When a loved one is struggling with addiction, our first instinct is to help them in any way we can. However, helping an addicted person can be tricky when our supportive behaviors often end up enabling our loved one’s addiction and developing into a codependent relationship.
While behaviors, like bailing a loved one out of jail or giving them money, may come from a place of love, you could be loving an addicted person to death. With so much at risk, how can you help a friend or family member struggling with substance abuse without perpetuating their addiction?
How To Help An Addicted Person
Before you start helping an addicted person, consider some of the following strategies.
Educate Yourself On Addiction
Knowledge is power- you can’t help a loved one fight a disease that you don’t understand. Learn about the signs of addiction, treatment options, recovery process and common relapse triggers. Once you have a better idea of how the disease of addiction works, you’ll begin to understand how best to help the addicted person in your life.
It’s also a smart idea to seek out stories of people who have overcome their addiction successfully. While it’s not a formal education, their stories will give you an inside look at an addicted person’s mind. Those who have struggled with addiction in the past and are living in recovery today can tell you what to expect from an addicted loved one, and teach you how to manage these expectations against the harsh realities of a disease like addiction.
If your loved one goes to treatment, participate in the family programs that they offer and encourage others close to your addicted loved one to educate themselves, too. When there are more supportive and educated people involved in an addicted person’s life, their chances of long-term success is greater.
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Talk About Addiction
There is a stigma attached to addiction that makes people unwilling and ashamed to talk about it. However, refusing to talk about addiction is not the best way to help an addicted person.
Addiction is a disease that thrives in isolation. When you don’t talk about addiction, the hold that it has over your addicted loved one will only grow stronger. Talking about addiction can be a monumental first step in regaining some sense of power over addiction- even if the conversation is short or tense.
An addicted person may be reluctant to talk about addiction. They may become defensive, yell or lie to you during your conversation. However, if you are willing to look past this, starting an open dialogue is the best chance to be there for an addicted person when they need you most.
Seek Professional Help For Addiction
Addiction is not a choice, but a disease. Just like any other disease, it needs to be treated by a team of professionals trained to help those struggling with addiction.
Reach out to an interventionist or a treatment specialist. As professionals, they will be able to show you how to get a loved one into treatment, restore balance to the family and support someone throughout the recovery process. They’ll also be able to suggest treatment programs that would be a good fit your addicted family member.
Those trained to treat addiction aren’t just there to help the family, but also their addicted loved one. For example, a trained interventionist will help an addicted person take responsibility for their actions and seek treatment in order to better their life and the life of their loved one.
Arming yourself and your family with the help and knowledge of a trained professional will dramatically increase the chances of getting the addicted person in your life into rehab.
Don’t Give Money To An Addicted Person
Your addicted loved one will beg and plead with you for money. They’ll tell you that it’s for food, gas, rent, or anything but drugs and alcohol- but it’s not. While you may want to believe that your friend or family member is using your borrowed cash for the right reasons, the reality is much more painful. The money you give an addicted person is being spent on drugs or alcohol.
Addiction needs an enabling system to survive. When you give cash to an addicted person, you are perpetuating their destructive behavior. While your actions may be coming from the right place, enabling will do more harm than good.
Instead of handing over money, consider that there are other ways you could use your cash to help an addicted person, including buying them a hot meal or contributing money towards a treatment program. Both of these suggestions exemplify the love you have for an addicted person without encouraging their drug or alcohol problem.
Set Strict Boundaries (And Consequences) With An Addicted Person
When you set boundaries with an addicted person, it puts you back in control of the situation. However, setting boundaries is only the beginning. More importantly, you must attach firm consequences to your boundaries.
For example, tell your addicted loved one that if they end up in jail due to their drug or alcohol use, you won’t bail them out. If they can’t pay their cell phone bill, you’re not going to be paying it for them. If they’re not sober, you won’t allow them in the house.
If they cross any of the boundaries that you set out for them, don’t brush it under the rug. While this might be the more comfortable thing to do, it’s not going to help an addicted person in the long run. Instead, enforce your consequences strongly, even if your addicted loved one begs you to do otherwise.
When an addicted person is forced to suffer the consequences of their own actions, they’ll begin to recognize how far the side effects of their addiction reach and consider entering treatment.
Build Your Own Addiction Support System
Helping an addicted person will require a seemingly endless supply of patience and emotional strength. Without these things, many people fall into enabling behaviors because they’re easier to maintain and require less energy than standing up to a loved one struggling with addiction.
With so much stress stemming from addiction, it’s critical that you find a network of support. Support can come from anyone, but it can be especially therapeutic to speak with others who are going through the same experience. Seek out your local Al-Anon or Nar-Anon chapters to start connecting with other people who are facing similar challenges with an addicted loved one.
While helping an addicted person always comes from a place of love and support, certain behaviors can do more harm than good. Instead of giving money or paying their rent, take an addicted loved out to dinner, talk to them about their disease, and ask them if they’re ready for treatment- one day they might say yes.
Learning to help a loved one struggling with addiction without enabling their life-threatening behavior can be tricky; but if you’re committed to getting them the help that they need, understanding the difference between the two is essential.