Seeing a loved one struggling with an addiction is heartbreaking and impacts everyone around them, especially family and friends. A loved one’s addiction can cause you to feel overwhelmed, sad, angry, or confused. Sometimes the situation can feel hopeless, and you may feel powerless to help.
Fortunately, there are specific steps family and friends can take to help a loved one who is dealing with an addiction.
People begin using substances for different reasons, such as for stress relief, to feel good, to perform better, or peer pressure. They don’t start using a drug to end up with an addiction.
Unfortunately, addiction, or substance use disorder, takes over the person’s life, causing significant problems in their everyday functioning. Additionally, the person keeps using the substance despite consequences such as:
Individuals with an addiction may be aware of their problems and want to stop. But, their substance use changes their brain, which can lead to difficulties with judgment, thinking, and behavior control.
With repeated substance use, their body develops a tolerance to the drug. They need to use more to feel the same effects and to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Furthermore, changing any behavior takes time and hard work. During this process, your loved one will have to face the consequences of their use, learn new ways to cope, and often need to change their lifestyle. In the early stages of change, they may waver between denying the problem and acknowledging they need to change.
This process can be frustrating and confusing for loved ones. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help individuals progress on their road to recovery, even when they are denying having a problem.
The decision to seek treatment and learn from the process is your loved one’s choice. You can help them by being a source of strength, trust, and compassion. Knowing they have someone who cares can help them start the journey to recovery.
Here are five strategies to help your loved one in a supportive and healthy manner.
Being supportive does not mean condoning their substance use. It does mean being there for your loved one in a calm, honest, and caring manner. As you build trust with each other, they will be more likely to seek your help and guidance. To help create a supportive environment, try to avoid nagging, criticizing, or yelling at them.
Remember, trust goes both ways. Your loved one needs to treat you with respect and honesty. If they are taking advantage of you or consistently breaking your trust, you may need to seek professional guidance.
Your loved one needs to take responsibility for their actions. Setting clear boundaries or rules regarding your relationship and expected behaviors is important for maintaining a healthy relationship. If the rules are broken, they must face real consequences, so your boundaries are taken seriously.
Setting boundaries can be hard, but it’s important to keep you safe and to keep your loved one accountable for their actions. These boundaries may also provide the motivation they need to change.
Some examples of boundaries include:
Ignoring their addiction doesn’t help. Talk with them compassionately and listen to their concerns. Try asking open-ended questions such as:
Knowing their perspective may help you better understand them and help them see why addiction treatment may be needed.
You can help your loved one by researching potential treatment options, even if they aren’t ready yet. Addiction treatment options include detox, inpatient, outpatient, and aftercare programs. There also are different therapeutic approaches to fit each individual.
Addiction impacts the whole family. You can seek counseling and professional support, even if your loved one isn’t ready. Finding an addiction therapist or a support group can provide you with a safe place to process your feelings. You also can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) free, confidential helpline for help.