Nothing prepares us for living with an addicted loved one. We may even be in denial that our loved one struggles with addiction, at least until functioning or health is compromised. After all, substances like alcohol are integrated so seamlessly into our society. We think nothing of grabbing a beer or two at a summer cookout, a glass of wine with dinner, or maybe a cocktail with friends. All of this can make identifying critical signs of addiction hard to spot.
The same could be said for painkillers, including Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Demerol, to name the three most widely known. If a loved one has been prescribed another set of painkillers for their diagnosed bad back, for example, how can they be addicted?
When we learn of our loved one’s addiction, we may wish to respond through shouting or anger. We may say things we regret. These typical responses might best be understood as knee-jerk reactions to something we suspected but hoped was not true. Leaving the stage of denial is never comfortable as it forcefully leads us through the doors of reality and inevitably into dealing with a situation we hoped to avoid.
Still, as tempting as an angry, blame, guilt, and shame tirade might be, we need to think carefully about framing our responses. This is not to imply we do not hold our loved ones accountable; it means we use the opportunity to speak honestly and in a way that is constructive and non-harmful. This is a crucial detail, especially since along the many paths to addiction, the common starting point is often one of deep emotional trauma, buried hurts, and in many cases, undiagnosed mental health disorders.
A Loved One’s Confession
When a loved one comes forward to inform you of their addiction, the layers beneath that moment run long and deep. Within that moment lies a very delicate balance of absolute vulnerability to open up and own up to their truth, mustering sufficient courage to tell you. It is a risk. They know you could be hurt. They know you might be angry, and they await your response.
A loved one discussing their addiction is about them, not you. Understand, moments of confession can be rare as hen’s teeth in the best of circumstances; therefore, squandering the moment with dismissive attitudes or minimizing tones is wasteful. Even if you don’t think there is a problem, your loved one does. That is more important.
Inside Voices Only
Shouting does nothing except alienate those around us. Assuming your goal is to remain calm, then your inside, quiet voice is needed here. Remember, the starting point on the path to addiction is often hurt, so ask yourself, would you want to be yelled at if you broke your arm, or had the flu, were a victim of crime, or experienced trauma?
Addiction is nobody’s fault. Nobody wants to become addicted. Becoming angry creates distance and distrust, and neither one is helpful. Often filled with self-hate and shame, addicts need understanding and compassionate support in their quest for help. Compassion never implies participating in your addicted loved one’s search for drugs.
Listen to Understand
After your loved one has spoken to you, be honest about not knowing what to do. It is okay to admit you don’t have all the answers. What your loved one needs most is for you to listen to something they may have wanted to say for a long time.
When you listen to understand, you listen with the purpose of understanding, making it possible to engage fully with what the other person is saying. We wait to respond because we want to give the best answer or the best response we are capable of. Listening to understand encourages engagement for both parties, in addition to empathy from a better understanding of the problem.
Listening to respond can become reactive. Our knee-jerk responses can dictate both thought and words. This, of course, often manifests through anger and actions we might regret later. It is better to simply listen to understand what is being said, admit you may need help processing the information than saying things or responding in harmful ways that delay essential and maybe lifesaving help.
Shaming will not help anyone; remember, addiction is not a choice. Your addicted loved one will not choose treatment because they feel guilty or shamed into entering detox. Generally speaking, this causes rebellion. Remember, the goal is maintaining contact with your loved one, including communication.
You are not alone; if you are struggling to understand how to address your loved one’s addiction, speaking with a medical practitioner is a good starting point. Look for resources within your community, including support groups for parents or loved ones of addicted persons.
As the family member of an addicted loved one, knowing the right thing to say can be difficult. However, it is better to understand first than say harmful things, making the situation worse. You are not alone. Just as you wish your loved one to seek help, you can also seek professional guidance and advice on how to provide the best support and avoid enabling. Hired Power’s discretion and confidentiality assure anonymity through all stages of returning to wellness. Whether moving to your detox program safely and with discretion, to recovery and sober living partners that can help you through the holidays, Hired Power is there for you or your loved one, standing as that bridge between you and traditional recovery plans. You don’t have to struggle alone; our personal recovery assistants are here to help you walk through this process, believing in you, empowering you to change, helping you or a loved one’s journey to a drug-free life—step by step. Call Hired Power today at (800) 910-9299. We look forward to hearing from you.