What to Do if You Think a Loved One is Struggling with Addiction
Being a close friend or family member of someone suffering from substance addiction is a challenging position to be in, whether their addiction is to illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol. Navigating such relationships can be mentally exhausting, financially draining, and leave you full of emotions such as guilt, fear, shame, stress, and anxiety. You may feel lost and confused, struggling to know what you can do or how to help.
Before you can figure out the best way to deal with an addicted loved one, there are a few basic misconceptions to clear up about addiction.
What Addiction Is
There are ongoing debates around what causes addiction and addictive behavior. Is it genetic? Are people predisposed? Why does one person's trauma drive them to become addicts, while someone else with similar trauma seems able to cope?
Research is continuously evolving, so try not to get too bogged down with these answers. Hopefully, your loved one will simply accept the support you are offering while therapists and other professionals can help them address these underlying questions.
Whatever the root, mental health can play a significant role in addiction. Of people struggling with addiction, 60% of them also have a co-occurring mental health issue. People with anxiety, mood, and personality disorders are more likely to seek out drugs and alcohol to self-medicate to make them "feel better" without using prescribed medication. Over time, they become dependent on the substances and are left battling both their mental illness and addiction.
Addiction is often a coping mechanism. Whether the behavior begins consciously or unconsciously, addictive behavior can seem to start innocently enough. For example, certain substances can offer a tempting way for someone to deal with their anxiety and gain a sense of confidence. To cite a well-known example, the phrase "liquid courage" describes using alcohol to overcome fear and deal with social situations. For some, this never progresses beyond the occasional indulgence. But for others, they can become dependent on the substances, turning it into a full-blown addiction.
What Addiction Is Not
Despite what some people may think, addiction is not a choice. It's not something that someone can conquer by sheer willpower. Most likely, if they could stop on their own, they would have done so by now.
Another common misconception is that addicts enjoy their addictions. However, more often than not, the addicted person is frustrated by their own behavior.
Addiction Support Do's and Don'ts
While every individual and situation is unique, a few general rules can help guide your approach as you reach out to a loved one grappling with addiction.
- Establish trust. Your loved one needs to know that your concerns come from a genuine place of caring.
- Respect their privacy. It can be tempting to start hovering and monitoring your loved one's actions, but that may drive them to hide dangerous behaviors further.
- Be open and honest about how their behavior is affecting you and what your bottom lines are. Some addicts don't immediately recognize that their actions are impacting the people around them.
- Be patient. Your loved one may want to get clean and live a different life, but it takes time to change behavior.
- Threaten them. Most people, even those who are not addicts, do not respond well to threats.
- Criticize or place blame. This is more hurtful than helpful and can make your loved one defensive and less receptive to change.
- Expect immediate change. Even if your loved one is desperate for help and wants to change their behavior, addiction is powerful. More often than not, the journey to recovery will include obstacles and relapses. That doesn't mean that all is lost and everything has been a waste of time. Offering your ongoing patience and support can help keep your loved one motivated to heal.
- Forget to get help for yourself as well. Friends and families of addicts also need help dealing with ways the addictive behavior has affected their well-being. Going to an Al-Anon meeting or seeing your own therapist can help you understand your role in the situation and understand how to care for yourself, even if the addict in your life isn't able to break free of their addiction.
How to Communicate Concern to an Addicted Loved One
- Be Kind — Many addicts are driven to abuse substances to bury traumatic memories or deal with depression and other clinical conditions. As such, they will likely respond better to a caring approach. Treat others how you want to be treated. Kindness and compassion go a long way.
- Listen — Listening without interrupting is essential. Try to let the addicted person speak their piece. Everyone wants to feel heard. With formal interventions, it is standard for everyone to write and read a letter, letting the addict know how their behavior has affected them, as their loved one. The addict is encouraged to listen, knowing they will get their chance to respond and engage. Listen to their response with attentiveness; you've had an opportunity to speak, and so should they. However, interventions don't always go as planned, so be prepared if the addicted person interrupts or shuts down during the letter reading.
- Show Unconditional Love — This doesn't mean allowing the addict to do whatever they want without consequences. However, it's important to show that even if you disagree with their behavior, you still love them as a person and have their best interests at heart.
- Set Boundaries — You must let the addict know that their behavior affects everyone, not just themselves. For you to be able to live your own life, the addict must understand what you will and won't put up with when it comes to their behavior and actions. Once you set boundaries, stick to them. Some addicts are excellent manipulators and will try to test your limits. Don't make empty threats.
- Help Them Find the Help They Need — Even if an addict is ready and willing to change their behavior, moving forward without a plan in place can be detrimental to the process. For example, if you are going the intervention route, telling the addict that you have already done the leg work and secured a bed for them at a rehab facility may help them follow through with getting the help they need.
Who to Contact for Help
You've determined that your loved one has an addiction issue, but you don't know what to do next. You can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). They offer a confidential and free treatment referral and information service available 24/7, 365 days a year.
There are also intervention services available. You can search online to see which ones operate in your area. Just make sure that they are licensed and specifically trained to deal with addicts and addiction. An intervention can go sideways quickly, so you want to make sure your interventionist is prepared to handle all possible scenarios.
How Countrywide Testing Can Help
Countrywide Testing is an online store that provides companies, facilities, and individuals with drug tests, pregnancy and ovulation tests, and pharmacogenetic testing. Our lab is SAMHSA accredited, ensuring that your test results have met the highest possible standards.
Our test kits are affordable, ship quickly, and are convenient, meaning you can use them in the privacy of your own home. If you suspect a loved one is struggling with addiction or needs to be monitored in their recovery process, we have the right test for you.
Visit our website or contact us by phone at (619) 292-8734, and we will assist you in figuring out what drug test(s) will be the most effective for your situation.
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