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6 Dos and Don’ts of Caring for a Loved One with Substance Addiction

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Withdrawal and recovery: what’s the difference between physical and psychological dependence?

Seeing a loved one being consumed by their addiction can be confusing and traumatizing. In most cases, we want to do nothing else but help them, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, our first instincts on how best to help someone with a serious addiction are often wrong or even outright counterproductive for their recovery.

Below, we outlined some basic dos and don’ts of caring for someone who is abusing addictive substances. If you need more information on dealing with a loved one with these issues, be sure to call a substance abuse helpline.

1.) Don’t Moralize

Though it’s understandable why so many people fall back on moralizing as an attempt to get someone to consider quitting, this will almost certainly result in resentment and negative feelings without any progress.

While there may be times when you may say something that they could interpret as being judgmental, you should make it as clear as possible that you love them and understand that they are ill. Avoid framing their addiction as a moral failure on their part. Addiction is a disease and virtually anyone can fall victim to it.

Remember, too, that your loved one’s brain has undergone a serious change in its reward pathways, which makes it difficult for them to quit their drug of choice. This very real physical change in their brain structure will take more than just willpower to overcome. Being judgmental doesn’t make sense in this context and also lessens the chance that your loved one will consider any advice from you to seek rehabilitation.

2.) Don’t Force Them to Take Treatment

In many states, parents can force children to go into rehab or take treatment through a court order. On the other hand, even if the option is available, it’s worth exploring other avenues first.

Forcing someone to go to rehab versus helping them find their motivation to do so can result in wildly different outcomes. Because people in the throes of dependence do not act in their best interest, it may seem to make sense to use coercion to get them started on their recovery. Unfortunately, applying force will almost always result in a never-ending cycle of pushback and resentment, which nobody wants. In many cases, forcing a loved one to take treatment can be counterproductive and damaging to relationships, even if they do manage to quit.

Instead, it’s almost always better to help them find their own motivation. This will help ensure that they will at least attempt to work towards their own recovery. Forcing someone to attend a program should only be done if their addiction is an immediate threat to themselves or others.

3.) Don’t Pretend There Isn’t a Problem

While you certainly don’t want to force or nag someone into attending a recovery program, neither should you pretend that nothing’s wrong. Doing nothing can enable the dependent to sink deeper or even spiral out of control. They should at least know that you are aware they have a problem and that you want them to seek help. If necessary, you should be prepared to cut off financial support and take other steps necessary to keep them from harming themselves further.

4.) Do Carefully ConsiderWhat They Might Be Going Through

At some level, you may never truly understand addiction unless you have seen it or experienced it firsthand. Even then, everyone’s situation is slightly different, which may make it even harder to relate to what a patient is going through.

In any case, It’s important to do your best to empathize and understand what your loved one is going through. Try to look up cases of similar cases of addiction, as well as the possible courses of action you could take. Try to look at the context of their personal, social, and professional lives as well to have a better understanding of what may be happening from their perspective.

5.) Do Help Them Find Gainful Employment

Your loved one must be engaged in some meaningful work, if at all possible. This will help them get some purpose in their life and may alleviate boredom, which is one of the major causes of addiction.

Helping someone with dependency issues find work can be a serious challenge. The consequences of their addiction will often bleed into their professional life and make it difficult to find references. On the other hand, there are almost always jobs and volunteer opportunities available, provided you look in the right place. Ask friends, relatives, as well as local religious or community leaders to help your loved one find some gainful work while they are attempting recovery.

6.) Do Think about Your Own Well-Being

Caring for a loved one with substance addiction can be emotionally exhausting and almost as difficult as being addicted as well. To take care of someone effectively, you want to be sure that you are in a good state of mind yourself.

It’s important to not let your happiness depend too much on your loved one. Take the time to do the things that you enjoy and take breaks when you’re feeling emotionally drained. Try not to feel guilty about enjoying yourself, by yourself. In the end, this will ensure you aren’t burnt out and that you can keep caring for others for as long as you need to.

While it’s important to know how to handle a loved one with substance use issues, you mustn’t lose sight of the main goal, which is to help them recover. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as many as 90 percent of those who need drug rehabilitation do not get it. Even as you show care for someone who has substance abuse problems, it bears keeping in mind that you are doing it so that they themselves will seek the help they need.