When I was drinking, my parents wanted nothing more from me than to quit. They took a mostly silent role, however, because they just didn’t know what to do when coping with a loved one’s addiction. To be honest, they probably handled it better than I could have hoped for. I don’t think the things they did helped with my addiction too much, but they didn’t delay my recovery either.
In fact, their attempts were quite surprising. I grew up with a tough-love kind of mother. She shelled out a fair share of consequences while I was drinking, and when I was arrested, my mother was the first person I called… but not to ask for bail. I knew better. Her words when she answered the phone were, “Don’t expect me to get you out.”
I replied, “I don’t. I just wanted you to know I was okay.”
Most Don’t Know What to Do When Coping with a Loved One’s Addiction
Believe it or not, I knew, even then that this was the best thing she could do when coping with a loved one’s addiction. The only help I received from her was a $200 loan to help finish off my legal fees, and it was most definitely a loan, and a safe roof to live under, but I was quickly tearing that roof down.
As I said, she didn’t know what to do, so she made her fair share of mistakes in her desperation to help me recover from my alcohol addiction. Nor could she completely have known. Recovery for one person does not look the same for another, and there are no road maps that are completely the same.
The one thing she could count on is a lot of useless advice from people who felt bad for her.
Still, research has shown that some paths are better than others. Here are 4 don’ts you should avoid when coping with a loved one’s addiction and the do’s that you can practice instead.
You can also check out “8 Tips to Help Your Loved One In Recovery” for more ways to help.
1. Don’t Force
Trying to force your loved one to go to treatment may make them go, but it won’t necessarily help. As someone in recovery, I have learned that the most important part of recovery is having a desire to quit. When you try to force your loved one to do something they are not ready to do, they will not succeed. While some do find sobriety in recovery, many more find resentment against you instead. Often they leave treatment excited to be free to return to their previous behavior.
Furthermore, treatment is expensive, and it gets even more expensive when you get into the treatment cycle. If your loved one is not ready, the cycle (one treatment stay after another) will follow.
Help them to get ready for treatment. While you shouldn’t force them into recovery, you can prepare and encourage them. Eventually, the natural consequences of addiction tire a person, literally. The more the drugs damage the body, the more exhausted the person using them begins to feel. Eventually, they realize that their friends are unreliable, if they still have any. Legal problems, if they are not protected from the consequences of them, become painful. Meanwhile, your efforts to talk to them without judgment and shame will make it easier for them to ask for help when they are ready.
2. Don’t Punish
You may feel impelled to increase consequences, but the more you punish them, the more they identify you as the enemy. You become the one who is coming between them and their drugs, and in their anger, their addiction becomes your fault. They may claim that if you didn’t cause them so much pain, they wouldn’t have to drink or drug. Yes, it is irrational, but they are not thinking with ration in their addiction.
Do Allow Consequences
Let natural consequences take their toll on your loved one. There are many natural consequences for their addictive behaviors as long as you don’t protect your loved one from experiencing them. Of course, this isn’t easy. It’s hard to sit back and watch as your loved one falls deeper into addiction, feels hungry because they spent all their money one drugs, or gets arrested over and over again, For some, however, this has to happen in order for them to realize that recovery is better than the consequences they face with drugs.
Do provide positive rewards. These do more good than you might think. They increase self-confidence and show your loved one that joy can be found in sobriety. They make you someone the person with substance use disorder wants to be around. This gives you the space to model a way of life that’s better than one with drugs and alcohol. You become the person they can reach out to when they are ready to get help.
3. Don’t Fix
Many families assume that it’s the person with the addiction that needs fixing. This implies that when they go into treatment everything will be okay, and the family will go back to normal. People don’t do drugs just because it’s fun. They do drugs because they couldn’t find that fun in their normal life without them. If you think about it that way when coping with a loved one’s addiction, you may understand that something needs fixing, but it’s more than just the person who uses drugs and alcohol.
Do Work on the Whole Family
Make an effort to improve the whole family. You may not know exactly what led your loved one to drugs and alcohol. It could be trauma that has nothing to do with the family. Things like bullying at school, a harmful teenage relationship, or insecurity damage a person’s self-esteem making it difficult for them to meet new people or stand out in a crowd. On the other hand, it could come from the feeling that they aren’t heard in the family. Regardless of the cause, the only situation you have the power to change is yours. No, you can’t even fix your loved one. That is up to them.
What you can do when coping with a loved one’s addiction, however, is work to improve your communication skills, learn how to connect without judgment, and be a role model for good self-care. All this is important, so you can be the best for both your loved one in addiction as well as the other people working with you through this difficult time.
4. Don’t Assume Treatment Is the End
Don’t assume that their decision to go to treatment or try getting sober means the difficult times are over. In truth, treatment is just the beginning. Life in treatment is different from life at home. Every hour in treatment is monitored and planned. They are isolated from normal triggers that they will face in their real environment. They are working with people who can help them face their trauma and give them tools to deal with stress, but their time in treatment is limited to a few months or in some cases, a few weeks, and recovery is a life-long process.
Do Ask for Help
Asking for help may be one of the hardest things you do, but it will make life much easier for the whole family when coping with a loved one’s addiction. Let’s face it. You probably didn’t plan for this which means that you are likely in a daze trying to figure out what to do. The easy answer, the one you will get from many of your family members and friends, is to detach. That’s not so easy though when you fear for the life of someone you love.
The good news is that you don’t have to detach. In fact, you can learn techniques to help you maintain a relationship with your loved one, encourage them to trust you, and make you available to them when they are ready to stop drinking and drugging. When you model these techniques, your entire family sees and begins to transform as well.
Does Coping with a Loved One’s Addiction Frustrate You?
If you feel lost in the fight for your loved one’s life, Now Sober Academy can help. Vince and I believe that the best way you can help your loved one to start the process of healing is by healing the whole family. We don’t just work with the person struggling with addiction or the family. We work with both to build a force against drugs and alcohol.
If you want to learn more about how you can help when coping with a loved one’s addiction, check out Now Sober Academy. Our goal is to help bring families struggling with addiction together again.