Addiction to drugs or alcohol often starts with recreational use that becomes more and more frequent until users don’t want to be without their drug of choice. Watching a loved one sink into addiction is a painful process, and the emotions that accompany the journey can feel like a roller coaster ride.
A loved one’s addiction is not something you can fix, but it’s important that you have the resources you need to cope.
Take Care of Yourself First
When someone you love is struggling with addiction, it’s not always easy to know what to do to help. One of the most important responses may feel counterintuitive… take care of yourself. You won’t have the physical or emotional energy to assist your loved one if your tank is running on empty.
“‘Put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.’ You won’t be able to help your partner if you can’t help yourself. Try to maintain your own self-care routines as much as possible. This will build resiliency.” – John F. Kelly Ph.D., ABPP in Psychology Today
Because self-care is about improving your overall well-being, it includes physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual care. Here are some examples of each:
Physical – Exercising, eating healthy, and getting adequate sleep
Emotional – Letting yourself be free to laugh, cry, and express your emotions in healthy ways
Psychological – Spending time in self-reflection through journaling, meditating, and participating in counseling
Spiritual – Connecting with what’s most meaningful for you through going to a place of worship, reading
inspirational materials, or giving to your favorite cause
Set Healthy Boundaries
American Addiction Centers points out that because addictions affect everyone in a user’s immediate circle, codependency often becomes a factor in those relationships:
“If your loved one displays the symptoms of a substance use disorder, your relationship is likely affected by their substance misuse in multiple ways, including emotionally, physically, and financially. You may even find yourself interacting with them in a manner that is called codependency. Codependency is a pattern of interactions where you try to help the person manage their struggles with addiction, but in doing so, you also enable the person to keep using.”
A healthy response to codependency is boundary setting — while particularly difficult for those in codependent relationships, it’s also especially important for them.
Setting boundaries is simply communicating what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. When healthy boundaries are set, individuals in the relationship have to take responsibility for their own behaviors. When the situation is a loved one’s addiction and you establish boundaries, you no longer enable their addiction.
Here are Psychology Today’s examples of boundaries you may need to set when your loved one is struggling with addiction:
- Alcohol and drugs not allowed in the house
- Friends who use alcohol or drugs not allowed in the house
- Loved one not allowed in the house when under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Communication not allowed when the user is under the influence
- Borrowing resources (such as cars, phones, and money) not allowed at any time
When someone you love is in a desperate situation, the drive to help is intense. And while taking care of yourself first and setting boundaries are actually very healthy and helpful responses, they can feel harsh because of how deeply you care about your loved one.
So what can you do that feels more supportive?
American Addiction Centers suggests the following:
- Learn all you can about your loved one’s addiction.
- Commit to continuing to love and encourage them.
- Recognize that your loved one needs help and is unable to quit on their own.
- Offer to go with your loved one to the doctor for evaluation and treatment.
- Help research the best treatment centers.
- Stay patient.
- Keep the faith…there’s always hope.
Remembering that there’s always hope is so important when you’re coping with a loved one’s addiction. It can be hard to see them suffer and to feel helpless in the face of their struggle.
However, it’s important to remember while addiction can involve a long and difficult road to recovery, you can take the positive steps we’ve already mentioned to take care of yourself and then you can help your loved one get the support and treatment needed.
Encourage Your Loved One To Get Help
“The main thing is to listen, stick to the facts, show a caring attitude and offer your assistance and support.” – Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation
We’ve already mentioned that you can’t fix your loved one’s addiction. You also cannot force someone who doesn’t want help to seek it out. But you can encourage them to reach out for help by sharing your concerns in an honest and caring way.
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation offers guidelines for talking to someone you love about their addiction:
- Prepare for the conversation – Sometimes it’s helpful to write down your main points so you cover them all. It also helps to keep your emotions in check if you’ve already thought through the most important things you want to say.
- Approach the conversation in a supportive way – You’re communicating because you care. Let your loved one know that, and use a gentle, caring tone to say you’re concerned about what you’re seeing.
- Encourage your loved one to think about their impact on others. While they may not mind the impact their addiction has on their own life and work, someone who’s struggling with addiction may feel concerned if they understand how their addiction is affecting their children, spouse, or closest friends. Encourage them to notice how their closest relationships are being impacted.
- Follow the rules for good communication. Talk about your own experience in “I” statements… “I’ve noticed that when this happens…” or “I’ve felt uncomfortable when…” Also be as specific as possible. Generalizations are hard to grasp, but when you can give specific examples, your loved one is more likely to pay attention.
Make Use of Resources Designed for You
Coping with a loved one’s addiction is an arduous journey full of ups and downs. You don’t have to take the journey alone. Support groups that can help include:
- Families Anonymous
- Codependents Anonymous
- Parents of Addicted Loved Ones
- Adult Children of Alcoholics
You may also reach out to Best Day’s professional counselors who are trained to walk with you when you’re coping with a loved one’s addiction.