How to Support Someone With an Addiction
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Living with an addiction is not easy, and can be both daunting and isolating at the same time. Watching a close friend or family member with addiction can evoke the same feelings while leaving you wondering how you can best support them on this journey.
There are over 21 million people in America alone who are suffering from an addiction. And they should not have to suffer in silence.
Supporting someone with an addiction is not a simple undertaking, it will take a lot of time, energy, and patience. However, dedicating yourself to supporting a friend or loved one, will provide them with the best chance of getting help and recovering well.
Every person struggling with addiction will behave and feel differently. No two people are the same, and each person will require something different. This article will look at some of the ways you can help and support someone with an addiction.
Learn about addictions
Addiction is a common problem that affects a person psychologically, and physically. Addictions are harmful because they involve a person losing their autonomy and taking or doing something that puts them at risk, for example, drugs, alcohol, smoking, or gambling.
Although these are the most common addictions you hear about, in reality, anyone can become addicted to anything, including activities such as shopping, working, and using the internet.
Addictions catch people in a cycle, as they create a powerful urge to use over and over again, as they affect the way you feel (usually numb pain or provide a high) and then if you try to stop, usually cause unpleasant withdrawals, so the cycle continues.
There is no one reason for why people get addicted, it could be environmental, stressful, or upsetting situations, or even in some cases, due to genetics.
Building a trusting relationship with your friend is the foundation of any kind of support you can offer. Avoid threatening the person who is struggling with addiction with an ultimatum, as that will more than likely lead to them avoiding you in the future and hiding their behavior.
Trust is key and can very easily be undermined, make sure you think about what you want to say or any actions you choose to take. Trust takes two people and works both ways. When there is trust, then open and honest conversations are more likely to happen.
Let go of judgment
It is easy for someone who is not suffering from addiction, to judge a person who is. A lot of this stems from a negative stigma attached to addiction, but it is important to remember that addiction is a disease and should be taken very seriously.
Avoid criticizing them, as this will only exacerbate their shame around their addiction, and could hinder their recovery process. Learn to be around your friend, listen and support them without any judgment or bias.
It can be difficult to watch a loved one with an addiction, and more often than not, it is difficult to know what to say. Some people don’t always like to talk about their addiction, especially at first. So that may lead you to wonder how you can communicate with them?
First, it is important to always be kind, and understanding. Your friend or loved one is probably fearful of criticism, so your kindness and empathy can go a long way. Just be careful of the language you use, and always be respectful.
Secondly, make sure you listen more than you talk. When someone confides in you, avoid telling them off, telling them what to do, or try to solve their problems. It is important that you are consistent with your communication, both with words and actions, so they know you are always there for them.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with your friend or loved one, ones that you feel comfortable with while they are going through their addiction.
Again, communication here is key, as you want them to know you are not punishing them for their addiction, but you are protecting your own needs and wellbeing.
Be a source of strength
When someone has an addiction, it can be hard to watch. It often leads to feelings of hopelessness, but it is important that you respect their privacy and their boundaries, and do not force them into quitting.
Recovery does not happen overnight, so it is important to let go of expectations, and expect a long-term process, and even setbacks. Instead, just being there when they need you can provide them with the source of strength they need to get through the day.
It can be hard not to take over and think you know best, but by acting this way, you can make your loved one feel controlled, and at times, this loss of control can cause someone to engage in their addiction more.
Set yourself up long term
It can be difficult when supporting someone with an addiction, as it does not happen overnight. You have to be invested, and prepare yourself for a long-term journey.
There are times when an individual may not agree that they have a problem or want to change what they are doing. There may also be times when individuals fear the consequences of people being aware of their problem, for example, with relationships or work, may not want to talk about it right away due to feelings of shame and embarrassment.
When supporting someone with addiction, you should proceed with caution and empathy. Most often, the person struggling engages in their addiction because they have another problem they are struggling with and are trying to numb or avoid.
It is vital you seek support for yourself, as supporting someone with an addiction is a huge undertaking and can lead to stress and other difficulties. You must put yourself first and develop your own coping strategies to help you through this process. There are many mental health charities and helplines that can support you through this process.
It is also helpful to seek support options for the friend you are supporting. They may not have asked for it, or are ready for it yet, but it is never too early to broaden your knowledge and gain a better understanding of what is available when the time comes. Addictions can be treated, and people are able to recover.
There are many different ways an individual can get professional support for their addiction, for example, they could speak to their doctor, seek a support group, obtain special medication or counseling, or look at substance abuse treatment programs for women.
When the person who is struggling is ready to get help, the medical professional will be able to talk to them about all their options, and the most suitable way for them to move forward.
What to expect
An important part of learning about what support is best is learning about what to expect when you or a loved one is seeking treatment. Depending on what treatment is chosen, the expectations will be completely different. Conduct thorough research before agreeing on one path, and look at what is involved.
Factors that will be considered in the course of treatment are things like the frequency of the substance use, and then the length of time it has been used, the severity of the addiction, previous recovery attempts, underlying mental health problems, the support system the individual has available before, during and after the recovery process, and their motivation to seek recovery. If it is not their decision, or they are not committed, then it is unlikely to work.
Regardless of the course of treatment that is sought (this could be 30 days, 90 days, or several months), the recovery will be a long-term process. During the course of treatment, it is likely that the first day will be about checking in and the professional getting to know the individual and creating a tailored plan that will help them the most.
The first weeks will be about removing the addictive behavior or substance, and going through the withdrawal process in a safe environment. There then tends to be support and counseling to help the individual move forward, work through their problems that were causing the addiction (or being hidden or numbed by the addiction), and developing healthy coping mechanisms.
It can be difficult when you have a friend or loved one with an addiction. You cannot force them to seek help or change, but there are plenty of other things you can do to support them, for example, listen to them without judgment, be there for them on the good and bad days, and encourage them to seek support.
Supporting them through the hard process of change is really encouraging for anyone who is struggling. This may look different for everyone, but for example, you could go with them to a counseling session, or help them take the first step in booking an appointment. It is vital that you look after yourself in the process, and seek support.
*This article is based on personal suggestions and/or experiences and is for informational purposes only. This should not be used as professional advice. Please consult a professional where applicable.