Helping a loved one with an addiction problem isn’t easy, nor is the decision to confront them. Although each situation is unique, there are some general guidelines that will help you approach this task. Whether their issue is drugs or alcohol, addiction treatment is a difficult process for both the addict and his or her loved ones.
Helping a loved one with an addiction problem is worth it
There are many reasons that helping a loved one with an addiction problem can be difficult:
- They night deny that they have a problem. They might acknowledge drug abuse but deny that it’s an addiction problem
- They may not be ready to change what they are doing.
- They may fear consequences such as a romantic relationship breaking up, loss of their job or even criminal charges.
- They may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing it with you.
- They may not believe in discussing personal issues with a professional.
- They may be engaging in the addiction as a way to avoid dealing with another more serious emotional problem.
Helping a loved one with an addiction problem assumes that that the addict will be able to summon the willpower and determination to conquer it. As such, unless they’re ready to commit to that, trying to persuade them to get help is often a battle.
Here are some steps that that are useful in helping a loved one with an addiction problem:
Step 1: Try to Establish Trust
This is hard to do if the addicted person has already betrayed your trust, but establishing mutual trust is important as a first step in helping them to consider changing their ways. There are some things you should avoid if you wish to establish and maintain trust:
- Nagging, criticizing and lecturing the addicted person – this is a surefire way to fail.
- Yelling, name calling and exaggerating (even when you are stressed out yourself) – also likely to cause a negative outcome.
- Engaging in addictive behaviors yourself, even in moderation (practice what you preach).
- Although you just want to help the addicted person, they may think you’re just trying to exert control over them, which can lead to them engaging in the addictive behavior even more.
- They probably use the addictive behavior at least partly as a way to control stress. If the atmosphere between you is stressful, they will want to do the addictive behavior more, not less.
- Building trust is a two-way process. Trust is not established by putting up with bad behavior. If you have no trust for your loved one and do not feel it can be established at the moment, you should read Step 2.
- People with addictions rarely change until there is some consequence to their behavior. Don’t try too hard to protect the addicted person from the consequences of their own actions (unless it is harmful to themselves or others, for example, drinking and driving).
- They may not have been able to tell you about their addiction even if they wanted to because they just didn’t have full trust in you.
Step 2: Take Care of Yourself
Being in a relationship with a person who has an addiction is often stressful. Accepting that you are going through stress and need help managing it is an important step in helping your loved one, as well as yourself. You will likely have a wide range of emotions throughout your loved one’s recovery process. Seeking family counseling or group therapy with support groups is a good idea.
Step 3: Open Lines of Communication
Although you may feel tempted to let your loved one know that their addiction is a problem and that they need to change, the decision to change is theirs. They are much more likely to be open to thinking about change if you communicate honestly but in a way that does not threaten your loved one.
Step 4: The Treatment Process
The treatment process will vary according to the kind of treatment your friend or relative is getting.
If you are involved in your loved one’s treatment:
- Remember to keep working on establishing trust. Re-read Step 1 before going to counseling with your loved one.
- Be honest about your feelings, what you want to happen, and what the addiction has been like for you.
- Do not blame, criticize or humiliate your loved one in counseling. Simply say what it has been like for you.
- Do not be surprised if your loved one says that things you are doing are contributing to their addiction. Try to listen with an open mind.
- If you want them to change, you will probably have to change too, even if you don’t have an addiction. If you show you are willing to try, your loved one will be more likely to try as well.
If your loved one has treatment alone:
- Respect their privacy in everyday life. Do not inform friends, family or others about your loved one’s addiction treatment.
- Respect their privacy in therapy. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push for them to tell you what happened.
Helping a loved one with an addiction problem isn’t about you – it’s about getting your loved one healthy and free from substances. When a person struggles with drug or alcohol abuse, they are likely to struggle with mental health issues and physical problems, both short-term and chronic issues.
They are also likely to cause suffering for their loved ones, including spouses, parents, children, friends, and other family.
For those who love someone who is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, it is important to know the signs of substance abuse problems and how to best help the person in need. In addition, it is important that family members and friends take care of themselves as well.