“There’s no greater pain than watching someone you love…
… love their drugs more than they love you.” – Anon
It is unlikely that you’ll be able to pinpoint the exact moment, that precise second of realization that your loved one is slowly but surely becoming an addict. It’s usually a gradual dawning upon you; you see signs, for sure, but you put it down to something else – they’re just having a good time, must have been a really rough day at work, their friend just died. Slowly, but surely. That’s how it happens. Before you know it, all those signs, those danger signals, will eventually add up to a simple yet undeniable truth – the person you love, whether it is your spouse, your partner, your son, your daughter, even your closest friend, is facing addiction. And all you want to do is help.
In 2014, according to official U.S. figures, 21.5 million U.S. citizens, starting at 12 years old, were addicted to substance abuse. Twelve or over? That is a lot of parents, family members, friends and others all emotionally involved in those addicts’ lives. Currently going through, or having gone through, everything described above, that denial, those excuses and signs they made it be something else. Until the truth just reared up and bit them.
So how exactly can you help when you are confronted with this awful yet inescapable situation? The aim of this article is to provide you with practical advice and guidance about the 5 essential things you must do if a loved one is facing addiction. It’s about helping to educate you in the best ways possible so you are as prepared as possible to help an addict, even if it is your loved one. Yes, it’s about education and that’s where we’ll begin:
- Hit The Books
If your loved one had some other medical condition, with an unfamiliar name, you’d try and find out more about it, wouldn’t you? So what do you really know about the disease of addiction? For a start, did you know that it’s a real disease? Addiction is defined as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” In other words, someone doesn’t simply wake up one day and think to themselves, “Hey, today I’ll become an addict.” It does not happen like that. Therefore, it is not some kind of moral failing or personal weakness – it’s a disease, one that may kill the individual eventually.
Educating yourself as much as you can about the disease of addiction will put you in a much better position to help your loved one. We live in the age of the internet – read up from recognized sources. Additionally, attend AA meetings, seek advice from addiction professional and mental health doctors, and find additional information from addiction recovery books.
- Guilt & The Road Traveled
Once you are more educated about addiction itself, you can do one exceptionally important thing just for you – you can get rid of any guilt that you may feel regarding your loved one’s addiction and the road they took to get there. They didn’t travel on that road because of you, and you certainly did not guide them that way. Remember, you did not cause this, you sure can’t cure it, and you can’t control it, but you can help, which is what you’ll do.
- The Mirror
Having just written the above, it’s timely now to inform you that you may have enabled the continuation of the addiction. This may be difficult for you to read, but it needs to be said. As your loved one, the emotional ties are stronger than any other. So please, look at the questions below and answer them truthfully:
- Do you find yourself apologizing on their behalf? This could be to other family members, their work colleagues, even their school.
- Do you give or loan them money?
- Do you support them financially in other ways, like pay bills, etc.?
- Do you find yourself trying to hide their dysfunctional behavior from others?
- Do you clear away evidence of their addiction?
- Have you ever protected them from being arrested?
Only honest answers to these will help your loved one. On a highly personal note (but this is a personal article, so here goes…), at one point in my life, my wife would have been able to answer “Yes” to every one of these questions. I was and always will be an alcoholic. Now in recovery after many many attempts to get sober while we lived in Colorado, I am now 4 and a half years sober. As for your addicted loved one, well, it’s simple. If you do any of the above things, they will feel protected and will look upon your actions as a form of approval; “It’s all ok. They love me.” The most positive action you can take is to allow the consequences of their actions to happen naturally, as hard as that may be. At no point in this article does it say that helping them will be easy. Believe me, it’s not.
- Airplane Oxygen Masks
Remember the flight safety instructions you hear and see prior to your plane taking off? Remember the part about oxygen masks? To always put yours on before helping others with theirs? It’s the same thing in the situation you are now facing. You must help yourself first. Being such a significant part of an addict’s life (possibly for years and years) may have taken its toll on your mental health. Unbeknown to even you, you may be suffering from one of the following:
So before helping them, help yourself. See your doctor, get yourself checked over physically and have a good, frank discussion about how you are feeling and the situation you are now facing.
As we have established, addiction is a disease. And you, dear reader, are probably not a doctor. Progressive and chronic addiction can be deadly, just like any other disease. Therefore, in order to help them as fully as possible, you must speak with them whenever they are sober and insist they seek the help of a professional. If they don’t agree, your next step is an intervention. This intervention, instigated by you and with professional assistance from an addiction specialist, and possibly other family members and close friends. Remember, statistics show that addicts treated for at least 90 days are more likely to find a path to recovery.
So there you have my advice to you – the 5 essential things you must do if your loved one is facing addiction: educate yourself, lose your guilt, think about the effect of enabling them, looking after yourself (you are still your priority), and intervention. There are other issues, such as the pointlessness of arguing, what actually registers in their diseased brain, their attempts at manipulation, and even your physical safety. Maybe there are other things to consider also and, if you would like to contribute, please leave a comment below.
The situation you face is a difficult one, with no guarantees. However, you can make one guarantee to your loved one, if you so wish. Whatever happens in the future on their road to recovery, you will always be available for them, to continue loving them as you do now. Yes, you may be apart for a while, but they will have your emotional support throughout. Lastly, many, many addicts feel worthless and alone (even when they are clearly loved by someone else). The awareness that your love and support throughout what follows will continue increases their chance of success at returning to the person they were before. May I wish you both well.