How to Support a Loved One with Addiction

Have you ever wondered what you should do if you have suspicions or concerns about a loved one and their relationship with substances? If yes, this blog was written for you. It can be scary and daunting to realize that someone you love and care for is travelling down a dangerous road, but you are not alone. We are here for you. There are several resources and ways to approach this situation to try to ensure the best outcome for you and your loved one. In the following article, we will discuss possible signs of an addiction, what you should and shouldn’t do, tips on having difficult conversations, how to care for yourself, and important reminders you should keep in mind.  

Does my loved one have a problem? 

Substance abuse can look different for everyone. If you know a person well enough, you’ll likely have an intuitive feeling when something is off. There are some common byproducts of addiction that we list below. You can observe a person’s behaviour for a few days or weeks and determine whether you think there is a serious problem. Sharing these observations with others close to the individual can also help you to gain perspective and see how others are viewing the same situation. 

Physical clues: 

  • Red or glassy eyes 
  • Mood swings 
  • Runny or stuffy nose 
  • Lack of energy or motivation 
  • Changes in sleeping patterns 
  • Weight gain or loss 
  • Neglected appearance (clothing, grooming, etc.)

Behavioural clues: 

  • Problems at work or school – e.g., frequently missing them, developing a sudden disinterest, lower grades or work performance issues 
  • Changes in routine or personality, such as being secretive about where they’re going and making a greater effort to keep people out of their room or home 
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that they previously found enjoyable 
  • Money issues arising – they may ask for money without a reasonable explanation, or worse off, steal money or items 

How can I get them into recovery? 

If you have identified concerning symptoms, it’s normal to want your loved one to get help immediately. It’s important to remember that addiction is not a choice, and they can’t control it or turn it on and off. They need to seek help themselves in order for recovery to be possible. However, the social support network of friends and family has a significant influence on the life of the person who is struggling. There are many options and strategies that we will discuss. 

What can I do to help? 

Educate yourself about addiction 

Many people who have never dealt with addiction previously may be misinformed about what it is, how it affects an individual, and how it manifests in other ways (including the effects it has on those close to the individual). To better understand the situation and what they might be going through, research is key. The more informed you become, the more help you can offer to your loved one, and the more confidence you can have during difficult discussions or when suggesting treatment options. Knowledge is power, and much of being an effective ally to your loved one is showing compassion and understanding. Addiction is very complex, and it’s understandable that you won’t know the answers to everything right away – take your time, take breaks, and be gentle with yourself. 

Confront the problem 

Addressing the problem with your loved one can be scary. You might be uncertain of their response or their own awareness of the problem. It’s important to remember that this is not something that can simply go ignored or be swept under the rug. Addiction is a progressive disease, and when possible, it is best to address the situation early. In preparation of having a conversation with your loved one, you can try speaking to an addiction or mental health professional, finding a time when you’re both available – and sober – without distractions, and writing down some key points. 

Try to walk into the conversation with honesty, openness, and a calm demeanour. Avoid blaming language, raising your voice, or judging. The main point to get across is that you’re there to help them get better. People in addiction may forget how strong their support network is and how much love their friends and family have for them. Remind them that you’re going to be there along every step in their recovery journey and they’re not doing it alone. They will likely respond better if they feel safe and comfortable. The consistent message that experts recommend is that you care about them and want them to get help.  

You can try suggesting treatment if you feel like your loved one may be receptive, but don’t expect any dramatic shifts in their thinking or behaviour. Know that there’s no quick fix and be ready for resistance to that idea. It may be too early on, or they might need time to think and process, so let it go for the moment and you can address the idea again later on. For this initial conversation, speaking one-on-one might feel more natural and intimate, but there is also the option of a group intervention should you decide to go down that route. Plenty of information on staging an intervention can be found online, and we recommend doing further research and speaking to a professional if engaging with that. 

Set boundaries 

The addiction of one person is often a responsibility shared among those closest to them. That is why setting boundaries is among the top priorities you should have after recognizing a dangerous situation. For your own well-being and mental health, you have to establish boundaries and ensure you’re clear and follow through on them. If they violate a boundary and there are no ensuing consequences, you’ve set a precedent that does not encourage real change. When you love someone, it can be hard to stay tough and even harsh on them when you know they’re struggling. However, without boundaries, both of you and your relationship with each other will likely suffer. 

Common boundaries set by families or friends: 

  • Not letting them use the substance around you or in your home 
  • Establishing a curfew 
  • Not bailing them out of legal trouble 
  • Refusing to lie to cover for them anymore 
  • Cutting them off financially 
  • Not tolerating any angry or emotional outbursts

 

There’s a difference between supporting and enabling. Without these explicit boundaries, enabling actions will only serve to maintain your loved one’s addiction and hurt your own mental and financial wellness. They need to be held accountable for their own actions and develop a new sense of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour under these circumstances. 

Take care of yourself as well 

Addiction is a family disease. Though you’re not experiencing it directly, the effects that it has on your life are undeniable. Prioritizing self-care is necessary for anyone who is involved. This includes exercise, eating healthy meals, spending time outdoors, reading, and making time for the hobbies and activities that bring you joy. The better you’re doing, the more you will be able to help someone else. 

There are also many support options for you as the loved one of someone in active addiction. You are having a unique and challenging experience that deserves processing and expression. It may be helpful for you to speak to a counsellor or therapist, maybe even one who specializes in addiction recovery and support. Attending an Al-Anon meeting is another great option if you’re looking for support, community, and resources. Avalon offers Al-Anon meetings to women who are friends and family of alcoholics. Our meeting information can be found here. 

Important reminders 

None of this is easy to process, understand, or cope with. At one point or another, you’ve probably questioned why this is happening and whether or not you contributed to it. Practicing acceptance is therefore important as a loved one of someone in active addiction. It does no good to fixate on situations or decisions in the past or that are out of your control. There is no one to blame and no simple answers to the questions you’re mulling over – where you are now is what’s important. Learning to accept the things you can’t change will allow you to move forward and be more present for what is happening at hand. 

If and when your loved one does enter treatment, know that it’s not over and that recovery is an ongoing process throughout which they will continue to need your support. Encourage their attendance in care, 12-step meetings, and sober support groups. Be cautious of over-managing their life or process of healing and recovering – they need to learn how to be responsible for their decisions and actions, and they will if given the resources and space to do so. 

 

In summary, there is no perfect way to be a friend or family member to someone in active addiction. Doing your best is always enough. With compassion, empathy, and an ongoing presence in their life, you will be able to make a positive difference for your loved one in some way. You are not to blame for this situation, and you are not alone in handling it. Please remember that your role is also extremely challenging, and that creating time to care for yourself with generosity and love is so deeply important. Many resources are available to you, including Al-Anon meetings here at Avalon. We are here for you and are ready to welcome you with open arms. 

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