When someone you love deals with drug or alcohol abuse, you watch them struggle with mental health issues and physical problems, both short- and long-term. In addition to their own pain, they can cause you and the other people they love to suffer as well.
It can often be so hard to know the right way to help an addict. So often the things we do seem to hurt them, no matter how you look at it.
If someone you love is dealing with addiction, it’s important to understand the signs of substance abuse issues and how to help an addict. But it’s also important to take care of yourself.
Read on to learn more about how to help an addict.
The Signs and Symptoms
When someone is struggling with an addiction, many of their symptoms are internal. Unfortunately, this means you probably won’t see the worst of it. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to watch out for.
Here are some of the external symptoms to look for if you suspect a loved one is dealing with addiction:
- Appearing intoxicated more frequently
- Developing cognition and memory issues
- Lethargy, sleeping more, sleeping at strange times, or appearing tired all the time
- Only attending events if alcohol is involved
- Stealing to pay for drugs
- Lying about how much they are using
- Becoming angry or sad when questioned about substance use
- Going through withdrawal
- Poor hygiene
Substance abusers usually act much different when they are using. They are more apt to say and do hurtful things and take increasingly more dangerous risks with their life. There is nothing more hurtful about having a loved one who is suffering from an addiction than watching them degrade and value themselves less and less.
Control or Influence?
At some point, you might try to force your loved one to get help. You have the best of intentions, all you want to do is see them get well. However, even if they do agree, they are much more likely to fail in this attempt to overcome addiction.
Addiction isn’t a choice that someone can control. It’s a compulsion. They aren’t able to stop without help. This is because they have required the risk and reward centers of their brains by constantly reinforcing their cravings.
If you try to blame them or protect them from their consequences, it’s not going to help them. This is because you don’t have control and either do they. Their addiction does.
However, you do hold a lot of influence in their lives. If you can gather a group of loved ones to stage an intervention the right way, you can show how much you love the addict while also setting boundaries around their addictive behaviors. Make sure that any attempt at an intervention is centered around helping the addict and it’s thoroughly planned out.
Even if you cant hold an intervention, just sit the addict down and talk to them about your concerns in a calm, clear way. Offer them help with your social support, information on drug rehab programs, and other ways that they can get healthy. Even something as simple as this can help someone suffering from addiction seek help.
If you are in a close personal relationship with an addict, you are likely in a codependent relationship. Codependency involves your desire to help the person and show love, but a lot of the time this “help” is actually just fueling the addiction and causing more damage in the long-term.
- Some signs that you are in a codependent relationship include:
- Taking responsibility for the addict
- Putting the addict’s feelings first
- Holding onto the relationship with the addict in order to avoid feeling abandoned
- Trouble talking about your feelings
- Inability to set personal boundaries
Even if when you started your relationship with your loved one during a healthy time in both of your lives, codependency can happen when one person starts to struggle with an addiction. Both of you should seek help to overcome these issues because help is required to heal your relationship properly.
How to Help an Addict
The best way that you can help someone suffering from addiction might actually sound counterintuitive. This is doubly true if you are codependent.
Here are a few basic steps to helping an addict:
- Remember that addiction is a disease, not a choice
- No one can fight addiction except the addict
- Set boundaries and stand by them
- Encourage them to seek help
- Find a therapist and get yourself help
- Give up your own recreational substance use
- Be supportive but let them deal with the consequences of their addiction
- Be optimistic
Some of these methods might seem harsh, but it all stems from a loving approach. Your end goal should be to help the addict overcome addiction without breaking yourself down in the process.
When someone tries to get help for an addiction, they will most likely eventually overcome it with professional help. However, relapse can feel like a monster looming in the distance, creating stress for everyone involved.
Addiction is a disease. Think about diabetes or asthma. Treatment works for a period of time, then the disease worsens. This doesn’t mean a diabetic should give up insulin or an asthmatic should give up their inhaler. Instead, it means that they go to the doctor and start a new regimen.
Addiction is the same. An addict constantly works towards avoiding addiction, but if it happens they go back to treatment. Relapse is only a monster in the dark if the addict refuses to get back into treatment to get help.
Your job as someone who loves an addict is to take care of yourself before you take care of anyone else. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and you cant provide support when you are completely overwhelmed yourself. Then, you need to support the addict by understanding their addiction and creating boundaries. Remember, you cant fight this for them.