What is the Best Way to Love an Addict?
Loving someone in active addiction to alcohol or drugs can be extremely difficult. The pain that the suffering addict inflicts on themselves and others can be indescribable. Hurt feelings and worse abound. The suffering addict, with little control over what they do or say while under the influence, is like a wrecking ball destroying everyone and everything that gets in their way. How do you show love to someone acting out in such abhorrent ways? It is simple. Simple but not easy.
By Shayne Sundholm, CEO, Clean Recovery Centers
Designed to love
Expressing and receiving love is something we as humans are designed to do. It is a pleasurable and rewarding experience for the giver and the recipient. Saying “I love you,” showing warmth and affection through a loving hug, compliments, giving gifts or other tokens of appreciation and friendship are just some of the many ways that people express their love for one another.
Unfortunately, such expressions usually fall on deaf ears if pointed towards the person in active addiction. It can be extremely painful to realize such expressions of love, in the normal sense, can often make things worse for the suffering addict and all concerned. The disease of addiction thrives on manipulation. Expressing love in this manner often reinforces the negative behaviors associated with addiction as the suffering addict’s brain interprets such sentiments as “rewards for poor behavior.”
While such expressions can actually enable the suffering addict and their disease, expressing anger and frustration is usually worse! Someone in active addiction already has greatly diminished if not zero coping skills. They are typically depressed, anxious, fragile, have rock-bottom self-esteem and are craving their addictive substances so intensely that words can scarcely express it.
Yelling, screaming, demeaning, and fighting with the suffering addict in this state only exacerbates these feelings and their cravings.
One can easily see the frustration of someone dealing with a suffering addict. They often feel completely hopeless. They cannot show love in a normal way without risking making things worse, and they cannot express their tremendous frustration and hurt without risking making things worse. Not only worse for the suffering addict but for themselves and all concerned.
A Trapped feeling
At this point the person dealing with their suffering loved one often feels trapped, feels like giving up and with good reason. It is only human nature to feel this way in such a situation.
However, if the person dealing with the suffering addict truly wants to help them our best advice is to learn to love them in a manner conducive to getting them to agree to get the help they need.
There is an approach that works, perhaps not all the time, but it works far more than it fails and is better than almost anything else that can be tried. That approach involves telling the suffering addict that you love them, and you will support them, but only if they get the help they need and do their very best to get well. If they choose not to do so, there is nothing else you can do or will do as you will not bear witness to them destroying their lives and the lives of all who love them.
To some, this may sound harsh. But we can tell you, based upon helping hundreds and hundreds of suffering addicts and alcoholics, this is the approach that works most often. A person dealing with a suffering addict is trying to help save their lives, literally.
Thrives on manipulation
Far too many family and friends have unknowingly enabled their suffering loved one’s addiction to the point of death. This is not the time to cave in or shower the suffering person with gifts, affection, money, cover for them or make excuses for them. The disease of addiction thrives on manipulation. The person trying to help cannot let the addict’s disease manipulate them any further.
The suffering addict’s life and well-being are contingent on the person being clear, firm yet loving as they approach them in this manner.
Remember, we said the approach was simple but not easy. Many parents, spouses, children, friends and employers try to avoid such a direct approach to “spare” the suffering addict’s feelings.
Learn about the disease
In reality, the suffering addict cannot even differentiate true from false and will barely remember the conversation should they agree to seek treatment or not. Often, parents, spouses, children, friends and employers unknowingly try to spare their own feelings of discomfort by not following through with the approach described.
The best way to love an addict is to do everything you can to learn about the disease, seek expert opinions and take the approach that has the best chance of getting them into the treatment they need. The life of the suffering addict and the health and welling being of all concerned is a stake.