Watching a family member, friend or loved one getting pulled under by drug addiction can be like watching a train wreck in slow-motion. As substances take control of a loved one’s physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, we feel powerless as we watch those we care about make the transformation to a person we don’t even recognize anymore. Once vibrant, full of life and full of love and spirit, the people we love turn into the walking wounded–their path guided by their drug addiction.
The Stinging Effects of Drug Addiction Can Run Deep
The effects of addiction on family members and friends of those addicted can run very deep, and when a loved one is struggling with addiction to the point where they are getting pulled under we want to do everything in our power to help. More often than not, we dive in with both feet and try anything and everything under the sun in order to help a family member or friend get back on their feet. While our intentions are good, the very things we are doing in trying to help an addicted loved one often turn out to hurt them–and the cycle of addiction grows deeper.
If you have a family member or other loved one who is struggling with drug and alcohol abuse and truly want to help them find light at the end of the tunnel, the approach you take must be systematic, empathetic and healthy to both you and your loved one. The following is a guide to helping addicted loved ones that will give those you love the best chance at breaking free from their addiction for good–and will help restore balance in your and your family’s life.
Your Guide To Helping an Addicted Loved One
Learn to Help Yourself First
We have often heard the old adage before you help others, you first must learn to help yourself. The premise behind this tried and true saying is simple; you must find the inner strength and learn to be strong and honest with yourself before you can be of any help to others–and especially the ones that you love the most. In order to build that inner strength, you need to seek the support and encouragement of others who are going through similar experiences. An excellent way to seek out this support is through mutual self-help support groups such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon or other similar organizations.
Groups like Al-Anon are based on the same philosophies that guide 12-Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and are specially geared toward family and friends of those who are struggling with substance abuse. Meetings are free to attend, and you are able to establish a strong sense of fellowship with others, and you will gain a sense of experience, strength and hope that you will learn in order to truly help your loved one.
Take Time To Learn About the Disease of Addiction
Once you have the support of others, you can then focus your energies on learning as much as you can about your loved one’s addiction. A crucial component in helping an addicted loved one is doing you due diligence in doing all the necessary research you need regarding the substances that are being abused and the physical, psychological and spiritual ramifications of abuse. A great place to begin your search in through recognized government websites such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) among others. In addition to these websites, you can also talk to your family doctor or physician or your local addiction professional, and they can give you the essential information and resources you need to better educate yourself regarding the complex disease of addiction.
Approach Your Loved One Appropriately
The toughest part in helping an addicted loved one is finding a way to approach them about their drug abuse. The subject of addiction is one that can be very volatile and can bring forth many visceral emotions in yourself and loved ones who struggle with substance abuse. While it may feel cathartic, approaching a loved one through threats and intimidation rarely if ever works. When you approach your loved one, you must find a time when they are sober and not under the influence of substances. Create an environment where they feel safe to share what they are feeling and take the time to truly listen to what they say. When you speak to them, be empathetic and offer your support in helping them finding the appropriate help.
Assess Their Willingness, Set Boundaries, And Don’t Give In To Enabling Behavior
No matter how solid your approach may be, the addict operates under heavy denial. You need to understand that your loved one will more than likely fight you tooth and nail at every turn and will find any way to rationalize their behavior. The back and forth this creates can be very exhausting and it can be very easy to throw in the towel. You must be patient, understanding but firm in bringing up your concerns. If they remain stuck in the quicksand of denial, you must set clear boundaries as far as to what degree you will help.
The obvious line you need to draw in regards to an addicted loved one is to not engage in enabling behavior. Addicts are master manipulators and will pull out all the stops in order to guilt, shame or find other ways to coerce you into giving them assistance. Among those boundaries that need to be crystal clear is that you won’t give them money to pay their bills and other obligations for them. You also need to make it clear that you will not cover for their behavior, and above all the addict will need to know they will feel the consequences of their behavior. While it may be extremely tough, allowing your loved one to experience the consequences of their actions may provide the spark they need to get serious about making substantive changes in their life.
If Needed, Organize An Intervention With The Help of a Professional
In the event that the measure you have instituted have not worked, it is highly advisable to pursue the option of an intervention. Through the help of experienced interventionist or other addiction professional, an intervention is a carefully planned process in which family, friends and other parties come together to confront the addict about their behavior in an environment which is safe and supportive. The intervention process allows family members to provide specific examples of how a loved one’s destructive behavior has impacted their lives and offers the addict a pre-arranged treatment plan with clear steps, goals and guidelines. The intervention also provides a set of consequences for the addict if they decide not to follow through with treatment.
Above All Else, Learn to Detach With Love
It is easy to get wrapped up in the drama that surrounds the addict. While you want to do everything that you can to help, you must ultimately realize there is only so much that you can do. Ultimately, it is up to the addict to make the change and it is not your job to change things for them. No matter where you are, you must learn to detach yourself from the addict and take care of yourself and your family. You must, for lack of a better term, put your needs and the needs of other family members and loved ones first. While it may not seem possible, you can fully love an addict without the chaos. When the addict is truly ready to make the change for the better, you can truly be their rock.