How To Support Someone Struggling with Addiction
Although I have written many posts on my own experience with addiction, I realized that I haven’t written many on how to support someone else who may be suffering. Through messages on both this blog and my Instagram account, I’ve realized that my own story not only helps those who are personally going through a tough time, but also those who don’t know what to do when someone close to them has a problem.
So in light of September being National Recovery Month, I want to offer some insight on the best ways to help someone else dealing with addiction.
First of all, before I offer these tips, I understand what you’re going through. Although I was the one with the addiction problem, I have also made many friends throughout my recovery process who returned to drugs. I understand the frustration and the hurt in watching someone you care about destroy their life. It never gets easier. You are well within your rights to feel anger, disappointment, frustration, hurt, and a myriad of other emotions when you know someone with an addiction problem. You may ask yourself why you should have to do this extra work when you’re not the one with the problem. Your anger may make you feel compelled to issue ultimatums. It can feel unfair and I get it. If you find yourself in this situation, I’m truly sorry and I hope that these tips help.
The best thing to do is to educate yourself about the disease of addiction. It’s hard to understand why someone would continue to travel down this path if you haven’t been there. It’s much easier to pass judgement and tell someone to “just stop” because you don’t have an addiction problem.
There are many factors that contribute to addiction and while they are confusing enough for the addict, those on the outside may be even less understanding. Check out the following sources to learn more about addiction and what he or she may be going through:
- Center on Addiction — What Is Addiction?
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
Enabling comes in many forms, but some of the most common are providing money, lying for the addict, and providing shelter. The longer that an addict can evade facing consequences for his or her actions, the longer it will take for them to get help.
If the person suffering from addiction is a family member or loved one, this can be incredibly hard. It’s difficult to deny help to someone you care about, but without consequences that person will simply continue their pattern of behavior.
Creating boundaries is one way to help prevent enabling behavior. Figure out what those boundaries look like in your life, whether it’s not loaning money to limiting any kind of contact. While it’s important to support the addict, it’s more important to protect yourself and your sanity.
Supporting and enabling an addict are two separate things. You can let them know that you support them and care about them without doing things to further their addiction. If you are still in contact with them, make sure that you let them know you continue to support them so that they don’t feel alone. For me, this was important in my own recovery. I always knew that people were there for me even when I wasn’t ready to stop. It helped me feel better when I WAS ready.
For some, tough love works, but most of the time it alienates someone suffering from addiction. It pushes them further away and that stress may cause them to cope by using more (still not your fault). Remember that you can not make someone stop using or drinking. An addict must make the decision themselves and can’t be forced. This is sometimes the hardest part to understand when trying to help someone you care about.
Understand relapse is common
Although some addicts can get help and stop, relapse is a very common part of recovery. It doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t want to get better or that they have failed. When an addict tries to stop and relapses, there is a tremendous amount of guilt and shame associated with it. Because guilt and shame are already such huge motivators for the continued cycle of use and abuse, admonishing them for relapse will only make things worse. It’s understandable that you may feel let down or upset, but those feelings need to be brought to your support network and not put on the addict.
Some people stop and stay stopped and some people relapse repeatedly before finding recovery. Understand this so that you know it doesn’t necessarily mean they will never get better.
Get help for yourself
This step is crucial. We can get so wrapped up in the drama and destruction of someone in addiction that we start to lose sight of ourselves. We worry, we stress, and we may even become obsessed with that person’s behavior.
The following groups are made up of people in the same situation as you and can help immensely with strategies to cope, including how to do many of the above steps like setting boundaries and not enabling.
Although it can feel embarrassing to attend meetings when you’re not the person with the problem, remember that everyone there is in the same situation and it’s incredibly helpful to have a support network of people who know exactly what you’re going through. Remember that addiction is a disease and you shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to know someone suffering from it. Please please please get help for yourself. It makes such a difference.