When you first realize your loved one may be addicted, you may fear losing someone very precious to you to this scary, confusing and overwhelming disease. Addiction is all of those things, and it’s also something that’s too big to face on your own. So the first thing you should know is that with treatment and help, recovery is possible.
It can be hard, though, to know where to start. What you’ll need to do first is formulate a plan that will set into motion the process of pulling your loved one out of a life of active addiction and closer to one of health, recovery and sobriety. It won’t be easy, as you likely already know. But information is a powerful tool and you should take comfort in the fact that you’ve already taken a giant step toward helping your loved one by caring enough to recognize an addiction and beginning the research you’ll need to be an effective helper and source of support.
- If you’re in a medical emergency, take action.
- Research treatment options.
- Call treatment centers.
- Talk to your loved one.
- Be supportive.
If your partner, relative or friend goes into treatment encourage them to follow the treatment plan the center has created for him/her; this will likely include abstaining from the substance(s) and/or problematic behavior(s), counseling and possibly attending mutual support self-help groups. You should let your loved one know he/she has your complete support and love. There are any number of ways you can show your support: by attending family weekends when your relative or friend is in rehab; offering to drive him/her to meetings post-treatment; taking care to avoid anything that might trigger a relapse; and attending support groups like Al-Anon that will also help you take care of yourself, enabling you to be there when your loved one really needs you. Support groups and family counseling sessions are invaluable for caregivers; they’ll teach you how to stop enabling relative or friend’s addiction, as by, for example, stopping offers of money or housing if the person is still using, or changing long-standing family dynamics that help perpetuate addiction.
Be sure, though, that if your loved one decides to leave treatment; fails to comply with the conditions of treatment (yours and/or his/her health care providers’); doesn’t work toward recovery; and/or continues to use, you should talk to the care coordinator at the treatment facility a counselor or the interventionist you’re working with, if you have one. In some cases, for example, an interventionist or therapist may use a model of intervention that has families work together in specific ways to stop enabling an addiction. They may tell you to cut off financial support, stop making excuses for the one you love or to hold your loved one accountable for managing his or her own life; it all depends on your unique situation.
Support from family and friends is an essential part in recovering from addiction. Those with a good support base find much better success. Often those recovering from addiction need the support and encouragement that their loved ones offer to continue to make the tough choices and stay sober. It can be incredibly difficult to see people you love suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. As much as we want to eliminate their pain and keep them away from unhealthy substances, it has to be their choice. Being the support system while allowing them to make their own choices can be stressful. Especially since addiction recovery is a lifelong process that is just beginning after graduation from a treatment center.
The following are six ways to provide support to a loved ones that are recovering addicts:
Sometimes all recovering addicts need are someone to listen, without judging or criticizing. A great way to show support is to be there when your loved ones need someone to listen. Allow your loved ones to express their fears, concerns, struggles and experiences. Voicing concerns to a sympathetic ear is great for stress relief and a way to work through issues.
Often those that have struggled with addiction feel judged. Instead of expressing disappointment for past behavior, show your love. Refrain from criticizing and expressing negativity. Express your love and support for their decision to become sober.
Create a Healthy Environment
It can be difficult to maintain recovery when exposed to drugs or alcohol. Remove any harmful or addictive substances from the home. Creating a healthy environment, free from temptation is a great way to show your support. If your loved ones have an alcohol addiction, don’t drink socially in front of them. Choose other healthy activities to engage in together.
Always continue to encourage them to continue on the substance free path. Choose other healthy ways to spend time, and encourage them to engage in healthy eating, exercising or playing games with you. When you actively show your support by participating with them in fun, addiction free ways to spend time, it will be much easier for them to stay away from drugs or alcohol.
Understand that addiction recovery is a process. Show ample patience when your loved ones make mistakes, because it is guaranteed that mistakes will occur. Instead of judgement, show love, concern and most of all patience. Let your love ones know that you are there, and that you know they can continue in their recovery.
Advocate Continued Recovery
Show your support by encouraging their participation in 12 steps support groups and continued therapy. Help them to attend their meetings by not planning other activities at the same time. Express interest in what they learn and advocate for them to continue to take care of themselves and stay addiction free.
It can be hard – nearly impossible even — to understand how your loved one became addicted to a substance or behavior or comprehend how deeply addiction is now affecting his/her life. Part of the reason addiction is so puzzling is because too often we still believe in old rhetoric and mistakenly think that if our loved one was only had more willpower or tried harder or had better morals, then he/she could give up this behavior and all the damage that it does. If only treating addiction were so simple.
Addiction is now understood by experts as a chronic brain disease. Other chronic diseases include asthma, hypertension and diabetes, and just like these illnesses, addiction requires ongoing treatment and vigilance. Addiction affects brain circuits that are responsible for releasing dopamine – a neurotransmitter that helps control our movement, our emotions and our ability to feel pain and pleasure. Addictive substances and behaviors stimulate the reward center of the brain in such an intense way that an addict will seek out the sensation or “high” again and again, trying to get the same response. The craving for the feeling brought on by the substance and/or is so great that using becomes compulsive, so addicted individuals seeks it out again and again – no matter how much the addiction hurts them or those around them. The brain’s decision-making ability is also affected by drugs, and so are the bodily systems that control serotonin, a chemical that regulates mood and sleep, as well as glutamate, which is involved in learning and memory.
So what your loved one may need most from you right now is your understanding. That you know that the disease they’re struggling with is just that: a disease, and one that is not only chronic, but progressive, meaning that it is very likely to get worse if the person doesn’t change in some way.
What you say and do now can make a big difference in how much your partner, friend or relative will trust you. And you may well need that trust if you want to persuade your loved one to enter and stay in treatment, and then to maintain their sobriety later.