How to Help Someone Struggling with Addiction
Addiction is a long and painful journey, for both the addict and their loved ones. Particularly when the addict is unaware of their condition or trying to hide it, their friends and family members may suffer because they feel they can do nothing. No one wants to see a loved one suffering, but it can often be hard to know what to do to get them help without causing further harm.
Many individuals live in denial or potentially choose to ignore addiction in hopes that their loved one will get better on their own. However, ignoring substance abuse will only cause the problem to worsen, possibly to dangerous levels. It may be scary and overwhelming to reach out to a loved one about their condition, but it is a critical step toward getting them the help they need.
One of the elements that makes dealing with addiction so difficult, is that many people do not understand the disorder or how to help. Looking at it from the outside, a person might think that their loved one is addicted because of a character flaw or moral failing, and that their drug use is a personal choice. The seeds of an addiction may be planted through personal choice, but by the time a dependence has formed, use is no longer a conscious decision. Rather, it is a mental disorder that leaves the person feeling trapped and unable to control their urges and cravings.
If a person that has developed a dependence attempts to quit using their chosen drug or even misses a dose, they will experience negative symptoms known as withdrawal. When this happens, it is because their body has adapted to the presence of the drug, and without it is unable to function normally. To make the symptoms go away, the person will need to continue using or wait for their body to readjust. This process is known as detoxification, and can last anywhere 3 to 5 days, up to several weeks depending on the individual. Attempting detox without the help of a medical professional can be very painful, and potentially dangerous, a common reason why many users choose to use again. Over time, this retrains their brain to treat taking the drug as a survival mechanism, like breathing or eating.
People first try drugs for many different reasons, such as curiosity, peer pressure, pleasure, medication, or even to try and boost their athletic or academic performance. Not everyone who tries a drug will eventually end up with an addiction, but based on certain factors, select individuals are especially at risk, possibly due to reasons completely out of their control. For example, some of the primary risk factors that influence addiction include:
- Family history of drug abuse
- Traumatic experiences like abuse, neglect, or rape
- Mental health disorders (anxiety and depression are especially common)
- Method of administration (injection is more dangerous than taking pills)
- Age when drug use began
How Can You Help Someone Struggling with Addiction?
Since every addict is a unique person, there is no perfect checklist that a loved one can follow to help them. However, there are general guidelines that they can follow to do their best and provide the addict with meaningful support.
Some of the actions that a loved one can take to help are:
Without some knowledge on addiction, particularly the stages of addiction, it is easy for a person to underestimate how dangerous an addict’s condition is at a given time. They may not even realize the addiction is present, if they do not know the signs to look for. As a result, the first step an individual should take to help someone with an addiction is to simply learn more about the disorder.
When an addict is lost in despair over their condition, it is easy for them to feel as though they are alone and unlovable. Here, it is imperative for close friends and family to remind the addict that they are cared for and have allies in their struggle. Expressing this support is something that an individual can do at any point for the addict, and they should do it frequently rather than waiting for moments of crisis. This ensures the individual knows they are loved no matter how far their substance use disorder progresses.
Encourage them to seek help or stage an intervention
Many addicts are not eager to acknowledge their condition and ask for help, particularly from anyone outside of their trusted circle, such as a medical professional. Nonetheless, the sooner treatment for an addiction begins, the more effective it will be in the long run. In these situations, it is important to urge your loved one to seek the help they need, even if doing so feels scary.
This urging should be done in a gentle manner that aims to encourage the addict, rather than pressures them with guilt or shame. Entering a treatment program should still be their choice in the end, and if it is not, the lack of personal motivation will show with poorer results.
In other scenarios, the addict may not be aware of the harm their condition is causing, both to themselves and to the people that care about them. When this happens, it may be time to stage an intervention to draw their attention to their substance abuse. An intervention is a delicate task however, thus anyone seeking to perform one should consider enlisting the help of an intervention specialist. This is to make certain that the family does not shame their loved one, in turn sending them further into addiction.
Support recovery as an ongoing process
Entering treatment or even completing a recovery program does not mean that a person’s addiction has been cured. Since substance abuse is a progressive brain disorder, there is no perfect cure, and recovery will be an ongoing process. For this reason, individuals should continue to offer support, regardless of where the individual is in the process. This includes the stage of aftercare or extended treatment programming. Here, the recovering person will be transitioning into a new stage in their life, learning how to live day by day, without the presence of drugs and alcohol. With the necessary help and guidance, the individual will begin healing mind, body and soul, rebuilding their life into a stream of new possibilities.
Take of Yourself
It might sound odd that a person trying to help an addict should be concerned about themselves, but it is a crucial point to understand. If they neglect their own well–being and fall into poor health, they will not be in the right state of mind and body to offer the same amount of support that they otherwise could. If the loved one’s addiction is taking a strong toll on their mental health, the person might also want to consider going to therapy or seeking the help of support groups such as Al-Anon. Here, loved ones of addicts and alcoholics can lean on others who have been in their shoes.
What to Avoid When Talking to a Loved One about Addiction
Helping a loved one that is struggling with addiction is a delicate matter and should not be approached lightly. When the time comes to confront them, there are a few key points that an individual should keep in mind in order to avoid making the situation worse.
These “do nots” for interacting with a loved one include:
- Lecturing, preaching, or using guilt
- Making threats
- Lying or making excuses for their behavior
- Taking on their neglected responsibilities (this makes it harder for them to see the consequences of their actions)
- Arguing while they are under the influence
- Lending them money
- Covering up any damage they have caused to themselves or others (this is called enabling)
Perhaps most importantly, an individual should not blame themselves for their loved one’s behavior. Addiction is a progressive brain disease and while there are many things families can do to help, it is important to remember it is not your fault. You didn’t cause, you can’t control, and you certainly cannot cure it!
Get Help for Your Loved One Today
If you suspect yourself or a loved one of an addiction, it is time to reach out for help. At Brookdale, our experienced professionals are committed to providing both you and your loved one the support you need in this journey of recovery.
Please contact us today at (855) 575-1292. to begin the process of treatment, or to speak with one of our trusted Admissions Specialists now.