If a loved one in your life seems to be battling a substance addiction, there are some substantial questions you’re likely considering. Is this person fully addicted? Will he or she be alright? Is there anything I should be doing to try and help them through this? How is someone supposed to get help for an addict?
If you can relate to any of these questions, know that you are not alone. Many of us experience these same thoughts and concerns for the addict in our lives. The truth is, addicts are not helpless, although it might seem like a helpless situation. There are certain ways you can go about seeking proper help for an addict in your life.
What exactly is an addiction? How can we know for sure that someone is heading down a path of drug or alcohol dependency? Although addiction can look different from person to person, there are some giveaway signs we can look out for. If you start to identify several of these signs among yourself or someone you care about, it’s most likely time to reach out for help.
Signs of Addiction
As pointed out in more detail in this article, the warning signs of addiction can be subtle or blatant in appearance. If you live with someone who seems to be fighting an addiction, more times than not, you’ll just know. Maybe you don’t want to admit or confront the reality of it, which is understandable too. If you are still feeling unsure about what addiction looks like, here are a few common signs:
- Obsessive cravings for drugs or alcohol
- Changes in appearance
- Loss of interest in personal activities
- Extreme mood swings
- Suspicious behavior
- Weight Changes
- Borrowing or stealing money for drugs
- Isolation, depression, lack of overall motivation
- Changes in sleep patterns: unable to sleep, or excessive sleeping
- Struggles with boundaries; can’t seem to say no to using drugs
As the person on the outside of the situation looking in, it might be tempting to want to control the addict. Instinctually, you may try to threaten, blame, or shame them out of their drug use habits. However, it’s likely that making them feel bad won’t prove to be effective at pushing them to get the help they need. If you’re trying to get help for an addict, there are some things you should know.
Know the Difference Between Helping and Enabling
First of all, even though the blame game is seen often as a cycle that leads to nowhere (and can make matters worse in some cases), even more commonly seen among individuals trying to get help for an addict is something called enabling.
Enabling is when a loved one takes part in what they think is helpful actions toward the addict in life. However, this behavior takes its toll and has negative results which encourage dysfunctional habits– in this case, drug addiction.
Let’s observe a relevant example of someone’s enabling behavior. Say a twenty-something-year-old man moves back in with his mother after a difficult year in college. During college, he unintentionally developed an addiction to alcohol and marijuana. In fact, substance use is what got him kicked out of his University. Now living back at home, every day he drinks and smokes weed throughout the day and evening as a means to cope with his guilt of dropping out of college.
Because the mother in this situation cares about her son, she agrees to help him out while he “gets back on his own two feet.” She works hard at a management position at her company, remains kind to everyone, and seems like a strong, independent woman. Meanwhile, at home, she pays the rent, utilities, car insurance, internet bill; buys her and her son’s groceries, puts up with her son’s loud friends and hookups every weekend, never says no to his selfish requests, and helps him out when he’s short on cash for buying more weed.
One year goes by, and this same “help” continues. Eventually, the mom feels burnt out, resentful, annoyed, and impatient with her son. She addresses the issues, only to be cussed out and written off as crazy by her high, adult child. She realizes that her attempts at helping him have just made things worse! This is exactly what it means to be enabling.
So does “Helping” mean Tough Love?
“Tough Love” is a common term thrown around the recovery community. It’s the term used when a family member or friend finally puts their foot down with a formerly enabled addict. It’s when the mom finally refuses to pay the son’s bills, cook and clean up after him, lend him money, or allow him to live in the basement, jobless and motivationless in his addiction. In a sense, tough love is known as the point when you allow the addict in his or her life to reach “rock bottom” on their own, without support.
This doesn’t always have to be the case in successfully offering help for an addict. However, depending on how severe the enabling is, it can be the last resort.
The goal of finding help for an addict comes down to first and foremost, a healthy understanding. From there, action can be taken in more practical ways.
Steps in Seeking Help for an Addict
1. Have a Support System
There’s nothing more helpful when confronting the effects of an addict in your life than having some type of support system. Whether you have your own support system such as a trustworthy group of friends, a therapist, or attend a support group like a church or CoDA (Codependents Anonymous) is a good foundation.
When you, the person witnessing a loved one with an addiction, have a form of solid support, you set yourself up for success. To be honest, your contentment in life might change drastically if you watch addiction progress of someone immediately close to you such as a husband, wife, parent, or child. Therefore, having a person or group of people present in your life for you to turn to for comfort and advice can make the world of a difference. They can also act as a form of accountability, especially if you’re prone to being an enabler towards the addict in your life.
2. Plan Out the Potential Options
Now that you hopefully have a good support system, you can research some of the options as to how to approach and find help for an addict. Sometimes, this can include interventions, treatment center programs, weekly meetings, or therapy for the addict.
The most important part of trying to offer help for an addict is first to have a plan. The better prepared you are, the more successful the attempt at offering help might be. Of course, there’s never much predictability when it comes to this sensitive subject. But if you go into this with a goal, a good set intention, and a step-by-step approach, you’ll have less of a risk of crumbling emotionally or reacting out of fear instead of offering help out of love.
Remember you are not in control of anyone’s beliefs, feelings, or actions other than your own. No matter how badly you may want the addict to change their ways, it’s ultimately going to be up to them. The goal in formulating a plan in offering help for an addict is to show how much you care and present the opportunity for them to step into recovery with confidence and support behind them.
3. Open a Discussion
Once you have a plan in order, take the brave step in approaching and talking with the person who is struggling with addiction. If you want, there are professionally assisted options for going about this such as an intervention. We’ll talk more about that below.
But you don’t need an intervention exactly. You can talk to the person privately, or with another person present who you both have a close relationship with, and who has both of your best interests at heart.
A major helpful tip when approaching a discussion with an alcoholic or addict in your life is to remain calm and use “I” statements (such as “I feel like your drinking is becoming a problem; I don’t like to see you struggling”). Avoid “you” statements like “you are out of control” because this forces blame which most people aren’t receptive to.
If the situation is extreme, like the drug user in your life is severely depressed, experiencing personality changes, or acting out in aggression, the best action to take is to hold a professional intervention. An intervention is where a professional interventionist takes part in planning, preparing, conducting, and offering treatment for the addict.
Usually, the addict’s immediate family members are aware of the intervention and take part in the meeting. The interventionist acts as a facilitator and counsels everyone through the session. Interventions are a safe space for family members who are trying to find help for an addict. It’s a time where they can openly express their concerns, care, and hurts directly to the addict and offer them support in a hopeful way. It’s like a family therapy session with the intent of convincing him or her to agree to enter into some kind of professional treatment center.
5. Detox and Treatment
After the intervention, there comes the actual detox and treatment. In this step, it’s encouraged that close family remains involved throughout the process as much as seems appropriate.
The recovering addict has agreed to enter into treatment. First, they’ll need to go through detox and go through the experience of withdrawal. Many good a reputable treatment centers have medical assistance during this phase, especially for a substance such as alcohol, stimulants (meth, cocaine, Adderall), and benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium). Withdrawal during detox can pose adverse reactions and side effects. Under the care of medical staff, the process is guided, and the addict in treatment finds adequate support.
As far as treatment goes, there are a few different options. Inpatient treatment is when a person stays on-site at a facility generally for up to 28 days– this often involves the detox and initial recovery phase.
Then there is residential treatment. Residential treatment is what most people know with the phrase, “so-and-so is off at rehab.” At a residential facility, recovering patients live on site for an extended amount of time. They have daily meetings, whether with a support group or therapist. There are a schedule and a flow to each day for those in recovery to readjust to sobriety and learn helpful tools before reintegrating back into society.
Lastly, there is Outpatient treatment. Outpatient offers people with “lower scale” addictions the opportunity to go about their daily lives, take care of their kids, and hold a stable job while still practicing the requirements for drug addiction treatment. Usually, they go to a meeting, therapy session, or check up at least once or twice a week. This isn’t a more “relaxed” form of recovery, but it is less intensive.
6. Continue to Encourage
If and when your loved one decides on treatment, keep encouraging them. Don’t just write them off as “fixed” and start becoming distant. This can make them feel humiliated and rejected, which is undoubtedly something that won’t help during the recovery process. Try to keep a positive attitude, especially as addiction is such a struggle in itself. Starting the process of finding help for an addict is just the beginning. They then have their whole lives ahead of them to continue on their recovery journey.
7. Even though You Want to Help, Remember to Still Take Care of Yourself
With all this information, hopefully, it gives you a little insight into the steps for seeking help for an addict in your life. Even though there is only so much you can do, take hope that there are many caring professionals out there who see many people successfully get sober every day.
Even though you can’t control the outcome of any situation beyond yourself, try to continue living your life and doing the right thing for you. If you can’t take care of yourself during this time, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to adequately offer help to an addict. Ultimately, it’s up to them as to what they decide to do with their addictive habits. If you are left feeling alone and confused as to what to do with a person you love who’s addicted, reach out to us for help and we can see how we can help you and your family today.