When someone you love is going through addiction, it is normal to feel powerless, frustrated and concerned. Addiction is a disease that leads the individual to seek their substance of choice despite hurting themselves and the people they love. The process of recovery usually entails many relapses along the way and requires treatment.
Here are some tips that you can do to help that loved one and not feel as lost when it comes to their addiction and the path to recovery:
1. Learn and educate yourself about the substance of choice. If your loved one is addicted to alcohol or heroin, it is helpful to understand how it affects them and how the detox process and recovery process may look.
2. Recovery is a journey not a destination: Be patient with your loved one as they learn to cope with not seeking the drug and everyday stressors.
3. Focus on yourself and not on the addict: You cannot help the addict if you are not healthy.
4. Set boundaries: Healthy boundaries help by letting the loved one know what behaviors are respected and well received and which ones are not going to be tolerated. The idea is that the addict understands that it is their actions that lead to the desired or undesired consequences. For example: “If you test clean for more than 30 days, I will be more than happy to lend you the car.” Addicts tend to not feel responsible for their actions and justify them by their context, for example: “I would not have used, if you had not screamed at me.” The idea with healthy boundaries is for families to learn to talk in a loving and caring manner with the addict and helping them make the connection of their actions with their consequences. Addicts are really good at lying and having others cover the consequences, leading them to behave as if nothing is really that serious.
5. You cannot control the addict or the addiction: Remember that the only person you can control is yourself. So be mindful of your actions and messages and be consistent.
6. Leverage: The addict has to make the decision to work on his recovery and that is the most frustrating part for a loved one. But there are leverages that loved ones can use to help them get into treatment or work on their recovery. For example:
• When an addict has continued to use despite arrests, hurting family members and their own health, the family can let the addict know that they love him/her, but as long as the person continues to abuse substances the family will not allow him/her in the home (if this is said, be prepared to follow through, because an addict will call your bluff).
• You can also go to a court house and request the Marchman Act. The Marchman Act can court-mandate a loved one suffering from addiction into treatment.
• Other less extreme leverages are not having access to help or resources until the addict is clean.
Be ready to use leverage and boundaries in a language that communicates that the consequences are a result of the actions they decide to take and when they are ready you will be there for them.
• Enabling vs. helping: If you are blaming others for the addict’s substance use – you are enabling. If you help the addict learn how he is responsible for his actions and what he is exposed to – you are helping.
• Remember, it takes 30 days or more for the brain to start thinking clearly: The first 30 days of an addict going through recovery are very tough because the brain is still under the influence of the substance and their behaviors are more impulsive and compulsive. The minimum stay in any drug treatment program is 30 days. The ideal is 3 months or more because the longer the person is without using substances, the clearer the person is to make decisions and work on their recovery.
• Be consequential: Do not say something you are not going to be able to follow through with. The addict will push the boundaries, and if you don’t follow through, you will feel more hurt and the addict will be empowered to continue to push boundaries and not learn the consequences of their actions.
• Do not shame the addict: The addict usually is self-medicating and has low self-worth. If the loved one tries to shame the addict into making the addict feel so bad that he/she may want to change, what will most likely happen is the addict will feel more disconnected from his loved one and will continue to use. When confronting an addict it is healthier to use “I” statements to express how the addict’s behaviors are affecting the loved one and how they love the addict and want for him/her to get better.
• Let the addict be responsible for his/her consequences: Do not pay a speeding ticket, or clean up their room, or make excuses for their behaviors. The addict needs to make a connection between their actions and the rewarding and not rewarding consequences to get them closer into the recovery process.
• Stay calm: Do not allow for the addict to escalate your emotional state. It is not only important for your own emotional well-being, but also to prevent manipulation from the addict. A typical cycle in the family dynamics of an addict, is a loved one stating a reasonable boundary, the addict expressing that it is unfair and making the loved one feel bad, the conversation escalates until both are screaming and being hurtful with each other and ends with the loved one feeling guilty and not sticking to their boundary and the addict getting what they wanted and more.