Helping someone close to you who is struggling with addiction can be a long and painful journey with plenty of heartbreak. It’s not just the person who is anguished – people who care are often put through hardship too. Friends and family may experience issues with their difficult behaviour; they may bear the brunt of their financial impropriety; and may even be affected by legal woes. At times, all this seems so overwhelming that you might be tempted to turn a blind eye out of sheer exhaustion. However, sweeping addiction under the rug ultimately leaves all parties worse off. The decision to try and get help for someone whom you care about is never easy, and yes, it takes lots of love, patience and strength.
With your support, the person you care about has a far greater chance of recovery. Every person or situation is unique, so the recovery process is never linear – expect ups and downs, from sobriety chips to relapses. Throughout it all, it’s always important to stay positive and hopeful that things can, and will get better.
The first step you can take is to educate yourself about addiction. The more you understand this condition, the better you’ll be able to help. And the very fact that you’re reading this means you’ve already taken this first step. As you read on, you’ll discover six tips on what you can do to help a loved one struggling with addiction. I’ve found that these principles always bear reminding – simple enough, but easy to lose sight of in the thick of it all.
- Create a compassionate environment
This can be hard to do especially if you feel hurt and betrayed by the person with addiction. However, it’s important to keep the broader goal of recovery in perspective amidst the frustration. You should remember that addiction is neither a choice nor a moral failing – instead, addiction is a disease.
Establishing trust and compassion will nudge them to start thinking about change. I believe that compassion forms the bedrock of addiction recovery, especially with its role in healing shame. Addiction and shame are two sides of the same coin – shame may lead to addiction, and addiction most certainly breeds shame. Compassion, then becomes imperative in the recovery process, and acts like an antidote to treat the poisonous effects of shame.
Even if they don’t share their suffering with you, or outright deny their suffering, don’t stop yourself from trying to soothe and comfort them. As impatient, disappointed and angry at them as you may feel, pause and imagine how they must feel about themselves! Yes, they may appear nonchalant, or defensive about their addiction and shame. But as you catch sight of even the most fleeting glimpse of their vulnerability, your intuition tells you there must be a lifetime’s worth of self-disappointment, shame, unworthiness and anger, all roiling against the walls they put up.
We’re all worthy and deserving of love – especially those who feel unloved. Work on being empathetic. This means putting yourself in their shoes. Make your support known to them. Make your support accessible.
Above all, don’t forget to have compassion for yourself.
- Get support for yourself
Having a family member, a spouse, a partner or a friend with an addiction can often feel overwhelming. It’s healthy to acknowledge that helping them can be very stressful for you too.The person with addiction isn’t the only one who needs psychotherapy or counselling. Caregivers, hospice workers, counsellors and therapists all need therapy – you definitely shouldn’t deny yourself self-care either. If you’re going to support them with your best efforts, it’s crucial that you stay in-touch with your own mental health. Remember the point I made about compassion earlier? Well, compassion isn’t easy. If you’re not in the right headspace, you just might end up breeding resentment and causing friction. By focusing on your own well-being and reaching out for support, you’ll be in a far better position to help them when they are finally ready to receive your support.
You’re not alone. Many others have loved ones with the same addictions. Many others face the same painful issues that you face everyday. There are groups out there that will help you cope, and there are resources for you to draw from. All you need to do is reach out to a professional. Visit https://www.promises.com.sg/services/addictions/ to discover what the compassionate people here can do to support you.
- Set boundaries
While compassion is key, it is critical that you set limits for yourself and the person you’re supporting. You may instinctively want to shield them from the consequences of their own actions, but doing this only enables their addiction.
What does it mean to enable an addict? Enabling them is turning a blind eye to substance use or the addictive behaviour in your home, because it’s “safer than sketchy places”. Enabling them is covering for them because their “job was on the line”. There will never be impetus for change if you always swoop in to save the day. Setting boundaries may seem harsh and even counterintuitive, but they underpin a healthy, loving approach. Try to also have a frank and open discussion about boundaries, and how they serve everyone’s best interests.
- Have realistic expectations
I mentioned the ups and downs of the recovery process at the beginning of this post. So, if there’s only one thing that you should expect going in, it’s that it won’t be a smooth ride! There are obstacles to overcome – they may be in denial about addiction; they may fear the implications of seeking help (e.g losing their job, going to prison); they may feel embarrassed and angry with themselves; they may feel unworthy of help. These are just a few stumbling blocks you may have to navigate at first.
You can nag and harangue them about their addiction, but those words will go unheeded. Most people with addiction use addictive behaviour as a way of coping with stress, so you’ll likely be exacerbating tensions – which drives them to seek refuge in addictive behaviour.
Instead, continue to hold them accountable to the boundaries you’ve mutually agreed to and offer your support in the treatment process. Be prepared if boundaries are crossed, and if promises are broken. Relapses are part and parcel of the recovery process.
- Be supportive of their treatment, and don’t forget to have fun
It isn’t only the person with addiction that has to reorient themself for lasting and meaningful change to happen – you’ll probably have to as well. Just as supporting them is tough on you, it’s probably just as hard or even harder for them to overcome addiction. No matter what treatment method they decide to go with, they need to know that you have their back, and that you respect them for it. After all, acknowledging that help is needed is a huge step in itself! In fact, the first step of the twelve step Alcoholic’s Anonymous program is this:
“we admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable”.
Milestones (no matter how small) are worth celebrating. This helps keep your loved one motivated and committed to change. Recovery can be scary, so metaphorical hugs (or real ones) can be really reassuring.
People struggling with addiction often experience a decline in physical and mental well-being. Establishing a structured routine that incorporates healthy eating habits and a fitness regime is beneficial. You get to help them replace unhealthy behaviours with new joys and activities, and have fun together in the process!
- Remain positive and hopeful
It may seem almost impossible to stay hopeful when you learn that addiction, as a chronic disease, will stick around for the rest of their life. But it is important to remember that addiction is treatable. Addiction feeds off hopelessness, so be careful not to feed it. Regardless of where in the process they’re at, remain optimistic. If proper groundwork has been laid, the only way to go is up. If they have yet to seek help, they are likely to eventually do so with your ongoing encouragement. And if they have already started on their treatment journey, your unwavering support will help them stay committed.