Anyone who’s ever loved an addict can tell you that there’s no such thing as addiction in a vacuum. While addicted people may often feel isolated and alone, their loved ones always share the impact of their struggle in singular, painful ways. If someone you know is dealing with these kinds of problems, then you can almost certainly relate. It is painful to watch someone spiral into hopelessness and despair, and all too easy to be pulled down along with them.
It is impossible to force someone to get help or seek treatment. There is no magic fix for drug addiction; the addict must choose to get better, and nothing you say or do will help if they aren’t willing to make that decision and stick to it. Even then, outpatient rehab programs, while undeniably helpful, are not a guarantee of continued sobriety or a catch-all solution to an addict’s problems. It’s a fight that must be battled every single day.
It can be very difficult to stand by a loved one through their addiction and not be party to their willful self-destruction, but with the right tools and information at your disposal it is possible to be a force for good in your addicted loved one’s life. There are several important things to be aware of while in the process of helping a loved one deal with their addiction.
Addiction is overwhelming. It’s larger than life, and it can lead even the most balanced and loving person to make irrational decisions on a daily basis. The compulsion to seek out the substance of their addiction is stronger than an individual’s will, and almost certainly greater than the power of love no matter what popular culture examples may show us.
It’s a common pitfall to assume that logic and rationale are helpful when talking to an addicted person about their problem. You may feel driven to cite statistics, to argue and appeal to the reasonable person who you know and love. This won’t work; someone caught up in addiction will agree with you wholeheartedly (and mean it), then turn around and behave in a manner that contradicts every talking point you brought up. Sound reasoning and well-researched arguments fall flat next to the power of a drug addiction.
You must absolutely avoid ultimatums like “if you loved me you’d just quit.” This places you into a value equation against the addiction itself, and you are guaranteed to lose. Pitting yourself against the substance in this way will only make everyone involved more miserable, as the addictive nature of your loved one’s disease inevitably takes precedence.
Addicts do not behave rationally; they will spend their last dollar on drugs every single time, to the detriment of absolutely everything and everyone else in their lives, and burn any bridge necessary to keep up their self-destructive patterns. This is why intensive outpatient therapy is recommended for those willing to seek treatment; a program designed by professionals to help confront every aspect of addiction will go a long way toward helping your loved one get well.
When traveling by airline, every passenger is instructed in the proper use and application of the standard pressurized oxygen mask. The in-flight announcements inform fliers that, in the event of decompression and the deployment of oxygen masks, those traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance should secure their own mask first before assisting the other person.
The same theory applies to helping addicted loved ones. If you’re going to stand any chance of helping this person who requires your assistance, you first need to “secure your own mask” and make sure you’re mentally and emotionally strong enough to do so. Addicted people, by their very nature, are masters of rationalization; you must not allow yourself to be drawn in, and especially must not use drugs or alcohol with an addicted person. No bargaining, no qualifications or excuses – every conversation should lead toward outpatient addiction treatment.
Take care of your own mental and physical health, and that of other family members who may not have the agency to do so on their own. If there are children in the equation, it’s absolutely vital to remove them from the dangers of exposure to the addicted person. If you yourself are vulnerable in any way, be it physically, mentally, emotionally, or could potentially suffer abuse at the hands of the addicted person, it’s best to remove yourself and attempt to help from a safe distance. It may be painful, but protecting yourself and your children has got to be priority number one.
When someone you love is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it can have a devastating impact on your own self-worth. Trauma treatment may be necessary for loved ones of addicts, as being exposed to the poisonous nature of the addict’s disease can be traumatic in its own right. This applies even more so for children, who will not understand addiction and tend to blame themselves and internalize their own suffering.
When someone we love is hurting, it’s only natural to want to ease their suffering. But when an addict is in the grips of their illness, it can be very easy to fall into enabling patterns and codependency. These are not only harmful to the addicted person, but also to the psyche and well-being of the person seeking to help.
An enabler is someone who, whether they realize it or not, helps an addicted person maintain their addiction and the negative habits surrounding it. Often, enablers are in a codependent relationship with the addict. This can be difficult for those involved to recognize and admit, as most codependent individuals don’t see their actions as detrimental or enabling of addiction. On the contrary, codependent enablers need to see themselves as helping.
A codependent relationship is complicated, and no two look alike. As such, there’s no best-fit solution or ‘one size fits all’ approach to codependency therapy in the context of addiction. A codependent person may derive disproportionately large portions of their own self-worth from being needed, or depended upon, by the addicted party. They may seek to control the situation – seeking to control the addict’s access to money, transportation, or social connection and forcing the addicted individual to rely on them even further.
Often, enabling and codependent relationships are based around bargaining. An addict may make promises of “weaning off” of their substance, and as such the enabling party might allow continued substance abuse under the guise of progress rather than insisting on outpatient substance abuse treatment. In the end, enabling addictive behaviors and engaging in bargaining behavior helps no one, and is more apt to destroy families than hold them together. Don’t be an enabler.
Do not hesitate to seek professional help for your addicted loved one. While it may be painful to recognize, sometimes the only approach to salvaging a relationship marred by substance abuse is to cut ties and protect yourself in order to remain strong and sane. In the case of someone who becomes violent or threatens self-harm or suicide, do not hesitate to call the police. It will be seen as a betrayal in the moment, but remember that addiction is not rational and that you are acting to save someone’s life.
If your loved one does agree to an intensive outpatient treatment program, make sure to do your research. Shorter thirty-day rehab programs promising lasting change are generally ineffective in the long run; the National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends a program of at least three months in order to give addicts the best possible shot at overcoming their burden.1 Even so, no rehab program is a guarantee.
Remember that addictions aren’t formed overnight – while some personalities may tend more toward substance abuse than others, no one destroys their life with a single decision or a momentary lapse of judgement. It’s all about habits, decisions, and patterns – the same applies to rehabilitation. It can take a long time to rebuild, but the right intensive outpatient program can help make recovery a reality.
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