The problem with helping an addict is often how we go about doing it. What we actually should be doing may seem counter-intuitive to our thoughts and emotions at the time. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all to solution to helping an addict get the help they need, the following tips should provide a helpful outline for how to approach a loved one that struggles with drug and/or alcohol addiction.
It’s important to remember that this is not your loved one, but your loved one affected with a disease for which he or she has little control. They need help, and during this time those attempting to provide it often bear the brunt of the disease through verbal and physical abuse, manipulation, and lying.
It’s important to insulate yourself as much as possible by approaching cautiously, and remaining calm and in control of the situation. Resist the urge to argue, and resign to the notion that this person often has very little control over their life at this point. Remember, you can’t save this person, you are merely there to assist if they want help.
Addiction is a disease and those affected should be treated the same way you’d treat any other person with a disease. Trying to shame the addict into sobriety, or accuse them of wrongdoing often leads to anger and resentment. Instead, try to approach from a place of love and support. Remain firm, but understanding of their current condition, and the help they need in order to treat it.
You Can’t Do It For Them
After the initial confrontation, you’ll often find that addicts will do just about anything to keep on using. Lying, manipulating loved ones and stealing are all very common ways that addicts use problematic behavior in an attempt to feed their addiction. Remind yourself, this person has to want to be helped, and no amount of love, support, or anger is ever going to drive them to sobriety until they want to help themselves.
Instead of asking, “How can I help?” your job is to attempt to make them gain the understanding that you can provide support, but you can’t fix the issue. So, “How can I help you help yourself?” would be a much better way to phrase the question.
Create Clear Boundaries
Providing support is the first step, but you’ll find that many addicts aren’t really all that willing to change until something in their lives works as a tipping point to force action. This is one of the hardest times to support your loved one and it’s easy to feel helpless while you watch them continue down a dark path.
During this time, it’s important to establish clear boundaries. You have to ensure that the individual knows that you will not stand by and watch them destroy themselves. If they choose to use, they’ll have to do so without you in their lives, as you simply can’t bear the weight of that sort of helplessness.
Additionally, you can set boundaries for other things that affect you, such as: living arrangements (not allowing them to live in your home while using) and monetary support (I will no longer pay for your schooling/I won’t loan you money/Pay your car payment, etc.). Make it clear that you’re here to help if they should decide they want it, but you aren’t going to support them while they’re still using.
While the phrase “tough love” gets thrown around a lot, it’s actually quite indicative of how you must treat a loved one who also happens to be an addict. It’s easy to over-extend and do everything you can to help, but until you are sure that help is actually wanted, you may just be facilitating the problem.