Seeing someone you love struggle with addiction can make you feel powerless and unsure of the right thing to do but there are ways you can help an addicted loved one. Unfortunately, what we consider helpful can actually perpetuate the problem which is why it’s crucial to know the difference between being helpful and harmful. By following these 10 tips, you’ll have a better understanding of how you can help your addicted loved one and avoid making the situation worse.
How to Help An Addict
1. Know the difference between supporting and enabling: Wanting to help is a noble sentiment but there’s a fine line between supporting and enabling. A simple definition of enabling behavior is one that will keep the addiction going. This can be anything from lending money that you know they’ll use on alcohol or drugs, ignoring unacceptable behavior like lying and stealing, or trying to “solve” the problem thereby taking away any motivation for the addict to take responsibility for their own actions. If you’re not sure if you’re an enabler, this list of questions can help clarify for you.
2. Establish clear boundaries and stick with them – no matter how difficult it can be: Setting boundaries and sticking with them is challenging, especially when the addict starts to beg, manipulate, threaten, or whine. When you set a boundary, it must have a consequence and don’t feel guilty about enforcing it. When you enforce a boundary, say it calmly and explain why to the addict matter-of-factly. No shame, just honesty. Facing the consequences of their actions will make the addict lash out but it’s essential that you stick to your boundaries because keeping them from feeling the pain won’t help them. Remember, you can be compassionate while also being firm and consistent.
3. Keep open lines of communication (while maintaining set boundaries) and let them know that you still love and care for them: There’s this idea in our society that addicts must “hit rock bottom” before they’re ready, willing, and able to get treatment. Furthermore, family and friends should give “tough love” by cutting the addict from their lives so he can see the consequences of their choices. Isolating addicts, however, will only make them turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Instead, keep lines of communication open while maintaining your boundaries. When we’re able to openly talk about addiction, the more we can lift the shame, guilt, and grief that often stands in the way of being able to respond to an addict in a way that supports their healing, rather than their addiction.
4. Be mindful of passing judgment on an addict: Addiction is a chronic brain disease – not a choice or moral shortcoming. Unfortunately, the stigma of addiction can cause addicts to hide their use, to use alone or with dangerous people, or to put off seeking treatment. By letting go of negative stereotypes and educating ourselves about addiction, we’re able to create a more compassionate, supportive environment. With that said, addicts can still be held accountable for their actions (and eventually forced to deal with the consequences), but it’s important to remember that their brain isn’t in a healthy state when they have an active addiction.
5. Identify and work on any codependency that may exist: “Codependency” is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It’s also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive, and/or abusive. If you’re not sure if you’re codependent, this questionnaire and checklist are tools that can help you self-evaluate.
6. Don’t forget that you also need a support system: Addiction is a disease that affects the entire family so it’s important that everyone close to the addict works on themselves as well. We encourage family and friends to get involved with support groups including Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Families Anonymous, and even social media. Finding a supportive community gives you the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others who have faced similar problems and to remember that you’re not alone.
7.You can’t work harder than the addict for their recovery: Addicts have to be willing to put in the effort necessary to get better. If they don’t, there isn’t much you can do to help other than provide support and encouragement. Be their cheerleader and when they make positive changes, give them honest and specific praise – not only will they appreciate it but it can also help the healing process.
8.Understand that you can’t force anyone to quit using or prevent them from relapsing: Even involuntary treatment can’t make someone get sober. Knowing that you can’t control what another person does will help you concentrate more on healthier ways of helping the addict. What you can control though is you and the impact of addiction on your life. Applying control to an addict will only serve to create a temporary hurdle towards their next fix. Trying to control your addicted loved one is wasted energy and effort so you should save it for better uses.
9. Create a substance-free, compassionate environment and encourage healthy habits: Environmental conditions play a major role in treating addiction and in preventing relapses. Today, many experts recommend that partners and families become involved with the recovery process. Although you can’t change the addict, there are things you can change about yourself that will benefit the addict, your relationship, and greatly improve chances of recovery. The most significant and beneficial strategies involve becoming more compassionate toward the addict. You can do this by creating a loving, shame-free environment and encouraging healthy habits without condoning or supporting the behavior you don’t want.
10. Encourage them to seek professional help: While you can’t force the addict to get help, that doesn’t mean you should avoid all talk of treatment. By encouraging them to go to a therapist, treatment center, or 12-step meeting, you’re letting them know that you care about them and support their recovery. While there are many treatment options, we recommend finding a treatment center or program that incorporates family in the recovery process. Here at Rally Point Palm Beach, we strongly encourage close family participation throughout the entire process to provide additional support and comfort.
Loving an addict isn’t easy but it’s important to remember that you can’t help them if you don’t take care of yourself too. By setting and keeping boundaries, being compassionate to the addict and yourself, relinquishing control, and encouraging healthy habits, the addict will be more likely to get help than if you were enabling, shaming, or isolating them.