Supporting a Loved One with Addiction: The Do’s and Don’ts

Supporting someone living with an addiction can be challenging.  While it is not always easy to help the individual struggling with drug or alcohol use, studies have shown that your support will increase their chances at having success in treatment and recovery1.   If you’re worried that your loved one has developed a problem, there are ways to support them without enabling their addiction or compromising your well-being.  Here are a few of the do’s and don’ts for helping a loved on struggling with addiction:

Do: Have Compassion

Communicating your concerns about your loved ones use is often the first step in helping them address the issue. These conversations are sometimes uncomfortable, but they are necessary. To help keep the lines of communication open, remember that your loved one is struggling with an illness that deserves compassion and understanding. Remaining understanding may also help to build trust, which is crucial to on-going communication.

Don’t: Criticize, Shame, or Threaten 

The chaos of living with someone through their addiction can cause us to hyper-focus on the undesirable behaviors associated with addiction. In these times it is important to remember that addiction is not a character flaw and our loved one is not to blame for their disease.  There may be multiple external factors contributing to their continued use and piling on any additional criticisms, blame, or guilt may lessen their belief that they are capable and deserving of recovery. Additionally, threats may damage communication, causing your loved one to pull away.

Do: Get Educated

Substances Use Disorders are complex.  Understanding what substances use disorders are, how they develop, and what treatment options are available will have a huge benefit for you and your loved one.  The more information you have, the better you will understand what your loved one is going through and will be better able to support them.

Don’t: Expect Immediate Change

Making long-term changes is difficult for anyone. For someone struggling with a substance use disorder, making the decision to give up their substance of choice can be especially daunting. Shame, denial, and fear are factors that can keep your loved one from entering treatment or recovery.  The decision to enter recovery is ultimately their choice and may not happen on your timeline.

Also, recovery from a substance use disorder is an on-going process and there is no quick fix.  There may be difficulties along the way, so it is important to keep your expectations realistic.  There are multiple treatment options available, but no one treatment approach will be right for everyone2.  Therefore, multiple treatment attempts may be necessary before your loved one finds their ideal treatment. 

Do: Take Care of Yourself

The impact of addiction on family members and loved ones is often severe.  Addiction can create stress and chaos within relationships, family systems, and beyond.  That is why it is so important to seek help for yourself while you’re supporting your loved one.  Entering counseling or therapy is often recommended for loved ones of addicts and alcoholics so they can access additional support and break free from unhealthy coping strategies3.   Along with counseling, engaging in activities that are not centered on the individual with a substance use disorder can help you to maintain a balanced lifestyle.

Final Thoughts

Supporting a loved one with addiction can be challenging.  While you can’t force your loved one to change, you can encourage them to get help, offer resources, and support them when they choose to enter recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, Greenbriar Treatment Center is here to help.  Our dedicated staff is available 24/7 to discuss treatment options.

Sources

  1. Polcin DL, Korcha R. Social support influences on substance abuse outcomes among sober living house residents with low and moderate psychiatric severity. J Alcohol Drug Educ. 2017;61(1):51-70.
  2. NIDA. 2020, September 18. Principles of Effective Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment on 2021, October 27
  3. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2004. Report No.: (SMA) 04-3957. PMID: 22514845.