Addiction is so powerful that it often seems to change a person into someone completely different. At times, you may feel as if you don’t recognize them at all anymore.
Perhaps the only thing as painful and agonizing as going through addiction yourself is watching a loved one struggle with substance abuse. It can be heartbreaking to watch the person you love spiral out of control. This is especially true when you don’t know what to do or how to help.
This article will help educate you on the many resources available to assist family members and friends of those who are struggling with addiction. Above all else, education, patience, and a bit of understanding will take you a long way when helping someone through this battle.
You can click on any of the links below to help you quickly get to the section you are most interested in:
- Understanding addiction
- How to support your loved one through addiction
- How to have a successful intervention
- What to do if your loved one won’t seek treatment
- Caring for yourself through a loved one’s addiction
- Support groups for family members
For people who have never struggled with addiction, it is nearly impossible to understand what it is like from the inside. To gain some insight into what it is like to be addicted, there are several things that are important for you to understand.
Addiction is a disease. Just like diabetes or Alzheimer’s, addiction is a disease that cannot be wished away. When an addict uses a drug, it is not necessarily because they want to. In fact, once they become addicted, they no longer have a choice. Their body and mind have been taken over, and the drug is now in control.
Addiction does not discriminate. Addiction affects people of all ages, classes, races, and genders. It does not care where you live, how much money you make, or where you went to school. Even the most successful and highly educated professionals fall victim to the grip of addiction.
Many people suffer from co-occurring disorders. Nearly 8 million Americans have a dual-diagnosis. This means that in addition to the addiction they are battling, they are also suffering from a mental illness such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD. The presence of a co-occurring disorder may mean that a different treatment approach is necessary; a customized treatment plan that addresses both the addiction and mental illness is more beneficial than either would be alone.
Withdrawal symptoms can be painful or even deadly. For many people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, trying to quit cold turkey can not only be extremely painful, it can also be dangerous to their physical health. Depending on the severity and length of the addiction, the individual may need to undergo medically supervised detox to remain as safe and comfortable as possible throughout the process.
Treatment options vary. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Every addiction is as unique as the person who is addicted, and the treatment methods should be as well. The most successful treatment program will customize the recovery plan around each individual and their needs. There are many treatment types available today; methods that work wonders for some people may not be as effective for others. Carefully monitoring progress throughout the treatment process and re-evaluating when necessary is a crucial component for a successful recovery.
Recovery is a lifelong process. Even after getting clean and successfully completing a treatment program, a person who struggles with substance abuse will fight the addiction throughout their entire lifetime. It is something that will consistently present itself in their lives, forcing them to make the difficult decision to stay sober. Because of this, relapse is something that happens to many people. It should not be looked at as failure; instead, it can best be viewed as simply a misstep in the overall journey towards sobriety.
How to support your loved one through addiction
Most people don’t have any formal training in addiction recovery methods, and that is why it is important to bring professionals in on the process. However, family members and friends are still able to help the person with the addiction.
When someone you love is battling addiction, there are some helpful tips that you can use. There are also some situations that you should avoid in order to be as supportive as possible. Some of the best ways to provide support are actions that you might do automatically, but there are also some natural tendencies that can often do more harm than good.
Things you should do:
- Respect their privacy and willingness to be open with you
- Try to build trust
- Be honest about how you feel
- Learn about addiction and their substance of choice
- Keep your own health and well-being in mind
- Have realistic expectations so that you won’t be discouraged or feel disappointed
- Find support for yourself, either through therapy sessions or support meetings
Things you should not do:
- Get angry or approach the person when you are emotional
- Enable them (often through well-meaning attempts)
- Make ultimatums
- Allow yourself to be abused or taken advantage of
- Expect immediate change
- Assume that once they get treatment, everything will be okay
- Make threats or criticize
How to have a successful intervention
An intervention is one option that many people attempt to get their loved one to enter treatment. However, this technique must be handled with care to have even a chance at success. Many interventions cause more harm than good, and a professional must be included to avoid making the situation even worse.
Once you decide to hold an intervention, the first step is contacting an intervention specialist. They will determine whether an intervention is appropriate in your situation. They will also be able to ensure that the intervention is as successful as possible. After all, this is a very sensitive situation that must be navigated extremely carefully to avoid disastrous consequences.
When planning an intervention, keep in mind that it is possible that your loved one does not yet realize that they have a problem. They may even be in complete denial about having an addiction. If this is the case, they may react in a manner that you aren’t expecting. Be prepared for a range of reactions and emotions. Your loved one may feel angry, hurt, or betrayed.
The purpose of having an intervention is very specific:
- To confront your loved one about their addiction alongside other people who care about them.
- To provide specific examples of how their choices, behavior, and destructive habits have negatively impacted the people around them.
- Provide options for treatment or a plan for moving forward.
- Clearly define the consequences that will happen if treatment is refused.
There are several steps that should be carefully considered and completed in advance to help achieve these intervention goals. First, you should begin making a list of the people you want to help with the intervention. This list may include other family members and friends, a counselor, a doctor, or a leader from your church. The people involved in the intervention should all be on good terms with the individual you plan to address. Anyone who is actively struggling with an addiction should not attend. If your loved one has a history of mental illness, violence, or has attempted to commit suicide in the past, it is crucial that you consult with a professional before staging the intervention.
It is also important for the people involved in the intervention to emotionally prepare for the possibility that the loved one is not ready to seek help. They may also feel angry, scared, upset at being confronted by a group of people, or betrayed by their family and friends. They may feel lonely or as if they have nowhere to turn after their closest friends and family members unite to encourage starting treatment.
Gather your group to practice the intervention ahead of time. Once you have all gathered, you should discuss how the addiction has negatively impacted each of you. This is a good time to discuss different choices for treatment and prepare several options for how the individual can proceed. You should also discuss what you are all prepared to do if the individual refuses to seek help; this should be a careful balance of supportive yet firm consequences. Finally, schedule the day and time of when the intervention will occur.
On the day of the intervention, make sure the individual is invited without knowledge of what is going on. Once they arrive, make sure that everyone present has the opportunity to speak and share what they need to say. Once everyone has shared, discuss treatment plans and options.
Finally, if the individual decides to seek treatment, be sure to support them through every step of the journey towards their new life. This includes being available and present for any family therapy groups or other participation that may be requested.
What to do if your loved one won’t seek treatment
If the individual decides not to seek treatment, be prepared to follow through with your ultimatums. This may be difficult for many of the people participating in the intervention, but it is a necessary part of the process.
Often loved ones (kids, spouses, family, and friends) are subjected to violence, threats, and emotional and physical abuse at the hands of the individual who is struggling with addiction. While we cannot change their behavior, we can protect ourselves and leave if they refuse to get help.
Do not be discouraged if you do not see immediate results following your intervention. Even if the process initially fails, you can still make many changes in your own life that will affect them. Most importantly, regardless of whether or not they choose to enter treatment right away, avoid enabling them to continue their negative behaviors and always encourage positive choices that they can make in their life.
Caring for yourself through a loved one’s addiction
Having your life turned upside down because of a friend’s or family members’ addiction can be frustrating and exhausting. Whether they realize it or not, when a person has become addicted to a substance, it eventually begins to affect every single person around them in one way or another. It is important to remember to make time to care for yourself when dealing with a situation like this. Here are some tips to keep in mind to help care for yourself:
- Make sure you are emotionally and mentally supported. This may mean that you need to see a therapist for a period of time to focus on your own mental health. Therapists can be amazing sources of support and strength during these difficult times.
- Always make sure to keep your health in mind. Losing sleep over another person’s addiction, being stressed out, worrying, and excessive anxiety – these all lead to adverse effects on your health. You may notice that you are not eating properly or getting enough exercise. Make sure you are continually checking in with yourself and how you feel throughout the process.
- Set boundaries that are healthy, reasonable, and fair. It is okay to say no. It is okay to protect your own interests and personal life when trying to help another person.
- Get educated about their disease and how you can help. The more you are able to understand what the person is experiencing, the better the chances of you being able to help them make the right choice to get help.
- Accept the fact that you cannot control them or their actions. The decisions that they make are completely out of your control. While this can be very frustrating and perhaps one of the most difficult parts in all of this, remember that there is still one person that you do have control over – You. You cannot make the right decisions for them, but you can control your own life and choose the path that is healthy and right for you.
Support groups for family members
The recovery process can be difficult and extremely delicate, but it is worth it if we see someone we love struggling with addiction. Many support groups exist in every region of the United States and around the world to help family members going through the same thing you are. These groups can provide not only education and information to help guide you through the process, but can also offer amazing support networks with others who understand what you are going through.
This is a worldwide support group for family members and friends of those who are addicted to alcohol.
This is a division of Al-Anon that is specifically designed for adolescent family members of alcoholics.
Families Anonymous is a group for relatives and friends concerned about the use of drugs or related behavioral problems.
Grief Recovery After Substance Passing (GRASP) is a support group for people who have lost a loved one due to substance abuse.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides a wide range of support options for loved ones of people suffering from symptoms of a mental health condition.
Similar to Al-Anon, this worldwide fellowship helps family members and loved ones of those who are addicted to drugs.
Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL) is a Christian based group of parents helping other parents learn how to cope with an addicted child that allows for both educational and peer sharing opportunities.
This group is an alternative to Al-Anon that focuses more on science-based and non-confrontational methods of helping your loved one.