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How To Help Someone With An Addiction

Approaches to help a loved one seek out treatment for their alcohol addiction

Anyone who has ever been close to someone with substance use concerns knows how challenging it can be. Their actions and behaviours don’t just affect them—they can impact the people around them in direct and damaging ways. Family and friends can feel scared and powerless to help, and it can feel defeating when someone you love is unable or unwilling to accept your help. At Home Based Recovery, we understand how the support of loved ones can be a positive force during their recovery efforts. Here are some key ways that family and friends can offer support and help someone with an addiction. [article updated March 2023] 

Seek Personal Therapy or Family Coaching

Dealing with the actions of someone with substance use issues can have lasting impacts on your mental and physical health. Feelings of helplessness and shame are common when they reject the help you offer, and anger and resentment can build when their actions directly harm you or someone else you care about. Therapy or counselling sessions can help prepare you for any stress caused by trying to help your loved one. Your counsellor can teach you ways to buffer against the stress and effectively cope with your loved one’s actions and behaviours. Within Home Based Recovery we can help connect you to an appropriate therapist within the professional practice of Dr. Michael Berry at Resilient Health. If Family Coaching using the CRAFT Model of Addiction feels like a better resource we can connect you to Michael Walsh.

Get Informed

The more you know about addiction and the motivations behind your loved one’s substance use, the more you will be able to understand and support them. There are resources online available to help you learn more, such as BC’s Mental Health and Substance Use Library or you can also ask your counsellor for more information. Online chat forums and social media groups can also be a great way to learn about addiction from people who have experienced it themselves or were in a close relationship with a substance user. It’s also a safe space to ask specific questions about situations or feelings you are experiencing. It is useful to educate yourself about addiction, treatment options, and strategies to support your loved one during their long-term recovery. A great resource for those affected by a loved one’s substance use is Beyond Addiction. Allies in Recovery is an American based resource centred around the CRAFT Model of Addiction and is an excellent platform for information. 

Build Your Support Network

Building a network of friends and allies who understand what you’re going through will make it much easier for you to cope with the actions and behaviours of your loved one. There are numerous support groups available, each with different approaches and techniques to suit your needs. Al-anon and Nar-anon, for example, are higher-power focused 12-Step programs that provide a place for people impacted by substance users to gather, share resources, and learn how to assist their loved ones with getting treatment, including the “detach with love” method. Another modern support method is SMART Recovery for Families. SMART, a self-empowering program uses tools based on cognitive therapy to help you level out your emotional roller coaster and learn better ways of dealing with your unique situation. Tools and support for providing effective, non-confrontational support for a loved one. SMART’s skills training for Family & Friends includes tools for positive communication skills and other strategies to help you change the dynamics of your relationship with your loved one. This method has been proven to be more successful than harsh interventions or complete detachment. Our mutual desire is that your loved one will take on the choice to pursue their own recovery and that you will learn ways of improving your life at the same time.

No matter which method of support you prefer, building a network of friends and family is also important because they likely have also experienced your loved one’s damaging behaviour. Attending group meetings with friends and family can also help everyone get on the same page about how to support your loved one going forward. 

Avoid Shame and Criticism

As you try to understand your loved one’s substance use and make sense of their behaviours, it can be easy to lay blame and find a “cookie-cutter” scapegoat for their problem. Addiction is a very nuanced disorder, and each case is completely individual. That’s why it’s so important to avoid laying blame on your loved one or criticizing them for their substance use issues. Shaming someone with an addiction can cause them to feel even worse about themselves and may lead to increased substance use and binge episodes. 

Respect Their Privacy

Although the impacts of a loved one’s substance use can greatly affect you personally, it’s crucial that you respect their privacy as you offer support. During your therapy and counselling sessions, it can be helpful for you to seek guidance and coping strategies to deal with your loved one—but the details of their substance use and personal aspects of their recovery are their business and should be respected. An exception is when your loved one is suffering with severe alcohol dependency, is resistant to treatment, and their behaviours have the potential to harm themselves and others. In such cases, a counsellor or Dr. Michael Berry R. Psych within Home Based Recovery can guide and support you toward the appropriate resources including either Family Coaching or an Invitational Intervention, when necessary.

Be Honest With Them

An important part of helping someone with substance use issues is communicating your feelings and being honest about how their substance use is impacting your life. During this process, try to be as specific as possible and focus on how their actions and behaviours make you feel. Honesty can be difficult for your loved one to hear, but it can also be the jolt they need to realize how their substance use is affecting them and the people they care about. As you share your feelings, be ready to support them as they listen and absorb what you’ve told them. For people with addictions, it can be difficult to see outside of their bubble and recognize how badly their substance use issues are impacting their loved ones. You may feel bitter and resentful for past harms, but try to wrap your honesty in compassion—it will make it easier for your loved one to face than brutal, unfiltered truth.

Encourage Them To Seek Help

The best time to approach your loved one about their substance use concerns is when they are not drinking. Suggesting treatment when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol may cause them to react in negative ways, such as lashing out verbally or becoming physically violent. Try speaking with your loved one in an environment that is comforting and safe, such as their home or the home of a friend or family member. It is important to be calm and non-threatening as you express your concerns and suggest treatment options. Showing compassion will help them feel at ease and reassure them that they will have your friendship and support throughout their recovery journey.

Expectations vs. Reality

Addiction is a serious disorder and it can be difficult for your loved one to abstain from their substance use and maintain sobriety. It’s natural to want  loved ones to be sober and healthy as quickly as possible. However, the reality can be somewhat different. The first time they are confronted, your loved one may object to treatment altogether and be resistant to any help or support. In other cases, they may agree to stop their substance use and attend treatment, but fail to attend support sessions and continue their substance use. Having realistic expectations about their recovery will allow you to offer support during their successful periods of abstinence as well as difficult periods of relapse. 

Take Care of Yourself

When a loved one has issues controlling their use of drugs or alcohol, it can affect your ability to lead a healthy and fulfilling life. As you support their efforts in treatment and recovery, it’s essential that you make time for yourself. Self-care can be as simple as continuing with your regular social activities, exercising, eating healthfully, and getting enough sleep. Taking care of yourself will help you to reduce stress and allow you to enjoy a happier life outside of the pull of your loved one’s substance use issues. Home Based Recovery’s world-class approach to recovery provides individuals with convenient, personalized, evidence-based treatment and aftercare that allows them to reclaim their lives and build a solid foundation for long-term sobriety.  

Reach Out To Us For A No-Charge Consultation

We would be happy to speak with you confidentially to see if HBR is the right fit for you. Please feel free to connect with us by calling 1-833-778-8644 or by emailing admin@homebasedrecovery.ca

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