Helping a Loved One with an Addiction

When one person is caught in addiction, they usually take several close loved ones into the swirl of pain and turmoil along with them. Families who have a dear one living in addiction usually experience a gamut of emotions. Fear, anger, guilt, concern, shame and frustration are the norm for those closest to the addicted person. However, without meaning to do so, the family who wants to help can actually wind up exhibiting behaviors that are enabling rather than helpful. It isn’t the desire to help that is missing; it is knowing how to help that is absent. Here are six ways you can help.

Educate Yourself About Addiction

Learn what characterizes this illness as well as what dynamics contribute. Understand that addiction is a progressive condition and won’t get better on its own. Realize that it isn’t the fault of the family that your loved one is struggling in this way and that you can put aside your feelings of guilt and shame. Attend meetings of Families Anonymous or Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous or go for family counseling.

Avoid Rescue

Stop excusing your loved one’s behavior and don’t step in to soften the blows or mitigate the consequences of his/her choices. Consequences can be motivating and usually are what is needed in order to see the truth of the problem. A mindset that says "no consequences, no progress" is what is needed.

Don’t Give Money

Because of love and embarrassment you will be tempted to spend money on behalf of the loved one in addiction – do not do it. Refuse to pay the court fees or to loan money. You may think you are not paying for drugs/alcohol when you pay the rent, cover insurance or buy groceries but you are. Only when your loved one has no money to spend on their addiction will they face painful withdrawal and the possibility of getting help.

Use Words Carefully

Actions, not words, have influence so don’t make idle threats. Don’t ask for promises either – your loved one won’t keep his/her word anyway. Lecturing them, pleading or reasoning is wasted breath because you cannot guilt a person into sobriety. If you could persuade a person into sobriety it would have been down to a science by now.

Get off the Emotional Roller-Coaster

Families often ride the up and down teeter-totter of anger followed by pity when dealing with a member in addiction. Decide that you will not be guided by how you feel at any moment – your feelings will change soon anyway. Emotions are all too often used to manipulate family members.

Stay Focused on the Bigger Picture

Addiction absorbs energy and attention like a black hole. Focusing on the loved one can take your attention away from your regular responsibilities to work, other family members and even the joys of life. It may feel sympathetic to focus on them, but it isn’t. Intentionally remain attentive to your other responsibilities in life, including your health and recreation time. The addicted member, not the rest of the family, needs to feel the pinch of consequences.