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Help For A Loved One

Help For A Loved One

It’s natural to feel helpless, guilty, ashamed and angry when someone you love is struggling with addiction. It can be difficult to watch them continue to repeat these detrimental behaviours despite experiencing negative consequences to their physical, mental, emotional and financial health.

When we are close to another person, the symptoms of addiction can be obvious. However we may choose to ignore these warning signs out of a sense of fear and shame, until the detrimental effects and negative consequences of their addiction can no longer be denied.

Does your loved one have an addiction?

If your loved one is displaying some of the behaviours listed below, they may be struggling with an addiction.

  • They have become increasingly withdrawn and isolated
  • I have noticed that they are often vague and even dishonest about their behaviours
  • When I spend time with them, they are frequently under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • They spend a lot of money on a particular substance or behaviour, often when they cannot afford to
  • They have suddenly started to spend time with a new set of friends
  • They have begun to exhibit physical symptoms such as extreme weight loss, scabs and abscesses and poor personal hygiene
  • When they are unable to ingest a particular substance they begin to experience withdrawal symptoms
  • Their lives appear to be disorganised, chaotic and dangerous
  • They have experienced legal issues as a result of their behaviour
  • They neglect their responsibilities at work, school and home
  • They have attempted to change their behaviour but have been unable to
  • They have experienced negative consequences as a result of their behaviour but continue to do it

Types of addiction

It is scientifically recognised that there are two primary types of addiction: chemical and behavioural. [1] Both can be severely detrimental to physical and mental health, and it’s important to seek help for your loved ones if you believe that they are suffering from chemical or behavioural addiction.

Chemical addiction

A chemical addiction involves the use of addictive substances such as alcohol or drugs. This addiction can be both physical and psychological, with the individual continuing to ingest the substance despite negative consequence and often suffering from withdrawal symptoms when they are unable to acquire it.

Some examples of chemical addictions include:

  • Alcohol addiction
  • Cocaine addiction
  • Heroin addiction
  • Prescription drug addiction
  • Benzodiazepine addiction
  • Crack cocaine addiction
  • Cannabis addiction

Behavioural addiction

Behavioural addiction is an action that is compulsively repeated despite experiencing negative consequences. Most behavioural addictions involve actions that are relatively harmless, but when persistently repeated with little to no control over the extent of the behaviour they can be detrimental to relationships, health, finances or general wellbeing. [2]

Some examples of behavioural addictions include:

  • Gambling addiction
  • Sex and love addiction
  • Exercise addiction
  • Food addiction
  • Internet addiction
  • Video game addiction

How to help a loved one dealing with addiction

Once you begin to suspect that your loved one has a chemical or behavioural addiction, you will naturally want do anything you can in order to help them. It’s important to remember that only they can choose to recover, and you will not be able to do the work for them.

Below are some helpful strategies that can help your loved one to begin treatment for their addiction and take steps to recover.

1. Speak openly about your concerns

While it may be a difficult conversation, speaking openly about your concerns to your loved ones can motivate them to think about change. The conversation should be kept as stress-free as possible, as stress can be a trigger to many people with an addiction.

You may be tempted to shout, cry and react with anger, but these actions may end up pushing your loved one further into their addiction. It is important to communicate that you trust them, even if they have betrayed your trust in the past, and to avoid lecturing or criticising them. Simply state your concerns and make it clear that they have your full support.

2. Research treatment options

Making the decision to enter treatment for a chemical or behavioural addiction can be overwhelming and intimidating, particularly when it comes to choosing the most effective treatment option. This can often become a barrier between the individual and recovery, as they may find it difficult to find the motivation to research multiple forms of therapy and rehabilitation centres.

Tackling this step yourself and presenting your loved one with a thoroughly-researched list of potential treatment options can speed up the process and make them feel more comfortable with the idea of recovery.

3. Make a plan together

A chemical or behaviour addiction does not solely affect the individual – it has an impact on every person who is close to them. Helping your loved ones come up with a plan for recovery can help them to feel supported and understood by the people closest to them.

This plan can include strategies to help them avoid triggers, ways that you can hold them accountable and situations in which you will check in on them. In this way, you can be a positive influence in their life and help them to continue on the path to recovery.

4. Attend meetings and appointments with them

Addiction recovery can feel lonely and isolating, two factors that have the ability to trigger a relapse, You can mitigate this by attending therapy sessions, support group meetings and doctor’s appointments with your loved one, proactively showing your support for them and their recovery.

This can also hold them accountable and ensure that they continue to attend these appointments, even when they don’t feel like it.

5. Potential difficulties when helping a loved one

Although you may be filled with optimism and good intentions, the road towards addiction recovery is not always smooth.

Below are a handful of the most common obstacles that you may come across when attempting to help your loved one refuse treatment for their addiction:

  • They may refuse to admit that they have a problem
  • They may decline any potential treatment options
  • They may become angry and aggressive
  • They may be suffering from a co-occurring mental health disorder
  • They may stop associating with you for a period of time

These potential difficulties may feel intimidating, but they should not prevent you from initially reaching out to the individual and attempting to have an open conversation with them. Even if you are not successful this time, your words and actions will stick with them and may help them to seek help in the future when they eventually feel ready.

How to help yourself when a loved one is dealing with addiction

While it is important to provide support and guidance to a loved one during this difficult time, it’s equally as crucial to take care of yourself. Dealing with addiction can be physically and mentally draining, and you will not be able to provide adequate support to your loved one unless you ensure that appropriate boundaries are set and your own needs are being met. [3]

1. Seek support

Even though you are not actively suffering from an addiction, dealing with a loved one’s often detrimental actions can take a toll on your mental health. You may be dealing with feelings of shame, guilt and isolation – these should not be kept inside.

It can be helpful to discuss how you are feeling with a trusted friend, family member or therapist. They may be able to provide advice and act as a shoulder to lean on. There are also a number of support groups for family members, partners and friends of people dealing with addiction including Al-Anon, Families Anonymous and S-Anon.

2. Find ways to lower stress

Coping with a loved one’s addiction and providing support can begin to feel as though it is taking over your life. It is important to take care of your own physical and mental health in order to provide the best support possible to your loved one.

Ensure that you are eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and undertaking regular exercise while continuing to find time for your own hobbies and other relationships. These small actions will do wonders for your own well-being and may even provide inspiration to your loved one.

3. Let them hit rock bottom

It can feel as though your loved one is your responsibility, and you may want to protect them from the consequences of their addiction. However, this can do more harm than good. Experiencing negative effects from their addiction can often motivate them to change their behaviour – the only time you should be attempting to protect them is if their behaviour is physically dangerous, such as drinking and driving.

4. Remove yourself from abusive situations

You are not obligated to remain in a situation that is physically, mentally or emotionally abusive, or otherwise harmful to your health. If you feel as though you are in danger of any kind, you should remove yourself from the relationship. This can often be the push that a person dealing with addiction needs in order to change their behaviour.

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3354400/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3164585/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3725219/

 

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