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Proven Ways You Can Help an Addict Struggling with Substance Abuse

Syringe and sick male addict in background

By now, we’ve all heard the harrowing addiction statistics.

Nearly in 7 people will struggle with substance addiction in their lifetime, and upwards of 175 people die every day from drug-related overdoses. If you have a loved one struggling with addiction, you may feel scared, hopeless, and angry. You may not be sure how to be there for him or her- without losing yourself in the process. We’re here to show you how to help an addict in the best ways possible. Let’s get into it!

Educate Yourself on Addiction

One of the best ways to help someone struggling with addiction is to understand addiction.

Sadly, many of still stigmatize and misunderstand how this disease process works. This ignorance can hurt both you and your loved one. You’ll likely find yourself experiencing intense emotions- but you won’t necessarily know what to do with them.

Addiction Is Not a Choice

Loved ones can best understand addiction the same way medical professionals do: as a chronic medical disease. Just as you would expect diabetics to manage their condition for the rest of their life, you can expect the same for addicts.

Addiction is complicated and doesn’t have a single origin. With that said, chronic drug use can severely impact one’s neurobiology and impulse control. That means drug use can alter the way one’s brain processes information.

Furthermore, most drugs come with a physiological addiction component to them. That means that the body becomes more dependent (needing more of the substance to achieve the desired effect). It may also experience withdrawals (unpleasant side effects) when attempting to quit.

Most people struggling with addiction will adamantly tell you that if it were a choice, they’d choose to stop in a heartbeat.

Mental Illness Component

Over 8 million Americans struggle with co-occurring disorders. As you are educating yourself on addiction, it’s important to know that substance use is highly associated with other mental illnesses. Common psychiatric diagnoses include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Schizophrenia & other psychotic disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Attention Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder (ADHD)

Co-occurring disorders can be tricky. People may use mind-altering substances to self-medicate the unpleasant side effects associated with their mental illness. On the other hand, addiction can exacerbate mental health symptoms.

Relapse as Part of Recovery

There is a common notion in addiction treatment that relapse represents a part of recovery. This is important for loved ones to remember.

The road to recovery can be difficult and even heartbreaking. You may think your loved one is 100% motivated only to receive a frustrating phone call days later.

This goes back to the medical model of “disease.” Like with any other medical condition, lapses can occur. This doesn’t mean your loved one is necessarily doomed- it just means that his or her addiction is flaring and something is not working right.

With that said, relapse is not necessarily a part of everyone’s journey. It’s important to strike that balance between preparing for a worst-case scenario without completely anticipating it.

There Is No Cure

This one can be frustrating for loved ones. Addiction doesn’t have a singular cure. It’s something that often needs to be managed and taken care of for the rest of one’s life.

That doesn’t mean that one cannot live a fulfilling life in recovery. Millions of people live a happy, sober life. Those people will also likely tell you that it takes work and dedication to get to that point.

Maintain Your Boundaries

Standing your ground and maintaining healthy boundaries is essential if you love someone struggling with addiction.

Without boundaries, you risk enabling your loved one’s addiction, and you could actually be making the problem significantly worse. A lack of boundaries may have you feeling like you can “control” your loved one’s life. It may also lead to significant anger or resentment.

Everyone’s boundaries will look differently. Stating your boundaries, however, only cover half the issue. You actually need to enforce them for them to be effective.

Common boundaries include:

  • I will not tolerate drugs or alcohol in my home
  • If you are arrested, I will not bail you out or hire you an attorney
  • I will not give you any money
  • If asked, I will not lie or “cover’ your secrets to someone else for you
  • If you cannot make this event on time, you are not invited
  • I will not let you live in my home until you complete a treatment program

Boundaries depend on the severity of one’s addiction and your relationship with the individual.

If you’re struggling to set boundaries, it may be beneficial to join a support group like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon or seek out your own therapy. Such methods of support can help you identify your needs and strengthen your communication.

Support Treatment Efforts

If your loved one is ready to start working on his or her sobriety, you can definitely be an advocate for help and support.

There are numerous addiction treatment options available to those struggling with addictions, and they can range from inpatient detox options to community 12-Step meetings.

The best treatment varies person to person, addiction treatment should be personalized to meet need of every person. It’s important that you do not just rely on what your loved one thinks is best. Drug use can create a false sense of reality and delusion. Many addicts in early sobriety overestimate their own abilities to recover on their own without additional support.

With that said, your financial and emotional support can be what essentially saves your loved one’s life. Severe substance addiction often requires supervised withdrawal (detox). After that, most patients are recommended for an aftercare treatment (typically a residential or outpatient program).

Understand Treatment

As your loved one progresses through treatment, it’s crucial for you to build relationships with his or her medical team. Your loved one will be meeting regularly with a multidisciplinary team that may consist of:

  • drug counsellors
  • psychiatrists
  • medical doctors
  • therapists
  • social workers
  • personal trainers
  • dietitian

They will be able to provide you with the best recommendations and suggestions for your loved one’s recovery.

It’s also important to know this: people can feel uncomfortable and distressed while in treatment. They may tell you that they feel ready to come home. Or, they may beg, plead, or threaten you to pick them up or change their treatment center.

It’s important for you to check your own feelings and boundaries. If you’re always bending over backward for your loved one, you risk being manipulated and disappointed.

Understand Aftercare

Solid treatment programs will always recommend solid aftercare strategies. That’s because it’s important for clients to maintain a sense of structure while balancing the demands of the real world.

It’s rarely advised that people attend treatment and then just resume back to living the way they were living. In fact, this is usually a recipe for a relapse disaster.

Aftercare may consist of changing one’s living environment to live with other sober, like-minded people. It may consist of ongoing group, individual, or family therapy sessions. It may even entail routine support group meetings and staying connected with the greater sober community.

Take Care of Yourself

When you love someone struggling with an addiction, you may spend a great deal of time and energy helping him or her. You may financially deplete yourself in the process. You may even put yourself in physically or emotionally hazardous situations to “protect” your loved one.

No matter what is happening with your loved one, it’s essential that you take care of yourself in the meantime. After all, you can’t really help someone else if you aren’t helping yourself.

Physical Health

Make sure that you are eating a well-rounded diet and exercising regularly. Even though you may struggle with worrisome nights, don’t neglect your sleep! Your physical health gives you energy and strength- take care of your body.

Financial Health

Some families go bankrupt in supporting their loved one’s addiction. Don’t let that be you! If your loved one is stealing, taking, or continuously borrowing or asking for money, something has to change.

Spiritual Health

Many people find that connecting with their religion or spirituality decreases the anxiety and blame associated with addiction. Such connection can also provide a greater sense of clarity and purpose.

Interpersonal Health

If you’re spending all your time and energy focused on your loved one, you may be neglecting other people in the process. It’s very common for parents of a child struggling with addiction to exclusively pay attention to their child and neglect their marriage in the meantime.

Make time for other relationships. It’s good for you to connect with other people, and you may also be able to receive emotional support.

Reexamine the Relationship

This one can be hard for well-intentioned loved ones to hear, but it’s important: you choose the relationships you have in your life.

That means that you are not necessarily obligated to be any particular way around your loved one. If he or she does not show any willingness to change or attempt sobriety, you may need to make some difficult decisions about your dynamic.

When someone is heavily using drugs or alcohol, he or she may not be able to meet your needs in the relationship. If you’re finding yourself feeling increasingly tense or frustrated, you may need to reevaluate what you need.

A Note About Ultimatums and Interventions

Research shows that people can benefit from getting treatment even if they did not initially seek it out. However, staying in treatment will, at some point, require the patient’s willingness and desire to change.

Interventions can be powerful, but they can also be very emotionally-charged. Only you can decide if you are ready to stage that meeting with your loved one. Furthermore, only you can decide if you are ready to implement the consequences if your loved one decides not to change.

Ultimatums represent some of the most extreme forms of boundaries. They are not inherently good or bad, but they do require critical thinking.

After all, an ultimatum is only as serious as the consequences behind it. If you tell your loved one you’re going to leave if he or she drinks again and you don’t leave, you’re essentially sending the message that you, on some degree, still accept the behaviour.

Allow Yourself To Feel

Addiction can unfold in strange ways, and it’s important for you to be kind to yourself during this process.

You can and will experience a spectrum of emotions during this time. You’re allowed to feel them- loudly, intensely, and unexpectedly.

Don’t try and run or suppress those feelings. In doing so, you may turn to insidious, mind-altering escapes yourself. These can include:

  • Compulsive shopping
  • Emotional eating
  • Gambling
  • Promiscuity
  • Increased substance use (ironic, but it absolutely happens)

By modelling healthy coping mechanisms, you also show your loved one that you can handle distress and curveballs. You also learn how to better adapt to difficult situations with grace.

Most people struggling with addiction cannot successfully do this, so you may inadvertently become an inspiration!

Final Thoughts on How to Help an Addict

Loving someone who is struggling with addiction is undoubtedly challenging. Even though you may feel terrified, frazzled, or furious, know that you’re not alone.

Your loved one is suffering just as much as you are! Know that help and recovery is always available.

At Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres, we understand addiction’s complexity, and we’re here for you and your loved one every step of the way.

Check out our admissions process today.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

We offer residential and outpatient rehab treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

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