Watching someone you care about struggle with a drug or alcohol addiction can be devastating, and place significant stress on both your own wellbeing and your relationship with your loved one.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are millions of people across the United States that struggle with some form of substance abuse. Even greater is the number of parents, siblings, partners, and close friends who bear witness to these struggles.
Figuring out how to act or what to say to someone you care who’s struggling with a drug or alcohol problem can be confusing. One common observation within families of people who have an addiction is a pattern of enabling – which can impede efforts to get a person into treatment.
What Does Enabling Mean?
Enabling refers to any type of behavior that directly or indirectly helps a person continue abusing drugs. Most often, the people responsible for enabling someone’s addiction are those closest to them, such as family members, close friends, and romantic partners.
Examples of enabling behaviors include:
- providing financial support for someone who is not seeking treatment
- making excuses for their substance abuse
- ignoring or minimizing the severity of their problem
- using drugs with them
- giving your loved one money to buy drugs or alcohol
- hiding their substance abuse from others
- and more
These behaviors can often come from a place of love, but may ultimately do more harm than good, especially if they involve sacrificing your own needs or putting yourself in harm’s way.
One of the most helpful things you can do to get your loved one into treatment is to recognize how you may be enabling their addiction and to stop. By doing this, you can shift your focus from supporting your loved one’s addiction to supporting them in their journey towards recovery.
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1. Set Boundaries
If you live with or spend a lot of time around someone addicted to drugs or alcohol, it is important to be able to set boundaries. Setting these boundaries can allow you to prioritize your own wellbeing and convey the message that you are not willing to enable your loved one’s harmful habits.
Examples of boundaries you can choose to set include:
- telling your loved one they are not allowed to use drugs in the home
- refusing to give them money for drugs or alcohol
- not giving them money to compensate for job loss due to their substance abuse
- not allowing them to bring others who abuse drugs into the home
Setting boundaries is different from giving ultimatums, which can sometimes be necessary but also be perceived as more threatening. Setting boundaries with people in your life is normal and can be part of any healthy relationship. However, relationships that involve enabling harmful habits and require that you sacrifice your own resources are not healthy.
2. Recognize Whether Or Not Your Relationship Has Become Codependent
Codependency is a dynamic in which a person feels that the love and security they get out of a relationship – be it romantic, platonic, or familial – is dependent upon taking care of someone, regardless of the personal cost. This type of relationship is common among people with addiction and often goes hand-in-hand with enabling behaviors.
Codependent relationships occur most often in people who are closest to the person with a drug or alcohol problem, such as children, parents, or spouses.
Signs of codependency include:
- feeling like you have little or no room in your life for anything outside of taking care of your loved one
- spending little time taking care of yourself and your own needs
- failing to set or enforce boundaries
- neglecting other relationships in your life
- being overly concerned about what your loved one is doing throughout the day
- feeling very hurt or troubled by any reaction or displease or disappointment from them
- remaining completely loyal to them without them returning the favor
If you believe you may be in a codependent relationship with someone abusing drugs or alcohol, it is important for both your own wellbeing and their health to re-examine your relationship. Working through codependency is something that can be accomplished through family or couples counseling, which is a common offering in addiction rehab programs.
3. Don’t Accept Or Make Excuses For Their Substance Abuse
Many family members and loved ones of someone with addiction eventually find themselves in a place where they have to lie or hide their loved one’s substance abuse from others. This is something people can often do under the guise of protecting their loved ones from legal, personal, or other consequences.
Although you may wish to protect this person from further harm, accepting their excuses for abusing drugs and alcohol or making excuses for it yourself gives them the opportunity to continue engaging in these behaviors.
Covering up your loved one’s substance abuse – whether that means calling in sick for them at work or supporting them financially – further normalizes their addiction. Resisting these actions can help both you and your loved one face the reality of their addiction and its many harms.
4. Plan A Time To Have An Honest Conversation
At times, it can often feel easier or more safe to skirt around a drug or alcohol problem rather than confront that of a loved one directly. However, taking the time to have an honest and direct conversation with someone about their problem can be important – not only to express your own concerns but also to show that you are aware of the issue and that you care.
By avoiding the issue, you also allow them to avoid the reality of their addiction, and how the impact of their problem hurts more than just themselves.
Finding the right time and place to have this conversation can be important. You want to find a private setting that can feel safe to you and to your loved one. This can allow for a more open and honest discussion without the chance for disruption or distraction.
Tips for having a productive conversation with a drug or alcohol-addicted loved one:
- find a time when they are sober to talk to them about their substance use
- resist the urge to become angry or debate with them about the extent of their problem
- convey to them that you’re coming from a place of support and compassion
- ask open-ended questions to allow them to give a more in-depth explanation of how they view their drug or alcohol habits
5. Get Support From Others
Addiction is not just an individual issue, but one that can affect everyone around a person that is struggling. This can extend to friends, coworkers, family members, or others who know your loved one enough to recognize that they are struggling with some kind of problem.
Just as someone who is living with addiction cannot be expected to recover on their own, neither should one person close to them feel pressured to care for this person alone. Opening up a line of communication between yourself and others can offer relief and provide an opportunity for garnering support and guidance.
Having the support of others close to your loved one can be beneficial for your own self-care during this time, and also play an integral role in helping them get into treatment. This may include active efforts such as organizing a group intervention. Group interventions can be an effective method for convincing someone both how much they are loved and how much their addiction has affected the people around them.
Find Treatment For Substance Abuse And Addiction
Examining your own role in how you may be influencing your loved one’s decision to seek treatment can be an important step towards getting them the help they need to overcome their problem.
In this early stage, the most effective form of treatment for drug or alcohol abuse is an inpatient or residential rehab program. This can provide the level of support and structure often required for people to overcome the physical and mental aspects of addiction and help them start on their road towards recovery.
At Vertava Health, we understand how addiction can become both a personal and a family issue – with family being anyone who supports the person, financially or otherwise. Within our treatment programs, loved ones have the opportunity to become active participants in their loved one’s treatment process by participating in family therapy and being a part of aftercare planning.
To learn more about addiction and how to get someone into rehab for drug or alcohol abuse, contact one of our treatment specialists at Vertava Health today.