Knowing someone who has an addiction is not uncommon, but knowing the best way to help a loved one with an addiction can be confusing and even scary. When someone has an addiction, it can affect every aspect of their lives as well as the lives of their loved ones. You will inevitably be concerned about your loved one, and it can be difficult to know what to do and what not to do, but it’s important to remember that Recovery is a solution.
The Dos and Don’ts of Helping a Loved One With an Addiction
Once you’ve noticed the signs of addiction in your loved one — like an Alcohol Addiction or an Opioid Addiction, for example — you’ll need to know how to talk to and treat them in a way that is positive and helpful. There are several ways to do this, some easy to practice and others that require a little more effort and understanding on your part. Here are a few dos and don’ts for helping a loved one deal with addiction:
Do: Have Compassion
Addiction is a disease. Normally, we wouldn’t fault someone with a physical disease, like diabetes or cancer — instead, we would likely be compassionate and willing to help them survive their illness. Addiction deserves the same compassion and understanding. Recognize that addiction isn’t a character flaw or a choice, but rather a disease
It’s also crucial to understand there may be external factors that encourage an addiction, like stress or mental illness. Addiction is often a coping mechanism for stress, providing temporary relief. The fleetingness of the relief may contribute to repeatedly seeking out potentially destructive habits that develop over time into an Alcohol or Opioid Addiction.
When you’re learning how to help an alcoholic family member or a loved one with any other type of addiction, being compassionate is also a great way to help build trust, which is crucial for successful, long-lasting Recovery.
Don’t: Shame or Criticize
Human nature sometimes forces us to shift the blame because it’s easier to understand a problem if we know its source. But the cause of addictions isn’t so black and white, so there’s never really just one thing to blame. Most importantly, the person with the addiction is not at fault for the disease.
Avoid implying or outright stating that your loved one is to blame for their addiction. Shaming or criticizing a family member who is struggling with an Alcohol Addiction or an Opioid Addiction is often counterproductive to their Recovery. While tough love may have a small part in helping an alcoholic spouse, this is not the place for it.
Part of practicing compassion for your loved one involves understanding that shaming your loved one may do them more harm than good. Instead, talk with positivity and encouragement, offering the idea of a future of successful long-term Recovery. Provide verbal and physical encouragement rather than lectures or nagging.
Do: Expect Difficulties
Rehabilitation can be difficult — for you or your loved one. There are many reasons a person may be reluctant to seek treatment, including:
- Shame: They may feel like they will be looked down on or endanger their jobs and relationships by admitting to having an addiction.
- Stigma: Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma around diseases of the brain, like addiction and various mental illnesses, and your loved one may be unable or unwilling to expose themselves to it.
- Denial: Someone with an addiction may not be willing or able to admit that they have an addiction at all, let alone consider treatment.
There is also the risk of relapse, which can become a cloud of dread over you and your loved one. While it’s always a possibility, it’s hardly helpful to focus on it. Instead, focus on building positivity and encouragement.
Don’t: Expect Immediate Change
How do you help an alcoholic? One of the best ways is to be realistic in your expectations. Long-term Recovery is not a quick fix. It’s an ongoing process for your loved one that takes time, effort and continued support from professionals and family alike. Some treatments may work for some time and then need to be changed.
If one treatment doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean all treatments will fail. It just means you’ll have to find the specific one that will work for your loved one.
Do: Educate Yourself
Knowledge is power, and educating yourself on addiction and treatment is a benefit when learning how to help someone with an addiction. If you’re wondering how to help an alcoholic son, research alcoholism. Learn about the symptoms of an Alcohol Addiction as well as the treatments available. Educate yourself on the specific type of Recovery that your son is in, so you can better understand what he is going through and what sort of help he is receiving.
It’s also useful to learn about addiction in general, finding out the answers to questions like:
- What is addiction?
- How does addiction occur?
- Why do some people become addicted?
- How is addiction treated? What are the different treatment options?
- What is a holistic therapy, and how does it work?
The more you know, the better you’ll understand what is going on and be able to better help your loved on.
Don’t: Enable Your Loved One
There can be a fine line between helping someone with an addiction and enabling them. Sometimes when we think we’re protecting a loved one from the consequences of their addiction, we are actually enabling them to continue with potentially destructive behavior.
For example, if you’re trying to figure out how to help an alcoholic, keeping them from drinking and driving is helpful, since that could put them and others in danger. However, consistently offering to drive them home whenever they get too intoxicated is enabling their actions, because it’s setting up a formula in which you are constantly available to rescue them.
Studies show that people with addictions are more likely to proactively seek treatment when they are forced to face the consequences of their actions. So, if you want to know how to help someone with an addiction, allow them to make mistakes without the promise of your rescue.
It’s important to set up boundaries and rules, both for your well-being and the well-being of your loved one — and it’s important to enforce those rules and boundaries. This is the only part of Recovery in which tough love is beneficial, since it’s done for both you and your loved one’s protection.
Do: Seek Counseling or Therapy
Addiction affects everyone, from the person in treatment to their loved ones. It’s important to ensure you’re well enough to manage the potential stress of helping someone dealing with addiction. Acknowledging that you may be in over your head and in need of professional help is normal and healthy. It’s also necessary for you to help your loved one to the best of your abilities.
Don’t: Give in to Manipulation
When a person with an addiction is unwilling to seek treatment, they will resort to whatever they need to do to continue feeding their addiction. This may include lying or trying to guilt the people who care for them. It’s important to establish boundaries and learn how to say no. It may be very difficult to not react negatively or to stick to your established rules, but it’s necessary for everyone involved.
Do: Take Care of Yourself
Indulging in self-care is not selfish, especially when you’re helping someone dealing with addiction. You cannot let the addiction of your loved one derail your own life. Continue with healthy activities, like hobbies and social outings, and take care to look after yourself. Therapy or counseling is part of that process, but indulging in activities that aren’t centered around your loved one is necessary. Determine what it is that you need to keep yourself well and indulge in it.
Don’t: Violate Their Privacy
In taking care of yourself and attending therapy, you may be tempted to vent about your loved one with an addiction. While you should be as honest about your feelings as possible when getting therapy, it’s important to respect their privacy. This is especially relevant when discussing someone with addiction with friends or family.
Make sure the person is okay being talked about and having their struggles discussed. If you attend counseling with your loved one, make sure you don’t reveal what was said in session to others. If your loved one attends therapy or counseling on their own and don’t want to discuss what they talked about in session, respect that and don’t push them for details.
What to Expect When Your Family Member Enters Treatment
Part of learning how to help an alcoholic loved one is knowing what treatments are available. Another part you may not have considered is what you can expect once they begin treatment. You may end up experiencing the gamut of emotions, all of which are normal, such as:
- Relief: You may be glad your loved one is finally getting treatment and comforted to know that your loved one is physically in a safe space.
- Anxiety: You may worry about the well-being of your loved one and whether they’re getting the help they need.
- Anger: You may feel resentment that your loved one seemingly burdened you with their disease.
- Sadness: Feeling bad for your loved one and their struggles is a sign of empathy and compassion. Sadness doesn’t necessarily mean pity, either.
- Shame: You may feel either shame stemming from the guilt that you couldn’t save your loved one or embarrassment at having to explain that your loved one is in Recovery.
When your loved one enters treatment, it’s the perfect time for you to focus more on yourself and your healing. Reach out to support groups of people who are in the same situation as you. If you find yourself blaming your loved one for their addiction and its impact on your life, speak to a therapist to work through those feelings healthily.
Eventually, you will be asked to become involved in your loved one’s Recovery. Family involvement in rehabilitation has proven to be incredibly beneficial for both the patient as well as the family.
How You Can Help Someone Who Is in Recovery
Family involvement is just one of the ways in which you can help your loved one when they’re in treatment. It allows counselors and doctors to get a better understanding of the patient as well as their behavioral patterns and habits. Other ways in which you can help your loved one include:
- Getting involved: Attend family therapy and express your feelings. This will allow them to get a better idea of how their addiction affects everyone around them. It’s also a great way to show that you support your loved one’s Recovery because you are willing to invest the time and effort to help them heal.
- Communicating with them: Once the blackout period is lifted, you will likely be allowed some contact with your loved ones. Communication can be very difficult, and a seemingly safe conversation can spiral into a heated argument. Find a mode of communication that works for both of you, be it phone calls, emails or in-person visits. Use it as an opportunity to verbalize your support.
- Offering support: Saying you’re there for your loved one is one thing, but support goes beyond that. Talk positively about the future and of your loved one’s progress. Let them know they’re not alone.
- Trusting but being mindful: It’s important to maintain trust throughout the Recovery process, but it’s also important to remember not to fall into old habits. Show your loved one that you trust them, but be aware of old behaviors that may be problematic or harmful.
How 7 Summit Pathways Can Help You
Our experienced clinical staff and physicians use this method to provide personalized treatment plans that are based on the latest research. Whether it’s an Alcohol Addiction or a Drug Addiction, our evidence-based treatments are designed to help patients transition from treatment to living a life free of addiction because we are what works.
Contact us for a free phone consultation at 800-719-8115.