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As people in recovery begin to move forward, they regain some of their independence. For most people, this means moving out of sober living or transitioning into an intensive outpatient program (IOP). Throughout this process, the support of loved ones can be essential. Supports will continuously want to help loved ones address the many different factors involved in recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol. However, there are many ways to help someone in recovery, and active support can also mean helping by subtraction. 

What is Helping by Subtraction? 

Helping by subtraction implies that there are ways to support a loved one in recovery by discontinuing certain practices. While this can take many forms, it often goes hand-in-hand with modeling behavior for someone in recovery. It also includes helping alter environments for someone attending outpatient treatment to mitigate stressors that they may experience. These strategies help the recovering person further distance themselves from their old lives and old habits. Helping by subtraction focuses on the idea that while taking action can help someone, there is just as much to be gained by ceasing other certain activities or removing other aspects of their environment. Most commonly, this means that while someone is living at home with their family during addiction recovery, all other members of the family may also agree not to drink while in the house. They may also decide not to go out to bars in an effort to keep stressors to a minimum and continue to model progressive, sober habits. 

Addressing the Environment

Ceasing alcohol intake for someone else in recovery is incredibly beneficial, but helping by subtraction can reach much further. It can also mean removing other stressors from the house or one’s environment as a whole in order to help them detach from their lives before they began recovery. Subtractive strategies can also help continue to guide them during their time in an intensive outpatient program. This means removing paraphernalia that may reference alcohol or drugs from the environment, even if they are located where someone in recovery may not often frequent. 

This can also mean addressing other aspects of someone’s environment that they may have particular memories of, such as specific figures or pictures around the house. There doesn’t need to be an overt display of alcohol for something to remind someone of their times drinking or using drugs. Instead, these kinds of relationships can often develop regardless of what the object is supposed to symbolize. For example, a poster depicting a beach may be innocuous on the surface level. However, maybe an addicted person often stared at this poster when they drank alone in their room. Thus, a simple poster can become a trigger for a recovering person. Family members working together with those in recovery can help identify these stressors, and then subtract them from the environment to create an atmosphere conducive to their recovery process. 

Removing Language

Language is an immensely powerful tool. While removing overt stressors and practices is helpful, there is still the dimension of language that must be addressed. While this may take the form of avoiding jokes that involve drugs or telling stories about being drunk at parties, language plays a more intricate role. Particularly in the “language of absolution.” The language of absolution carries with it connotations that are wholly predetermined. Absolutist language is often in direct opposition to the language used throughout recovery. Consider eliminating words such as “absolute,” “definitely,” “always,” “never,” or other similar terms from someone’s vocabulary while discussing recovery from addiction. Subtracting these words instead creates a vernacular that accepts differing thoughts and alternative solutions to the vast array of stressors and problems that someone may face during the recovery process. 

There are several actions that someone can take to support a recovering addict. Likewise, there are just as many things that can be subtracted from one’s environment or atmosphere to help them stay sober. Helping by subtraction includes some compromises on the familial front. Still, they are often worth it to eliminate stressors that may otherwise accentuate urges or complicate the recovery process. Recovery isn’t something that happens in isolation, nor is it something that someone can give another person. However, there are countless ways to support your loved one during their recovery. Try practicing both active and passive support by replacing unhelpful behaviors with new, supportive measures.


Addiction recovery is complicated and can force someone to change their perspective of their world view and environment. Learning to create a safe atmosphere in recovery can help mitigate the presence of stressors that may otherwise hinder your recovery process, but this is just the beginning. If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, Lighthouse Recovery can help you take the first step in your own recovery path. Located in Dallas, Texas, the comfortable and supportive atmosphere at Lighthouse encourages individuals to define their own recovery. The trained professionals will work alongside you to personalize your own recovery process with a wide array of therapeutic techniques that may be most pertinent to you.