When a family member is struggling with addiction, it can be difficult to know how to best support them. Is it better to confront the issue immediately or to back off and wait until they are ready to change? Is it possible to help someone who doesn’t want to stop using?
Empathy and compassion can be very beneficial to a person struggling with addiction, as reported by Psychology Today, by giving 5 specific gifts to the person abusing substances:
1. We show that we see the person and recognize their suffering. People with substance abuse problems were often victims of childhood neglect and abuse and may have felt invisible in their own families, so this is especially important for them.
2. We show that we hear our loved one. This is another need that often went unmet for those with substance abuse issues who had negative childhood experiences.
3. We affirm their right to express pain, sadness, fear, anger, or any other emotion. We aren’t denying, minimizing, ignoring, or otherwise invalidating their experiences.
4. We show that we care about them as a human being and that we care about their suffering.
5. We offer comfort and soothing in some way. It costs nothing to give a hug, offer kind words, or just provide our physical presence.
Accepting Our Own Emotions
It is understandable if watching someone you care about making unsafe, unhealthy choices causes feelings of anger, disappointment, fear, or sadness. When you love someone, you want them to be happy and have good things happen for them and that isn’t generally what life looks like for a person in active addiction. Understanding why people who are addicted cannot simply stop using might make it easier to cope with unpleasant feelings around their substance abuse.
It may be helpful to your loved one if you express your feelings in a straightforward way, without labeling them as a person. For example:
- “When I know you’ve been using, I worry about you. I am afraid you could overdose and die.”
- “I don’t feel like I can trust you in my home anymore when you are using because some of my jewelry went missing the last time you were here. I want to see you, but you cannot come to my house until we are able to rebuild trust.”
Don’t Wait for Rock Bottom
The best time to get help for someone who is struggling with substance abuse is right now. Waiting for them to hit rock bottom can be lethal, as this may not be something that happens before a fatal overdose.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
While it can be tempting to distance oneself from a person who is abusing substances, addiction actually thrives on isolation. The more connected a person is to loving, supportive people, the better their odds are of recovering.
Learn About Treatment Options
Even if the person who is engaging in substance abuse is not ready to enter treatment, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids recommends learning more about how treatment works. Every treatment program is different from the next, so knowing what to look for can help to identify the right treatment program for your loved one.
Straight from the Horse’s Mouth
SMART Recovery is one available recovery program for people who have struggled with addiction. They offer several additional recommendations, based on experience as people in recovery, for how to deal with someone who is still in active addiction. These include:
- Guard against the “holier-than-thou” or martyr-like attitude.
- Don’t use the “if you loved me,” appeal, as this will only increase feelings of guilt and self-loathing, which are counterproductive to recovery.
- Avoid any threats you aren’t ready to back up. Idle threats only make it seem like you won’t follow through on things you say.
- Don’t hide or dispose of substances. In the end, they will just find another way to get more, but they will be sneakier.
- Don’t use/drink with them, as that is seen as condoning the behavior and can cause the person in addiction to delay getting help.
- Let them choose their own road to recovery.
- Change takes time. Expect hiccups along the way.
- Don’t do things for the person that they can do for themselves.
- Do offer love, support, and understanding in the recovery.
When a person enters treatment at Valley Recovery Center in California, our team works with them and their support system to ensure that they have the best chance for a successful recovery from substance abuse.