How to Support an Addicted Loved One
Addiction is a crisis on a national level. Odds are that you have a loved one who needs addiction treatment. But finding ways to help your loved one get the treatment they need isn’t easy. They may feel like they don’t have a problem, or that they don’t want to stop. The addict may be afraid of stopping and uses excuses like they’ll lose their job or home if they seek treatment. How do we, as family and friends, help our loved ones get the treatment they need? It starts with understanding addiction as a mental illness, becoming aware of our actions, treating our loved ones with compassion, and finding help for ourselves to heal.
Addiction isn’t a character defect or a moral failing. It’s a mental and physical illness. When a person becomes addicted, the neural pathways in the brain change. It rewires itself, and the body adjusts to relying on the substance to feel “normal.” The addict no longer has control over the substance. They experience a compulsion and mental obsession to use regardless of consequences.
Along with the physical and mental changes that happen with addiction, your loved one is also dealing with a lot of emotional issues around their substance abuse. Addicts start using because they are covering up feelings and emotions they don’t want to deal with. Many have a trauma they have experienced. When they come down, those feelings bubble up again, and they need to use to make them go away. Their substance of choice has become their coping mechanism for life. They’re afraid of giving it up because it’s the only thing that has ever worked for them. They experience incredible shame and self-loathing with their using.
Co-Dependency & Enabling
We can’t get our loved ones sober or into addiction treatment, but there are things that we can do ourselves to help. Many people who love addicts engage in codependency and enabling behaviors. They take responsibility for the addict’s actions. They ignore their own needs and focus on their loved ones. Family members may focus on “fixing” the other person and not have boundaries. These habits and behaviors keep our loved one sick.
You can stop enabling your loved one. Allow the addict to take responsibility for their actions. If they get arrested, don’t bail them out. If they run up a debt, don’t pay it off for them. These actions enable the addict to continue with their substance abuse. You should set boundaries that you feel comfortable with. For example, don’t participate in situations where your family member is using. Set an example by not indulging in recreational drugs or alcohol yourself, otherwise, they may see you as a hypocrite.
While some of these suggestions may sound harsh, it’s important to use them with love. The most important thing when dealing with a loved one who needs addiction treatment is to treat them with compassion. People who suffer from addiction often feel like no one cares about them. They’re full of self-loathing and believe they’re worthless. Instead of reinforcing the shame they already feel, try non-confrontational and supportive techniques. Recognize that your loved one is suffering and listen to them so that they feel heard. If they don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay – tell them that you’re there for them and will listen when they’re ready.
You want to validate any feelings or emotions they have and make sure that they know you care about them and will be there to comfort them. If you come to the addict with anger, you’re reinforcing what they already feel about themselves. Instead, let them know that you’re there for them, that you love them, and that you recognize that they’re suffering. Offer help and resources for addiction treatment. Be there for them when they’re ready.
Take care of yourself
As family and friends of an addict, it’s no surprise that addiction is actually a family disease and that you too will need treatment to recover. You need to deal with your feelings and emotions in healthy ways, otherwise trying to treat your loved one with compassion isn’t going to work. You need to take care of yourself, recognize your own emotions and needs, and meet them. You may not think that you are helping your loved one seek addiction treatment by taking care of yourself. But, if your world centers around the addict in your life and you put your feelings and needs first, you create healthy boundaries. Seek the help of a therapist or support group like AL-ANON. Learn how to detach with love and compassion. Learn how to take care of yourself and your family.
Loving an addict can take a lot out of you. But you need to remember that you didn’t cause the disease of addiction, and you can’t cure it or control it. What you can control is your actions, reactions, and the way that you interact with your loved one. Communicate with them lovingly and compassionately, and let them know that you’re there for them – that you see them, you hear them, and you love them. And hold onto the hope that they will seek the addiction treatment they need.