How to Help Someone With Addiction
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, says the idiom. Supporting a loved one struggling with addiction can be one of the most challenging things you’ll ever do. Helping a family member or friend in active addiction, is as much about what you avoid doing, as about what you do.
Overcoming a substance use disorder is a lengthy process. Recovering from drug abuse or alcohol addiction can be slow. Helping a person struggling with substance abuse may test your patience and endurance to their limits.
Witnessing a loved one’s addiction is painful, so the urge to help, and to encourage them to seek treatment, is entirely natural. It can be difficult to know where to start. People with substance use disorders can get very defensive when anyone tries to anyone tries to speak to them about their drug or alcohol abuse. Your loved one’s substance abuse can also cause them to have mood swings – one day they may seem open and ready to talk, and the next, they’re anti-social or withdrawn.
Fortunately, there are helpful guidelines regarding how best to try and help someone with an addiction. Remember, you are never alone. The Mental Health Services Administration website links to many resources on substance misuse, substance abuse, and mental health. There are support groups for family and friends of those in the grip of alcohol or drug addiction.
1) Establish Healthy Communication
People in the grip of active addiction may at times be deceitful, secretive, and even dishonest about their substance abuse and addictive behaviors. Nevertheless, you’ll need to establish a solid basis of trust for open, honest, and productive communication to be possible.
Importance of Trust
You should avoid being judgmental and critical, and refrain from telling your loved one what to do. Even if they’ve betrayed your trust, leave settling scores to later. Make gentle suggestions rather than giving advice. Speak with empathy, and make it clear you are there to support them. If they are open to it, offer to research treatment options and rehab programs in your area. Trust needs to be mutual – don’t keep your own feelings bottled up inside. Let your loved one know how their addiction is affecting you, be vulnerable and share your pain, but without laying blame.
2) Educate Yourself About Their Condition and Treatment Options
You’ll be able to communicate on a more equal basis if you have a better understanding of your loved one’s condition. Read up about drug addiction and alcohol addiction, and learn about the kinds of addiction treatment available. Realize that addiction is not a moral failing, it is a disease of the mind.
Use treatment resources to find out what addiction help is available near you, including local support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, and any online support groups. Inquire about local treatment facilities and rehab treatment programs. Bear in mind that whatever you learn, each person’s path away from addiction is unique. Encourage your loved one to open up about their struggle, and show them you are really listening.
3) Be Patient and Bide Your Time
However desperate you may be for your family member to seek treatment for their substance use disorder, don’t try and precipitate things. Timing is of the essence. Avoid threats or ultimatums, as these would most likely be counterproductive. You could create stress and possibly aggravate their drug abuse.
Encouraging them to seek professional medical advice could be an intermediate and less intimidating suggestion than trying to push for them to begin treatment as soon as possible. Professional help generally feels more neutral to people suffering from addiction than the opinions of family and friends. Remember, nothing happens overnight. But in the right conditions, the passing of time is the best addiction medicine, so stay positive, and don’t try and rush your loved one’s recovery.
4) Know What to Expect, and What Not to Expect
Do not expect immediate change. Old habits die hard, and recovering from drug abuse is an ongoing process. Expect ups and downs and setbacks. Know that the recovery process may take years, and that your loved one may have to take certain measures to remain clean and sober for the rest of their life.
Understand that there are many contributing factors in addiction. Substance use can be a coping mechanism, to deal with mental wellness issues such as anxiety or depression for example. Indeed, substance abuse and mental illness often go hand in hand. Your loved one may need to seek support for whatever conditions may be linked to their alcohol or drug addiction.
Don’t be discouraged if your loved one does not openly express gratitude to you for your support. Measure the effects of your efforts to help not by their thanks, but by their attitude and actions. If they are becoming more open to dialogue and more motivated to get well, you are both on the right track!
5) Take a Firm, but Compassionate Stand
Try to state clearly from the outset where you stand in terms of how you offer support. Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated by your loved one, and do not contribute to enabling or facilitating their addiction. Those in addiction who have to face the consequences of their actions are generally more committed to recovery – do not cover for them when problems arise due to their drug use. The exception to this is when their actions would put them or others in physical danger (such as driving when under the influence).
Set a good example. Your support will mean more, and you will be more inspiring, if you are demonstrating clean and sober living yourself. Set boundaries too – don’t allow your loved one to think they can get away with unacceptable behavior just because you want the best for them. Another way to be a good example is to participate actively in their recovery support. when suitable. You may, for example, accompany your loved one to a support group, if appropriate.
6) Be Open to Self-Reflection
Although this can be a very difficult task, be open to looking at what role you may have played, even inadvertently, in your loved one’s addictive tendencies. Sometimes, things like complicated family dynamics can contribute to a person seeking refuge in substances. This does not imply there was ill-will on anyone’s part.
Family Therapy May Help
Be willing to consider therapy as a family – family therapy sessions can be trying, but they allow everyone the chance to speak freely and openly. They can be a great way to enable you to really put yourself in your loved one’s position, and vice versa, and help all family members genuinely understand what each person is experiencing and feeling. This can be incredibly beneficial for both you and all participating family members.
7) Beware of Developing a Codependent Relationship
Simply put, codependency is when one person in a close relationship ends up enabling the addiction or other destructive behavior of the other. This is generally not intentional, and often the ‘enabler’ is not fully aware of their role. But, codependency is detrimental to both.
Another definition is over functioning on behalf of the other person. Examples of this are sparing them the need to meet their responsibilities, making excuses for them so they don’t bear the full consequences of their addiction (financial issues, neglect of household duties), turning a blind eye to unacceptable behavior, and so on. Paradoxically, the person with the upper hand may also try to control the other individual’s drug use, even while being excessively lenient towards their addiction habits.
Often the enabler in the relationship starts to neglect their own needs. The person stops putting their own well-being first. Codependency can also result in delaying treatment for someone’s alcohol or drug addiction. If the other person always has their back, the addiction sufferer may sense no great urgency to address their issue.
Clearly, codependency is not a path you want to go down. Once again, putting clear boundaries in place, and catching yourself if you realize you may be overstepping your supporting role, can help maintain a balanced relationship.
8) Self Care and Personal Needs
Supporting a loved one in active addiction can take its toll. You may find it emotionally draining. For the sake of everybody involved, it is important that you be consistent in caring for yourself. Don’t put your own life on hold. Be consistent with your healthy living habits, and keep doing the things that give you joy and make you feel good.
If your loved one enters treatment, you may find you suddenly feel exhausted. You finally have time to look after yourself more, but also to reflect. You may start to feel guilty that the person you care deeply about has ended up where they are. However, you will also have the peace of mind that the treatment process has begun, and that your loved one’s treatment program will give them the addiction help they need.
At Ebb Tide Treatment Centers, we know that your loved one can recover. Our mission is to help people not just stop abusing substances, but to find the freedom that leads to a long and fulfilling life in recovery. We’ll involve you in their healing journey, as we know how much the support of a loving family can help.
We offer comprehensive treatment for addiction of all kinds, run by our experienced and caring staff. Reach out and discover how we can help.