When a loved one is struggling with addiction, it is often difficult to know what to say or do to help them to regain control over their life. You may feel that nothing makes a difference anyway, as the person’s drug of choice may be changing them in ways that make them completely unrecognizable. However, what loved ones say and do does matter. Your love and support can help your friend or family member learn to embrace the possibilities of sober living.
5 Things to Do
- Strengthen the Bond – Many people who are in active addiction find that all of their genuine friends and family have given up on them by the time they are ready to enter recovery and they are left with only their dealer and using friends, which makes it harder to get and stay sober. This does not mean you should support your loved one’s decision to use; it just means loving them unconditionally and being ready to support them in making better choices.
- Set Boundaries – Make clear what it is you are willing to accept and support. A person in addiction may do things entirely out of character, such as lying, stealing, and becoming aggressive to get their drug of choice. There is no requirement that loved ones continue to tolerate abusive or exploitative behavior from someone with an addiction. Rules need to be clear. They need to be based on cause and effect. Reasoning behind the rules should be explained. An example might be, “If I arrive to pick you up for Christmas and you are high, you will not be welcome in my home. It is unhealthy for the children in the family to be exposed to you when you are high.”
- Recognize It’s Not Your Fault – Every addict is someone’s child, spouse, sibling, best friend, or parent. It’s not your fault that your loved one is suffering, however. The choice to use or not belongs to the person in addiction and so does the responsibility.
- Take Care of Yourself – Coping skills, therapy, proper nutrition, and adequate sleep are critical to staying healthy while supporting a loved one who is addicted. If a person’s supports become burned out, they are less likely to be helpful when they are most needed.
- Join Your Loved One in their Treatment – Recovery centers often provide family therapy, activities for families and friends, and support groups for loved ones. Take the opportunity become as educated as possible about addiction and what recovery means.
Psychology Today has more information on how loved ones can support a person struggling with substance abuse.
5 Things Not to Do
- Don’t Remain Silent – The less family and friends say about a person’s addiction, the easier it is for them to believe that no one has noticed, or worse, that no one cares. It’s critical to speak up and to provide concrete examples of changes that have occurred as a result of their drug abuse.
- Don’t Buy into Myths or Stigmas – There are many commonly held beliefs about addiction that simply aren’t true. It’s important to get educated to avoid inadvertently making recovery harder for people who are addicted.
- Don’t Give Up – It is not uncommon for people in addiction to relapse multiple times before they are able to get away from their substance long term. Relapse is painful and scary, but it is also often a learning experience. Helping a loved one get back into recovery is the best way to demonstrate love for them. Seeing hope reflected from family and friends can help the struggling person believe in their ability to get through their addiction.
- Don’t Forget to Consult the Person in Recovery – While a person struggling with addiction may have made some poor choices, it is still their life. They still want and need to make decisions for their future. It is only through practicing good decision making that they will become better at this important life skill.
- Don’t be Afraid to Get Outside Support – Virtual and in-person support groups for family and friends, such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, PALs (Parents of Addicted Loved Ones) and NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) are a great place to learn more from people who’ve been through addiction with loved ones.
How an Intervention Can Help
An intervention is a meeting to help a person struggling with addiction to see:
- They have a problem.
- Their choices are hurting people they love.
- They have a support system that will help them through their recovery journey.
- They need to enter treatment immediately.
Thanks to the popularity of television shows centering around interventions, many people have unrealistic ideas of what interventions entail. For example, it is often assumed that interventions must be facilitated by a professional interventionist.
Professional help is not always necessary, but there are some circumstances when it is strongly recommended that you bring an addiction professional into the meeting. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), an interventionist is most needed when the person receiving the intervention has a history of:
- Serious mental illness
- Suicidal tendencies
- Taking several mood-altering substances
If families and friends of people in addiction want to organize an intervention on their own, it is important to prepare for the meeting in advance to ensure that it will go smoothly. Everyone who will be part of the meeting should be someone who cares about the person who needs help.
No one should participate who has difficulty controlling their temper, is in active addiction, or is struggling with an untreated mental illness. The tone of the meeting should be supportive and loving, but realistic about the impact substance abuse is having on the person’s life and the lives of the people they love.
Safe Harbor Recovery Center is here to help people who are struggling with substance abuse, as well as their family and friends. Whether you’re planning an intervention, supporting someone currently in residential treatment, or helping a loved one re-entering treatment after a relapse, we are ready to assist your loved one in the next step of their journey.