There are few things as painful as watching someone you love self-destruct because of addiction. At least in the case of a disease, you have the sense that they are working with you in an effort to restore them to health. Many medical procedures are painful, and things like radiation or chemotherapy can make life miserable for a while, but you still have the sense that you are working together to make progress. Drug addiction is different. Family and friends may challenge, encourage, threaten or otherwise try to convince the addict to change, but all too often the addict resists and rejects all such efforts. Family members and friends are left to watch somebody they love inch closer and closer to death. They may talk to one another, make plans or otherwise seek to find some kind of solution, but in the end, they can’t think of any way to arrest the person’s slide towards complete self-destruction. Here’s how you can succeed at helping someone with addiction.
As much as you might want to help someone with addiction, there are some things you just can’t do for them. You can’t make them quit. As much as you might want to, you can’t make them decide to stop using drugs. You can do an intervention and you can do all in your power to make them spend time in a rehab center, but you can’t make them quit. Where possible, you can have them involuntarily committed to a rehab center, but unless they want to change they’ll simply start using again when they are released. Ultimately, they have to choose to stop using drugs. You just can’t choose for them.
If the addict does choose to quit using, you can’t do the work for them. If they slip or relapse, you can’t make them try again. Repeatedly talking to them about the risky behaviors they are engaged in won’t necessarily make them more careful about staying away from drugs. You can support their recovery, but they’re the one who has to make it happen on a daily basis.
You can’t let them act in ways that violate your own boundaries. If you have made it clear, for instance, that you will not allow them to bring drugs into your home, you can let them do so anyway for fear of driving them away from you. If they know that they can’t bring drug-using friends into your home, then don’t let them in. They may try to give you a guilt trip in order to let them violate your boundaries, you can’t let it happen. Once they learn that you don’t mean what you say, all bets are off. Even if holding on to your boundaries makes them choose to go live on the street, you have to hold fast. Reaffirm your love for them and explain to them that these boundaries are for their own good. If they still choose to violate your boundaries, you have to hold fast to the consequences you have already made clear to them.
When will you know if helping someone with addiction is needed? The most obvious warning signs of addiction are things you will notice about their body. You may see these signs if you simply keep an eye on your loved one:
Some behavioral signs might also be easily noticed if you are paying attention:
These psychological signs may be harder to notice, but are also very important:
Nobody really wants to believe that a loved one is abusing drugs, so it’s not uncommon for them to explain away or rationalize the symptoms described above. As painful as it may be, acknowledge that someone you love is suffering from addiction.
When somebody you love is hurting, it’s easy to think only about their needs. An important part of helping someone with addiction is knowing how to take care of yourself, too. First, there are some things you need to do for yourself. Learn about addiction. What are the signs that a love one is abusing drugs? What kinds of treatment are most effective? What are the triggers that may lead your loved one to relapse? If your loved one does go into treatment, participate as much as you can and learn from the experts about the problem of drug addiction. Respect and care for yourself. You can’t allow your loved one’s behavior to destroy your own physical health and peace of mind. Show your loved one by example what a healthy lifestyle looks like. Participate in a self-help group with other people who are dealing with a loved one’s addiction so that you can support and encourage one another. Don’t be afraid to talk with your loved one about addiction. They might not agree with you, but at least they’ll know you’re trying to understand.
While you cannot force somebody into recovery, there are things you can do when helping someone with addiction:
Sometimes, helping someone with addiction involves what you don’t say as much as what you do say. There are some things you should avoid when talking to a loved one about addiction:
When you want to help someone with addiction, you may think the battle is won when they go into treatment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way. Recovery is a long journey, one which is sometimes never completed in this lifetime. The recovering addict will need your help in the long-term.
One of the risks of helping someone with addiction is the risk of enabling them. Because friends and family members care about the addict, they may be tempted to help them in ways that are not truly beneficial to the addict. Most addicts learn to be very skilled at conning people. They will use guilt, make empty promises, and do whatever they need to do to get the drug they crave. They will even steal from you or your friends. They will also break your heart.
Don’t enable their drug-using behavior by giving them money, justifying their behavior, covering up for them, or taking care of their responsibilities for them. If their behavior brings them into contact with the law or they end up in jail, don’t try to fix things for them. Don’t give them power over you by making insincere promises for later if you give them the help they need right now.
Seeing a loved one suffering from addiction is painful, even miserable. Keep in mind, however, that there are ways you can help both before the person decides to make the journey of recovery and afterwards. While you cannot fix the problem for them, you can be a great source of strength and support. Remember to take care of yourself, too, and don’t make the mistake of enabling their addiction. As hard as it may be to see someone suffer from addiction, it can also be painful to see them struggle with recovery. If you are careful, you can truly help someone with addiction.
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