Loving someone who is dependent on drugs or alcohol is heartbreaking. You desperately want to help your loved one in recovery. At the same time, you are stuck watching them slowly drift further into their problems while drifting further away from you.
The worst part is the feelings you encounter as they do this. These feelings include a sense of helplessness, fear, and desperation. You can’t understand why they would risk losing everything to destroy their lives. You want to help your loved one in recovery, but in trying, you only push them further away.
If this is you, you can take some comfort in knowing you are not alone. In fact, according to Addiction Center, “almost 21 million Americans have at least 1 addiction.” This could include drugs, alcohol, sex, or gambling for example. Each person in addiction shares their lives with five core loved ones, and five loved ones are also trapped by the addiction.
Past Tactics to Help Your Loved One in Recovery Didn’t Work
In the past, professionals told friends and family to handle their loved one’s addiction with tough love and detachment. Stage an intervention. Give up. The drug has them now. Unfortunately, these tactics make people in addiction feel unloved and misunderstood. Because they use drugs to avoid their negative feelings, increasing the pain in this way doesn’t help. Rather, it actually increases their desire for the drug as it pushes them further into hopelessness.
You Can’t Help Your Loved One In Recovery…
The good news is that you are not completely helpless. You can take steps that may not heal your loved one, but they will help you cope. They also offer that person who is struggling a greater chance of getting into recovery.
Here are 8 tips to help your loved one in recovery:
1. Learn About Addiction
As a recovering alcoholic and a writer for online marijuana doctors and treatment centers, I must admit that there was much I didn’t know about drug dependency. I understood what those drugs did to the body and read the medical. At the same time, I couldn’t identify when a person was using most substances or the motivations behind their use.
If you suspect that someone you love is using, the best way to help your loved one in recovery is to know as much about drugs, alcohol, and addiction as possible. Learn about why people use it, what it does to the body and mental processes, and how it affects the people around them. Knowing that their addiction is not just an excuse to keep using will help you empathize, so you have a better chance of maintaining your cool when dealing with this person.
2. Get Help for the Family
Addiction comes with many stigmas for both the person with the addiction and their loved ones. People with addiction are seen as weak. They are portrayed as thieves and liars. Often their families are suddenly seen as dysfunctional. Parents begin to think that they have failed as a parent, that they did something wrong. As a result, they are sometimes reluctant to reach out for help.
On the other hand, getting help for yourself and your loved one may be the best course of action for their recovery and your well-being. Therapy gives you an outlet to express your feelings in a healthy, not judgmental way. A therapist can help you see your experience from many angles as opposed to the single lens you see through while helping your loved one in addiction. The people in support groups struggle with the same problems as you. Their own experiences help you move out of your own shame as you realize you are not alone.
3. Practice Self-Care
If you don’t plug up the hole in a leaky ship, all the passengers will go down. I’m not suggesting that you are the leaky ship or that you are responsible for the problems that are going on with your loved one. What I am saying is that if you do not take care of yourself, you can’t do an effective job supporting the people in your boat. This includes your children, spouse, or your loved one who has the addiction.
Substance abuse takes a lot from everyone involved. Children and spouses get forgotten. Furthermore, you may be so engrossed in trying to help your loved one in recovery that you neglect your own self-care. Stress could lead to difficulties with relationships, work, and health problems. Additionally, during this time, you will experience emotional and spiritual valleys that could increase depression and anxiety. Through proper self-care, you can minimize these problems. By staying in the best shape possible, you will struggle less with plugging up the hole in your ship.
4. Maintain Empathy to Help Your Loved One in Recovery
There will be times when you struggle with the many questions. Why are they doing this to us? Don’t they love themselves enough to get help? Why would they choose to ruin their lives with drugs?
Remember that they aren’t doing this against you. Rather, they are doing this for themselves. While you may not be able to see it, addiction does have its benefits to the people using. It frees people of the constantly spinning negative thoughts that fill their heads. Alcohol gives them the courage to connect with people. Drugs help them to forget about experiences that continue to cause them pain. For some with difficulty trusting people, it helps them let down their defenses. For a brief time, they can enjoy life, have fun, even engage in sex.
Your loved one started using drugs or alcohol because there was a reward for them. They continued using because their brain told them that this reward was good. Eventually, the brain’s chemical responses to the drug took hold and created a dependency on the drug so that while they may no longer experience the reward, they still need the drug just to feel normal. Your loved one is experiencing a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. You wouldn’t yell at your loved one for having cancer. Why would you yell at them for having the disease of addiction?
5. Understand the Difference Between Unhealthy and Healthy Enabling
Enabling is a trap that many people fall into without realizing that they are doing it. Sometimes, it looks like empathy. For example, on the one hand, you may not be willing to support their drug habit by giving them money. On the other hand, your unwillingness to let them go hungry frees up the money they do have to purchase drugs. It also relieves them of the natural consequences that come with drug use.
These consequences include legal problems, broken relationships, and hunger. When you enable in unhealthy ways, you do the opposite of helping your loved one in recovery. You help them support their addiction.
For your loved one to reach the point where they want to quit using, you will have to avoid rescuing them. Eventually, their consequences can become greater than the benefits the drug provides. When you enable in an unhealthy manner, you hinder that from happening and delay their recovery.
At the same time, when your loved one reaches out for help or makes good decisions, healthy enabling supports their positive behaviors. Healthy enabling can look like providing emotional support and spending time with them doing healthy activities during their recovery. It can look like helping them find work, so they can support themselves. And yes, it can also look like providing them with the proper nutrition and security while they continue to strive towards positive goals and sobriety.
6. Don’t Punish Your Loved One
Drug use creates natural consequences without any help from you. Your loved one will experience legal, financial, and health problems. That’s just the nature of drug abuse. When you try to manipulate those consequences with punishment, you become the bad guy and lose your ability to connect with them. They will desperately need that connection when they are ready to get into recovery.
Instead, if you want to help your loved one in recovery, let them experience the consequences that they create on their own. This way they have no one to blame but themselves. The great gift that comes with having full responsibility for their mistakes is that they also have the power to overcome them. Whereas, as a victim of everyone else, they have the excuse of being powerless to their environment.
If every time they come to you with a problem, your response is to yell and punish them, they will eventually see you as the enemy. Your attempts to punish further their shame, and they lose the ability to talk to you about their addiction. Their problems become your fault.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to set boundaries and identify potential consequences. In fact, boundaries are more important now than ever. For example, letting them know that you can’t allow them to drive your car while they are using can seem like punishment.
In reality, this healthy boundary protects you, them, and people on the road from the dangers of intoxicated driving. Not allowing them to live in the home while in active addiction protects you from potential theft and other household members from potential emotional and physical danger.
7. Be Realistic about Relapse
Many people see their loved one in recovery and take a deep sigh of relief. Finally, the hell is over. While that sigh is warranted, the recovery work has just begun. Your loved one will continue to experience the same feelings that led to their addiction in the first place. In fact, they may for a while feel worse than before. For the first time in a long time, they have to face the shame and built-up consequences without the drug that they have relied on in the past for relief.
In other words, anger, emotional ups and downs, cross-addiction, and yes, relapse is very much a possibility.
Your loved one is learning to live a new life free from addiction, but change doesn’t happen overnight. Furthermore, change is incredibly difficult for most people. According to American Addiction Centers, “more than 85% of individuals relapse and return to drug use within the year following treatment.” They further say, “The most recent drug relapse prevention research suggests that, rather than being a random event, relapse is a result of an underlying process, and is a part of overall recovery. In a now widely adopted treatment philosophy, relapse is best defined as a series of setbacks along the way to recovery.” In other words, your loved one is likely to relapse.
The good news is these relapses teach them lessons about recovery. Furthermore, as time passes, the potential for relapse decreases. Still, recovery is a lifelong journey that includes continual self-care, awareness, and support.
8. For Them to Change, You Have to Change
One of the big problems with treatment facilities is that once the person leaves the facility, they return to the environment that led them to addiction in the first place. They face the same friends that they drank and used with. They continue to feel the same feelings and experience the same triggers. While you can’t change the world around them, you can change you and the way you communicate with them.
It’s fair to say that you didn’t want addiction to be a part of your loved one’s life. It’s equally fair to say you didn’t do anything intentionally to lead them in this direction, but this is where they are. If there is anything that you can do to help your loved one in recovery, it is within you to do it. Change on your part is the one thing you have the most power to enact. As many people say in Al-Anon, “you didn’t cause it, you can’t control, and you can’t cure it, but you are responsible for what you do about it.”
Now Sober Can Help Your Loved One in Recovery
We Can Help You
Knowing what to do while trying to help your loved one in recovery can be difficult. Practicing these 8 tips can help, but there is so much more to consider. In fact, every family in recovery must walk their own path. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to walk it alone. Nor does it mean that there aren’t people who will teach you tools that can help. Now Sober is ready to help you with that.
If you want to help your loved one in recovery or get help for yourself through this difficult time, visit our “Programs” page to find out more about our different programs. We believe that recovery is a whole family project. There is no one better to help your loved one in recovery than you, and there is no one better to help you than us.