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Helping Your Loved One

How do you support someone suffering from drug and/or alcohol addiction? The addict is a very sick person who needs to get well. In fact, a person deep in their addiction is temporarily insane. This is hard for many people to accept.

Addiction is not a character flaw or moral issue. It is a disease. A family member or friend has no more ability to change a person in active addiction than they do to cure any other disease. In fact, they could make the situation worse.

Unless they are a highly skilled therapist, someone in recovery with a strong recovery program, or have successfully working with someone in recovery, most well-intentioned efforts will likely have little affect.

By Kari Mackneer, Clinical Director, LMHC

A vicious cycle

What should you avoid doing? Avoid criticizing and name calling whenever possible. The suffering addict already feels hopelessly lost. The guilt, remorse, and shame felt by the addict is almost indescribable.

This is a major reason the addict continues to use. They are unable to deal with the pain of what they have done. They get high to numb it out, leading to more destructive behavior. The addict then feels even more guilt, remorse and shame; they get high again, and this vicious cycle continues, getting worse each time.

Don’t enable

While you want to help and support the addict, be careful not to enable them. Someone in active addiction learns to become extremely manipulative and convincing. It is very important that you recognize this deceptive behavior as a symptom of their addiction. Giving in to requests or demands for money, food, drugs and vehicles will likely do the suffering addict far more harm than good.

What can you do?

The best advice for a loved one is to learn everything you can about the disease. Groups like AL anon can be extremely helpful.

Try to empower the addict and urge them to seek treatment, whatever that might look like. You may need to seek your own therapy.

Be honest with people and don’t minimize the addict’s disease. Try not to rationalize the behavior. Addiction is nothing to be ashamed of. You would not be ashamed of your relative, spouse, sister or brother if they had cancer, diabetes or any other disease.

Unconditional love

Be an objective witness to the addict, helping them to understand that they are very ill and need help (if possible with the aid and advice of other people in recovery or experienced in recovery). But do this without making them feel wrong or judging them.

Try to love the addict unconditionally and focus on what is right with them. In many cases these are very good people who have had great careers, are exceptionally talented, and have much to offer society once they are well.

Make sure they understand that you are there to support them, you are willing to help them, but you will not enable them.

At least 3 to 6 months of recovery

Addiction effects families, friends and employers and can be extremely painful. Try to see past the unsuccessful attempts at recovery in various addiction treatment centers. Remember, it can take 3 to 6 months or longer for a person to recover to the point where they can be successful in society.

Practicing patience, love and tolerance will not only help the suffering addict, it will help you as well!

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