Pexels photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Watching addiction take control of a loved one’s life is heartbreaking. We can feel helpless as our family members or friend cannot see the destructive cycle they are caught in.
But from their perspective, things may seem very different. Substance abuse can make a person feel like they finally have control over difficult emotions, disruptive thoughts, fitting in with peers, lacking energy, and more. They may believe they can stop using the drug whenever they want.
Some studies have shown that tough love tactics, like kicking out the loved one from your home or otherwise cutting them off, may not be the best approach, favoring instead family involvement in addiction care.
Here are a few tips for helping a loved one with drug or alcohol addiction get the healthcare they need.
Sort Out Your Own Feelings First
The root word for compassion is compati, Latin for “to suffer with.” Anyone who has watched a loved one experience the ravages of addiction has suffered along with them. In fact, addiction is often referred to as a family disease because the effects on the family can be so strong.
This can make it especially important to sort out your own feelings first before talking with your loved one. Make sure you focus on their struggles, not your own, and you can approach them calmly, without anger or anxiety.
Remember that addiction is a mental health condition; like all mental illnesses, it comes with a strong stigma. Breaking down that stigma requires acknowledging that people experiencing substance abuse aren’t weak or lacking morals but need healthcare.
Express Your Care and Concern
Expressing your care and concern for your loved one’s situation right away can be key to establishing that you want what’s best for them.
This includes giving them a say in when to have the conversation rather than just calling them out of the blue or otherwise interrupting them to talk.
Even for friends or other people who aren’t involved with a child, theories of successful parenting can provide insight into how to approach sensitive topics successfully.
For example, unlike “closed system” parenting, where parents set the rules and there is no room for discussion, parenting styles that involve being sensitive to their children’s needs while setting reasonable boundaries work best.
So, for example, you could say something like, “I may not say it enough, but I love you, and I’m concerned about your health. I’d like to talk with you about it, just between you and me. It’ll only take a few minutes. Do you have time now, or would tomorrow be better?”
The next step in a conversation with a loved one about their mental health may be to admit that you are not an expert. This strategy can be especially helpful for young people, who may feel put off by their parents’ or other adults’ authoritative stance, confusing it with a sense of superiority.
However, you may have also noticed signs that the person is struggling with addiction, and it’s good to mention this.
Signs of substance abuse include:
- drastic changes in how your loved one acts around family and friends, or switching friend groups
- problems at work or school
- neglecting personal hygiene and other aspects related to their appearance
- issues with physical health include sudden weight loss or gain, red eyes, etc.
Be sure to use language like, “It seems like you’re struggling at work,” or “You just don’t seem like your usual self lately,” which doesn’t assume you know their experience. Focus on listening more than talking.
Connect Them with Care
Offer to help connect your loved one with a health professional who can assess the situation objectively and offer medical advice. Addiction specialists are available at drug and alcohol rehab centers, health clinics, and hospitals. Some drug and alcohol rehab centers offer assessments for free.
Look for accredited facilities that use evidence-based treatment approaches with licensed therapists and positive reviews. If your loved one has health insurance, determine if their plan is accepted. There are also free and low-cost addiction care options, such as state-funded facilities.
Lead by Example
Suppose your loved one isn’t ready to meet with a healthcare professional. In that case, the next step may be to let them know you will continue educating yourself about addiction by attending a psychoeducation course.
These courses can offer:
- information about what substance abuse is
- substance use prevention tips
- how to support a loved one with an addiction
- education on identifying signs of substance abuse
- how to approach a loved one about addiction
- relapse prevention and response strategies
Courses and information on addiction are available from local health agencies, family support groups, rehab centers, and advocacy organizations.
Organize an Intervention
As you educate yourself and connect with resources, it may be time to organize an intervention if your loved one is still struggling. Many people choose to work with an intervention specialist to ensure that they create a loving, successful experience.
Each person involved must support treatment for this family member or friend and be a trusted confidant. Seeing that they have the support of many people helps a person experiencing addiction feel cared for and consider their need for treatment.
Continue Offering Support
Your loved one still may not want to seek care right away. Continue to provide love and support without enabling behavior resulting from the addiction.
This may require setting boundaries and providing consequences. Make it clear that the boundaries support their health and well-being because you love them. As much as possible, try to remain calm even if the boundaries are broken.
Remember that addiction is a health condition, not a moral failing or character flaw. Recovery is possible, but it takes time, and people who have the support of their loved ones have better long-term success rates.
Rebecca Fischer is a writer and editor for Bedrock Recovery Center, an addiction treatment provider offering substance abuse and mental health care services in Canton, Massachusetts.