loved one off from trusting you completely, and even might trigger them into relapsing. 

Avoid Invasive Questions

There are many things that you should not ask someone who is recovering from substance use disorder. Some questions that might seem harmless actually carry a lot of weight. You want your loved one to trust you, so here are some things to avoid saying to them:

  • How long have you been sober?: For many people in recovery, this can be a tricky question. It’s not an easy path to sobriety and slip-ups do happen. What’s important to instead focus on is the progress they’ve made and the fact that they made the decision to better their life. 
  • Can’t you just stop using?: Some people don’t understand that addiction is not something that you can control. Assuming that someone is able to “just stop” is neglecting that addiction is a disease that needs to be treated. If people with substance use disorder could stop, they absolutely would. There’s a lot of work that goes into becoming sober. 
  • So, we can never share a drink/high together again?: Don’t center the subject around yourself. The decision that they are making to become sober is one that is very hard and probably took them a long time to come to. Instead, consider all of the things you’ll be able to do in the future with your loved one now that they have decided they want to be happy and healthy.
  • What would you consider your lowest point?: For some people, sharing their trauma can feel healing and help in their recovery, but you should never ask someone. Being put on the spot to recall a time that they most likely feel very poorly about can be triggering and upsetting. Instead of discussing the time that they weren’t sober, maybe focus on how they are feeling now that they are taking back their life.

Avoid Stigmatized Language

You might not realize it, but the language that you use when talking to your loved one about their sobriety can be problematic. There are certain words that you should avoid saying when trying to congratulate your friend on their sobriety:

  • “Addict” or “Junkie”: You want to focus on person-first language to show that a person is not their problem. These terms are outdated and bring along a negative connotation, so it’s better to use language such as, “a person in recovery”.
  • Using “Abuse” rather than “Use”: Similar to above, the word “abuse” has extremely negative connotations, and society views “abusers” as bad people. People who use substances are not bad people. Using language such as this can discourage your loved one from talking to you about their recovery process.
  • Referring to someone as “Clean” or “Dirty”: When discussing whether someone is currently using or not, you want to use accurate language to portray the status of their medical condition. Words that have negative associations tied to them alienate your loved one and show that you might not be able to be trusted when discussing confidential and taboo topics. 

In Summary

When it comes down to it, the language that you use when congratulating someone’s sobriety should always be considered so as not to make that person feel like you are judging them. 

Stigmatizing language can turn your loved one away from trusting you, so be mindful to positively affirm their success, show up for them when they need it, and use language that focuses on them as a person in recovery. 



Words Matter – Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction | NIDA 

People First Language | ODR

Recovery and Recovery Support | SAMHSA   

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