5 Things to Do When a Loved One Is Struggling With Addiction

The day you learn that your loved one has been suffering from a hidden substance use disorder is not an easy one. Whether you had an idea or were completely blindsided, nobody wants such a painful fact to be real.

You run through many emotions in quick succession, from confusion to hurt to anger to despair, and the questions pile up:

  • When did it start?
  • Why did it start?
  • How did it start?
  • Am I responsible?
  • What could I have done to prevent this from happening?

But at the end of the day, one question really stands out – what can I do to help?

While every person’s addiction and recovery journey manifests differently – a professional can always help you with your family’s specific needs. Here are five general themes for approaching this in a way that serves everyone’s best interests.

1.   Communicate Openly

The way you approach talking about the issue can play a role in aiding or hindering your loved one’s recovery. It is easy to allow fear or feelings of uncertainty to take over and avoid talking with your loved one about their addiction. However, this is not the moment for passivity, and choosing not to talk about the elephant in the room won’t make it disappear. Bring it up when you are feeling in control – not in the middle of a fight or at a time when they’re intoxicated.

Use this conversation to talk about what you know, how you feel, and what your boundaries are going forward. Write down all of your main points in advance to avoid losing track of what you need to say. Assure them that you’re willing to support them if and when they are ready to make a start in recovery.

2.   Boundaries Protect Both of You

Your uncrossable lines will be extremely important when maintaining a safe emotional and physical space for yourself. People in active addiction suffer from compulsive behavior and are likely to push limits when they’re not firmly set. Your boundaries are based on what’s comfortable for you and your household but often include refusing to allow drugs in the home, to cover for the person, or help them financially.

Research suggests that at-home behavior can significantly affect addictive behavior. Some boundaries may sound harsh, but refusing to engage in any kind of enabling doesn’t just help you remain in a better emotional state; it may actually help them accept the problem on their own.

3.   Educate Yourself (Carefully)

You don’t have to look far to find misinformation about addiction – from urban myths to popular stereotypes; however, buying into stigmas and cultural assumptions will not help the person you care about.

If you’re armed with information from credible clinical sources about the reality of what substance use disorder is, what its history is, and how it is treated, you are better positioned to understand and help with what your loved one is facing. Support at home starts with knowing facts over assumptions.

Need to know where to start? Here are some suggestions:

4.   Self-Care

The life of a person closely connected to the chaos of addiction is never stress-free, and you’re going to need extra support during this time. Making time to take care of yourself is non-negotiable and important to establish from the very beginning. It’s not uncommon to slip into a codependent dynamic with a loved one suffering from addiction, so consciously putting your health first and reminding yourself why it is important will help keep you from falling into neglect.

While we’re here, it’s a great idea to speak to a counselor or therapist about your situation as a family member of a person with a SUD. Seek out support groups and professional counseling focused on building coping strategies and emotional outlets for people in your position.

5.   When They’re Ready for Treatment, Get Involved

As a family member, your involvement at any stage can genuinely help their treatment outcomes once they are ready for them. Addiction is a family disease, and while it’s not easy to hear, there may be things going on at home or in your social circles that put your loved one at greater risk of relapse. Offering support means:

  • having these difficult conversations openly and calmly.
  • discussing, not lecturing.
  • helping your loved one research and compare treatment programs.
  • reducing household triggers and reminders of use.
  • getting involved in family days or family counseling through their rehab center.
  • checking in with your loved one, allowing them to talk with you about the challenges they face in recovery.

Every situation is different, and you may already have some insight into what works and what doesn’t.

Ultimately, although helping a loved one can seem fraught with difficulties, it’s important never to give up. At the start, they may resent some of your efforts; however, as long as your approach is measured and your intentions are good, they’ll be forever grateful, and you’ll know you did the right thing.

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