To anyone wondering how to help an addict, here is the bottom line up front: You can’t fix them—there is no magic solution. Your support is helpful. Your indulgence is not. However, you can make the situation better for everyone by helping yourself.
We know firsthand the heartache of watching someone struggle with drug addiction. Without a doubt, it is immensely painful to witness someone you love be destroyed by a deadly, overpowering compulsion they cannot control. The senselessness of an addict’s behavior, the seeming indifference to consequences, and the inability to get well—despite all they have lost—can be baffling to bystanders
Despite your desire to help, there is no surefire formula that will get someone to stop, or cut back, on his or her using. Addiction is a complex problem, with many related issues. With that, we offer some guidelines we have found useful.
How to Support an Addict
First and foremost, take care of yourself. You will then have a better chance of staying sane through a challenging time, and will be better resourced to be truly helpful to the addict in your life. More on this below.
Next, realize that helping an addict can be difficult and isn’t usually straightforward. The addict may not agree they have a problem or be willing to do anything about it. If the person in your life is willing to accept help, you can offer assistance in finding them a detox facility, rehab program, 12-step group, or ideally all three. Although try not to assume that getting the addict into treatment will resolve everything. Establishing a sober life takes time, continued effort, and commitment
In some cases, interventions can be useful. Seek out guidance on the best ways to approach this beforehand to maximize effectiveness.
When talking to the addict, it is helpful to be honest about your feelings, what you want to happen, and what the addiction has been like for you. Try to avoid criticizing and lecturing, as it may impede the process and simply create more tension and distance between you. You will increase your chances for success if you communicate honestly but in a way that does not threaten or demean your loved one. After all, addiction is characterized by powerlessness. Usually, the addict doesn’t want to live this way either.
Although it’s tempting to tell your loved one that their addiction is a problem and they need to change, the decision to accept help is ultimately theirs. If they are not willing to participate in their own recovery, chances are it won’t last.
What Not to Do
Don’t expect results just because you asked the addict to quit. Addiction is baffling and powerful—many addicts continue to use despite consequences, loss, and a desperate desire to stop. Their love for you or anything else is not usually enough to get them clean. The compulsion to keep using takes precedence over everything else in life. This is not personal; it is merely a symptom of the power of addiction. Accepting this can help you move towards a solution.
Protecting them from consequences will not usually help a person struggling with addiction get well. Continuing to provide money and resources can keep a person using indefinitely. Many people with experience council against providing anything that can keep the addict using, directly or indirectly, such as paying bills
Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are threatened mentally or physically. This is not useful to you or the addict. Seek help from family, counselors, support groups, or law enforcement where appropriate.
Don’t expect that the addict will immediately accept treatment if you’ve suggested it. Even after multiple treatment centers or interventions, some addicts will continue to relapse. It is crucial in these cases for you to continue to seek out support and solutions to help you stay sane regardless of what the addict is doing.
Help Them By Helping Yourself
Having a relationship with an addict can be excruciating. Accepting that you are also suffering and need help will serve both you and the addict.
Hearing the experience of other people who have learned to live happily despite addiction can be both instructive and comforting. Finding a support group can be a lifeline that connects you to understanding people, and teaches valuable coping mechanisms.
Twelve-step programs, like Nar-anon and Al-Anon, are designed for families and friends of addicts or alcoholics. They are a great place to begin.
Scottsdale Providence offers support for the family and loved ones of alcoholics and addicts. Get in touch to see how we can help.