7 Ways to Support a Loved One with a Substance Use Disorder

7 Ways to Support a Loved One with a Substance Use Disorder

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We all want to support the people we love but it’s not always easy to know what to do, especially if someone you love is struggling with addiction. It’s hard watching someone’s life unravel because of substance use, especially if you’re personally affected by that person’s mistakes. If someone you love has a substance use disorder, here are some of the main ways you can help them overcome it.

Express your concern.

If your loved one is not yet in recovery, your first priority should be to encourage her to get help. Typically, the first step is to share your concerns. This should be done in a loving, non-judgmental way. People with substance use disorders often feel a tremendous sense of guilt, shame, and judgment so condemning or criticizing them will only make things worse. Let her know that you’re worried about her and you only want her to be healthy and happy. Ask questions and listen to what she has to say. Think of it more as a real conversation rather than trying to persuade or coerce her into getting treatment. You can certainly suggest she enter treatment or seek some other kind of help for her addiction. Offer your support and let her know your love isn’t conditional. 

Stage an intervention.

If things get really bad, you may feel there is no other option but to stage an intervention. An intervention is when family members and maybe some close friends get together and confront her with the negative consequences of her substance use. They then ask her to accept help and enter treatment right away. Although most people are somewhat familiar with interventions, it takes a lot of expertise to make an intervention work. The confrontation is just the last part of a lot of preparation. There are different methods of intervention and family members should spend some time refining their letters for maximum impact. Families also need to have treatment plan already in place in case the intervention succeeds. For these reasons and more, anyone attempting an intervention should enlist the help of an intervention specialist to help organize the intervention and keep it on track.

Participate in treatment.

Quality treatment programs know how important it is to involve families in addiction treatment. It is often said that addiction is a family disease. This is true in several ways. First, addiction tends to run in families. There are genes associated with addiction and children learn addictive behavior by watching their parents. What’s more, dysfunctional family dynamics can increase your risk of addiction. Family members may not intend to cause each other harm but they may have unconscious behavior or communication patterns that cause a lot of interpersonal stress, especially on children. Learning to identify and correct these patterns is a big part of creating healthier families. In family therapy, families learn to set boundaries and communicate better, which is not only good for the addicted individual but for the whole family as well.

Support recovery.

There are many ways to support a loved one after she leaves treatment. The transition from treatment back to normal life is one of the most dangerous times in recovery. Treatment is only a beginning, a time to break out of dysfunctional patterns, learn new skills, begin intensive therapy, and practice new communication skills and ways of thinking. However, the short time in treatment is usually not long enough to make these new skills second nature. Your loved one needs positive social support and accountability after leaving treatment. That might take the form of helping her meet basic needs like giving her a safe place to stay, helping her pay the bills, or helping her take care of the kids or it may be more specifically related to recovery, such as making sure she’s attending appointments or 12-step meetings. 

Know the warning signs of relapse.

Relapses don’t typically happen spontaneously. Usually, they begin with negative emotions, such as depression, resentment, isolation, skipping meetings, or not sharing at meetings. Lack of proper self-care such as not sleeping or eating badly is a major indication. This may progress to mental relapse, which includes reminiscing about drug use, thinking about people, places, or things associated with drug use, looking for excuses to relapse, or even planning a relapse. Finally, when mental relapse meets opportunity, a physical relapse happens. 

Beware of enabling behavior.

It’s important to be aware that relapse does happen. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60 percent of people will relapse within the first year of getting treatment. If relapse does happen, it doesn’t mean permanent failure. It’s important to encourage your loved one to get back into recovery as soon as possible. In the meantime, beware of enabling behaviors. These are any behaviors that shield your loved one from the consequences of her substance use. Paying her bills, giving her money, or taking over her responsibilities are common ways of enabling. You can give her a place to stay but it’s important to set firm boundaries and enforce consequences for breaking them.

Take care of yourself.

Finally, it’s important to take care of yourself. Recovery is a long process and it’s often stressful. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, and getting a bit of exercise. It may be a good idea to see a therapist yourself to help you cope with negative emotions or consider attending a support group like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon for family members of people with substance use disorders. 

Most people aren’t experts in addiction treatment and that’s ok. If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 714-559-3919