Learning how to help an addict may seem like a daunting task. Watching someone you love use and abuse drugs can be scary, sad, and disheartening. In many ways, addiction is a voluntary disease – watching it happen before your eyes can be torturous. But, while it may be painful, you do not have to go along for the ride. There are steps that you can take that will motivate them to get help, as well as keep yourself safe.
Be well yourself.
The first step in how to help an addict is to be well yourself. If you are healthy, you have more that you can give to someone else when they need it. If you are healthy then you are not part of the cycle of addiction with them, enabling, or doing other things that make their using easier or more tolerated (like calling into work on their behalf saying they are sick when they are really hungover).
Education is key.
The more you know, the more intelligent the decisions you will make. Do research to identify the signs of abuse and addiction. Learn to understand and interpret the reactions people have while taking substances. This can help you when you talk to your loved one about what drugs specifically you think they are doing. Educating yourself can also help you know exactly how to help an addict, what options you have, and what types of treatment are available.
The next step is to talk to your loved one, openly and honestly, about the situation. Tell them what you see happening, how you are reacting, and what you are concerned about. Don’t start with, “you are the problem because…” That’s a quick way to have someone shut down. Instead, start with, “I am worried about you because…” This can help avoid the other person becoming defensive. Statements that involve ‘I’ such as “I am worried,” or “It scares me to see you like this.” help to make the situation less threatening for them.
Lastly, while family interventions have been made popular by certain TV shows, there isn’t much evidence to show that they work. In fact, they may do the opposite and make the person feel ganged up on and defensive. These are two things that you definitely want to try to avoid. A key step in how to help an addict is to talk plainly and gently with them instead.
Set limits and stick to them.
Understand what you are able and willing to tolerate. This is a personal matter and will be different for everyone, so choose what is right for you. If it is only using on weekends, then say that. If it is complete abstinence from all drugs and alcohol, then do that. Say that very clearly to your loved one and then stick to those limits. Sticking to the limits is probably the hardest part, but it is also the most vital part of how to help an addict.
What do you want to happen next.
This one may require a bit of research, but it is often helpful to have some next steps ready to go (if the person using is willing). This could mean having a treatment specialist ready to talk to them or having a phone number of a substance abuse treatment facility on hand so that they can talk right then. Being ready to go cuts down the chance they will back out, as opposed to waiting until the next day to call for some help. Professionals will know how to help an addict and be used to supporting them and their loved ones.
Set consequences and stick to them.
This one is directly linked to setting limits – you must set the consequences if they are violated. Again, consequences are a personal thing and more for you than your loved one. This should be considered mainly for your safety and peace of mind, and secondly as a punitive measure. Do they need to move out? Will you stop giving them money? Will you deny them access to your children? As before, the hardest part is always following through, but it is the most necessary.
Raise the bottom.
Raising the bottom is a term that originates from the phrase, ‘hitting rock bottom’. When an addict has done so much damage to themselves that they cannot sink any lower, then they are at rock bottom. Raising the bottom means you are helping them to get there faster so they can see that they need help (or be forced into getting help).
Some ways to raise the bottom are calling the police when you know they are driving drunk or refusing to support them anymore while they drink or use. This forces them to find help faster, and maybe see that they need it. Of course, no-one wants to call the police on their loved one, but think about it this way… if they are arrested then firstly, they will be safe, and secondly, they will now be under court order to get help or seek some type of support. The court can be used as a way to get someone into treatment as well.
How to help an addict – final thoughts.
And so we go back to the beginning. Taking care of yourself is very necessary when learning how to help an addict with a serious drug or alcohol problem. If it is a support group, counseling for yourself, or just having a good shoulder or two to cry on, you will need this. The process can be a long one but hope and help are out there if you need it.
Hope and help are out there if you need it.