For the person with a loved one recovering from addiction, the hardest thing to do is to know how to provide positive support to help them on their journey. For the person going through recovery, one of the most difficult things is to know how to accept that support. Oftentimes, they can both begin fulfilling and accepting that needed support through something as simple as a hug. We feel as though we understand the importance of the human touch in the broader context, yet we dismiss the hug as somehow a lesser form of therapy and communication. The science and our hearts tell us otherwise.
Despite the belief that we measure our lives in increments of time, it might be more accurate to say that we measure it from one emotion to the next. For friends and loved ones of those on the path of recovery, one of the most important things that they can provide in terms of support is emotional balance.
Even something as seemingly simple as a hug can counteract an emotional moment of fear, stress, frustration and yes, loneliness that can be defining moments for the person in recovery. What they may define is the next movement, which can be one of weakness where we all tend to backslide into past behaviors, or it can define a moment of strength that carries us through for hours or even days or weeks.
The science behind the communication of touch has been proven through studies such as this one and many others. They have proven that touch in general and hugs specifically between people that trust one another can have real physical effects enabling better sleep, and an increased sense of belonging.
We all know that preaching and lecturing someone in recovery is not only ineffective, it is often counterproductive. The help and support that can be provided through a genuine hug on the other hand can wordlessly convey our emotions while providing positive emotional impact.
The psychology behind hugs tells us that when we hug, our bodies release oxytocin; a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that increases bonding, social behavior and closeness between humans that have trust for one another. Hugs have other health benefits such as lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety levels as well as those of the harmful stress hormone cortisol. While researchers are conducting studies to see if oxytocin can help with symptoms of withdrawal for addicts, hugs are a simple and effective means of stimulating oxytocin.
The benefits of a hug given by a family member or friend to someone in recovery can be the first step in providing positive support. As the journey continues, other opportunities to be positively supportive will present themselves, but the hug is an ongoing companion to other forms that loved ones or friends can provide to the person in recovery.
For the recovering addict, feelings of low self-worth and esteem, loneliness, anger, fear and frustration will also be companions along the journey of recovery just as they can be on the journey of life in general. Unfortunately, when those feelings are compounded after going through the roller-coaster of addiction it can be difficult to accept help and trust in the good intentions of those that know us the best.
Opening up to hugs and even taking the bold step to initiate them with loved ones is both a small and a big step at the same time in terms of opening ourselves to help. Human contact in the form of a hug or a touch is not a crutch, nor is it an empty gesture when it is taken, and given with openness. We all will be surprised at how it becomes easier to go a little further down the road, give a little more help, and accept a little more with hugs as a starting point as well as a therapeutic boost along the journey.