5 Ways to Support a Loved One With an Addiction

5 Ways to Support a Loved One With an Addiction

Substance use disorders are complex and pervasive conditions. Those who suffer from addiction tend to alienate themselves when it matters most, pushing family members and other loved ones away at the time when they require strong support. As addicts lose hope for their own future, it can be easy for their loved ones to do the same. 

But research shows that strong relationships and community can be a huge help for struggling addicts, and might even correlate to a higher likelihood of them attending treatment.

So how do we show up for our loved ones when they can no longer show up for themselves? The answer to this question is not always simple, but there are certain things that we can do to be advocates, rather than enablers, for those who suffer from addiction.

Understanding Substance Abuse and Addiction

One of the most common reasons why loved ones end up hindering, rather than supporting, an addict’s recovery is that they do not understand addiction. People begin using drugs and alcohol for a variety of reasons—from mere curiosity to peer pressure, to underlying mental health concerns. 

Understanding addiction means understanding more than just the substance abuse itself. As a loved one, you have an opportunity to be close enough to the addict to know what the underlying causes of their drug and/or alcohol abuse might be.

Furthermore, you likely know the affected person well enough that you can spot signs of their substance abuse that others cannot see. This puts you in a position to potentially be of great service to your loved one.

Signs of Abuse

Familiarizing yourself with some common symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse is a good first step towards supporting someone close to you. It is not always the case that an addict will tell you they are using; on the contrary, there is a high probability that they will actively hide their substance abuse from you. Look for these common signs that often point towards drug and/or alcohol abuse, keeping in mind that different substances will result in different symptoms and behaviors:

  • Frequent dishonesty.
  • Sudden changes in activities and hobbies, usually including a loss of interest in old hobbies.
  • Not showing up for work or school, performing poorly in these areas, and potentially dropping out or losing a job.
  • Hypersensitivity, aggression, resentment, and other unusual negative social behavior.
  • Forgetfulness and trouble paying attention.
  • Overall lack in motivation and energy.
  • Paranoia
  • Secrecy, unusual need for privacy, and suspicious behavior.
  • Changes in social groups.
  • Money issues, often including stealing and/or an unexplained lack of money.
  • Lack of personal hygiene.
  • Changes in sleep patterns; sleeping too much or too little.
  • Trouble completing basic daily tasks such as cooking and cleaning up after oneself.

In addition to these common behavioral changes associated with substance abuse, many people show physical signs of their drug and alcohol use. These signs vary depending on the substance(s) being abused, but if you notice major physical changes in a loved one and already have a reason to suspect they have an issue, your suspicion may be warranted.

Use these signs as a guide to get you started and help you clear up any confusion about whether a loved one has a problem. Then, refer to the tips below to learn how you can become an ally and a positive influence for someone with an addiction.

1. Educate Yourself

One of the best things you can do for a loved one with an addiction is to educate yourself on the matter. Without this step, you may miss your loved one’s issue altogether. But even once you are aware of the problem and your loved one knows that you know, educating yourself is critical. 

Addiction is complex and there are many common misconceptions about the way it works. Understanding the subtleties and difficult truths about these conditions is critical when it comes to being able to support a loved one through their substance use disorder. Family members and friends alike should take the time to learn about what it is that they are taking on before trying to offer help to their loved one.

2. Establish Trust

Trust is the foundation of a truly supportive relationship. Without trust, it is unlikely that you will be able to convince your loved one to change their behavior or seek help for their problem. Most addicts have a natural tendency to isolate themselves from people close to them, so ensuring that they know you are on their side is critical.

Of course, trust goes both ways, and it is likely that if you are close to someone who has an addiction, then they have already betrayed yours. In these cases, trust and forgiveness go hand-in-hand. An addict is far more likely to trust and confide in you if they feel that you are not holding resentment towards them or blaming them for their substance abuse.

3. Hold Them Accountable

While forgiveness and trust are paramount, addicts often still need to know that their actions matter, and that they affect others. The trick is to establish this understanding without undermining the trust that you have already developed. How do you hold an addicted loved one accountable for their actions, without blaming them or criticizing them too harshly when they come up short?

There is not a clear-cut answer to this question, but finding this balance is an important part of maintaining a relationship with someone who suffers from an addiction. Holding loved ones accountable can be as simple as helping them take care of themselves in basic ways. These could include helping them to keep up on personal hygiene, eat proper meals, and get some exercise. 

In the scenario that your loved one is already receiving some sort of outpatient treatment for their substance use, you can hold them accountable by checking in on them and ensuring they attend their meetings, appointments, and sessions. If you are available for it, you could even provide transportation to and from these treatment sessions.

4. Get Support for Yourself

An old saying goes ‘you can’t help others until you help yourself’. This is certainly the case when it comes to supporting loved ones with substance use disorders. Being close to someone with an addiction can be emotionally taxing and very exhausting. One of the best ways you can show up for your loved one is by showing up for yourself.

Make sure you are getting proper sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly. Additionally, you may want to seek formal support from individuals who have a loved one with a substance use disorder. There are forms of therapy, as well as group meetings, that are specifically designed for people in your position. Professionals and others in the same situation as yourself may have some important insight for how you can better support your loved one.

5. Stage an Intervention

Sometimes, staging an intervention and insisting that your loved one seeks addiction treatment is the right thing to do. It can be difficult to know how to help an addict, and sometimes all you can do is insist that they seek professional help somewhere else. Staging an intervention can be a good idea, but you should seek professional counsel when you do this.

Intervention specialists are great resources. They can help facilitate the process of staging an intervention and keep the communication going between you and your loved one throughout the process. Intervention specialists are trained to help addicts break their denial and learn to help themselves. 

You want to go about staging an intervention carefully. If done improperly, you risk pushing your loved one further away and contributing to their isolation. Always get a professional to assist you, and make sure to prioritize the trust between you and the individual you are trying to help. 

Written by Spring Hill Editorial Team

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This page does not provide medical advice.

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