If your loved one is struggling with addiction, it can be hard to know how best to support them. Sometimes, actions that may seem helpful can actually harm their well-being in the long run.
This blog offers some tips on how to help a loved one with drug addiction and provides insight into the condition.
What Is Drug Addiction?
Drug or alcohol addiction is when someone compulsively seeks or uses a substance, despite any negative consequences. It’s a type of mental illness characterized by physical changes in the brain that produce strong urges to use a substance, making it very hard to quit without effective support.
Drug addiction develops due to the interaction of addictive substances with the reward pathways in our brains. The reward pathways are a normal part of how the brain works, encouraging us to repeat activities that help us survive.
When we engage in beneficial activities, such as eating or exercise, our brains release small amounts of certain neurotransmitters, including endorphins (natural opioids) and dopamine. This alters neuronal connectivity along the reward pathways, making it more likely that we will do the activity again.
Taking addictive substances hijacks these systems, increasing the availability of certain neurotransmitters to levels much higher than is normal. Over time, this leads to long-term brain changes that underpin the compulsive drug-taking behaviors that characterize addiction.
The physical nature of addiction – often classified as a chronic brain disease – requires us to treat people living with addiction with compassion. Someone with an addiction doesn’t have full control over their drug-seeking behavior and many of its consequences. It’s important to remain non-judgmental and try to understand their experience.
Recognizing addiction is the first step in accessing treatment and beginning the recovery journey. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if a loved one is living with addiction, especially since they may hide the signs of substance abuse. If you’re worried about a friend or family member and their drug abuse, you should contact a mental health professional for expert advice.
Some physical and psychological signs of addiction include:
- alcohol or drug abuse becoming the priority in your loved one’s life
- neglecting home or work responsibilities due to substance use
- lying or secretive behavior
- continuing to take substances despite negative consequences
- financial issues
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit using a substance
- social isolation
- loss of interest in everyday activities
What Is a Substance Use Disorder?
A substance use disorder is a medical diagnosis that encompasses addiction, dependence, and other symptoms that limit an individual’s control over their substance use. When diagnosing a substance use disorder, psychiatrists and psychologists look for a set of eleven symptoms laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The more symptoms that are present, the more severe a person’s disorder is.
Supporting a Loved One With Addiction
If you’re wondering how to support a loved one with addiction, there are a few things you could think about and options to explore.
Encourage Them to Seek Support
The best thing you can do to help your loved one’s addiction is to encourage them to seek treatment. The nature of substance abuse means that most people aren’t able to recover on their own. However, professional treatment programs and long-term recovery support can support anyone to stop using and reclaim their lives.
You can encourage your loved one to begin treatment with an open conversation. Before you have the conversation, it’s good to prepare to make sure it goes smoothly and to avoid unhelpful reactions. You may not be able to say everything you want the first time. Some useful tips include:
- listen to what the other person has to say
- be compassionate and non-judgmental
- come from a place of love and care
- honestly explain your concerns and the effect your loved one’s addiction has on themself, yourself, and others around them
- research some treatment options such as local treatment facilities, residential centers, local support groups, and online support groups
- offer to accompany them to appointments or to visit a treatment facility
If your loved one is unwilling to seek treatment, you may want to think about staging a formal intervention. An intervention is a staged, planned event organized by family members and friends that aims to disrupt an individual on their pathway of harm and help them recognize that they need support. Some people work with a professional interventionist to guide them through the process and help make the intervention successful.
Avoid Enabling Behaviors
Enabling behaviors are actions or words that make it easier for your loved one to continue abusing drugs or alcohol. Enabling behaviors normally come from a place of care – a desire to fulfill a loved one’s needs – but can be detrimental to their long-term well-being.
Some examples of enabling behaviors include:
- acquiring drugs or alcohol for your loved one
- offering financial support
- making excuses for behavior that results from drug or alcohol abuse (such as missed days at work or embarrassment in front of friends)
- taking care of responsibilities that your loved one may be neglecting
While it may feel hard to say no, fulfilling your loved one’s short-term needs may prevent them from realizing the consequences of their actions and their addiction. This could stop them from receiving treatment. Enabling behaviors can also contribute to co-dependent relationships, where one partner becomes preoccupied with meeting their partner’s needs while neglecting their own.
If you would like additional support in avoiding co-dependency and enabling behaviors, you may wish to explore family therapy, individual counseling, or other psychotherapeutic options.
Supporting a loved one with an active addiction can be exhausting and take its toll on your own mental health. It’s vital that you take care of yourself in the process and remember that you are important too.
Some good self-care practices include:
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- getting enough sleep
- exercising regularly
- spending time with friends
- doing activities you enjoy
- relaxation techniques such as yoga and mindfulness meditation
Sharing your feelings and experiences with close friends can offer you emotional support and relieve some of the burdens you are carrying. You could also join a support group like Al-Anon where family members of individuals struggling with addiction meet to provide mutual support. Support groups can be great places for people to listen to one another, share experiences, and offer mutual advice.
Don’t hesitate to seek professional support for yourself if you need to. Living with the effects of addiction is really tough and it’s normal to need help. Individual counseling and family therapy can help you manage the impact of drug abuse and look after your own needs.
Know Your Limits
If you’re struggling to cope with your loved one’s addiction or they are acting in an aggressive, violent, or otherwise abusive way, it may be time to distance yourself from them. Remember that there’s never a reason you should have to experience verbal, physical, or emotional abuse. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers free and confidential resources on identifying abuse and getting help.
Learn More About Substance Abuse
Learning more about addiction and its causes can help you to cope with the effects of addiction and know how best to respond. You can speak with a mental health professional or research the topics yourself – the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers lots of useful resources and information on its website.
What Does Addiction Treatment Involve?
Effective addiction treatment addresses the underlying causes of addictive behaviors, helping individuals achieve long-lasting recovery. Every individual is different and no one treatment option works for everyone. Most addiction treatment programs combine a variety of treatment options, tailored to suit each person’s needs.
In recent decades, extensive scientific research has uncovered a range of evidence-based treatment options and holistic mind-body therapies that support the addiction recovery process. Treatment options may include:
- cognitive-behavioral therapy
- support groups
- family therapy
- dual diagnosis programs that treat co-occurring disorders alongside addiction
- yoga and mindfulness meditation
- life skills development
- experiential therapies
- medication-assisted treatment
A treatment program may be inpatient (where a person stays at a treatment center for the duration of treatment) or outpatient (where they visit a center for sessions but continue to live at home). Your treatment provider or another mental health professional can help to determine the best option for your loved one.
Alina Lodge is a residential addiction treatment center with a nationwide reputation. Founded over 60 years ago, Alina Lodge is widely considered to offer one of the best recovery programs in the United States.
We are committed to providing top-tier clinical care based at the forefront of addiction science. We continually develop, evaluate, and modify our programs as the field of addiction evolves to ensure each client receives the very best treatment available.
Our rehabilitation experience focuses on long-lasting change, addressing the underlying causes of addiction. Our diverse range of methods treats the entire person. We offer holistic approaches such as mindfulness-relapse prevention alongside behavioral therapies and other treatment options.
We appreciate the role of the individual and the family in overcoming addiction. We ensure that our treatment programs are catered to the unique needs and characteristics of each client and their personal aims and goals. We also involve family members in the treatment process, helping to heal the damage caused by addiction and develop strong support systems that nurture lasting recovery.
If your loved one is struggling with drug dependence or addiction, there’s no better place than Alina Lodge. Contact us today to open the door to a new life.