One of the worst feelings in the world is watching someone you love hurt themselves. It’s one of abject helplessness because you can’t force someone to decide to get sober—they have to do it on their own. Here are some of the things you can do to support your loved ones and yourself until they’re ready to pursue recovery.
Many people become frustrated with someone who has a substance abuse problem because they see it as a simple choice. If you educate yourself about addiction, you will quickly learn that it’s not a choice but a disease. A person’s brain chemistry changes with substance abuse to the point that they not only suffer withdrawal symptoms if they stop, but it directly affects their brain when they use foreign substances. Most drugs and alcohol affect your serotonin levels that create a feeling of pleasure. When someone stops using, their brain needs time to heal and be able to produce enough serotonin again without the aid of substances. The more you learn about a specific addiction or substance, the better you will be able to help those you love.
Join a Support Group for Loved Ones
Addiction affects everyone, not just the person with a substance use problem. You may need to get counseling and find a support group that specializes in helping the friends and family of those who are struggling. Al-Anon offers support for family members of alcoholics and Nar-Anon focuses on the families of people with drug addiction. Individual counseling and support groups can help you as well as your loved one.
Set a Good Example
If you’re trying to preach the virtues of sobriety while having a cocktail every day during happy hour, your arguments probably aren’t going to be very persuasive. It may not seem fair for you to have to change your lifestyle, but giving up recreational use of alcohol or drugs sets an example for the person who has a substance abuse problem. This usually means clearing out your house of any substances that could be used by the person you’re trying to get into recovery. If you are successful at talking them into treatment, you’re going to have to get rid of those substances around the house anyway. It’s better to get ahead of the situation and be proactive rather than reactive.
Don’t Enable Them
When someone we love is in trouble, our first instinct is to protect them and try to keep them safe. That’s why many family members of people with substance abuse problems do things like give them money for buying drugs so they don’t have to steal or pay rent on an apartment so they won’t be living on the streets. It’s also enabling behavior to give them a ride to buy the drugs so they won’t be getting into cars with strangers or dealers they barely know. While you may want to do everything you can to keep your loved one safe, these behaviors are enabling their substance use and have to stop, no matter how hard it is. That may mean letting someone you love live on the streets for a few days or a few weeks until they get desperate enough to get help.
Don’t Cover Up the Consequences
Beyond not helping your loved one, don’t cover up negative consequences for them. For example, if your loved one steals, you shouldn’t provide an alibi for them. If they spend all their money on drugs instead of things like paying rent, the consequence is being homeless. The temptation may be to rescue them so they won’t be homeless anymore, but someone with a substance abuse problem has to suffer the consequences of their addiction for them to want to get help. It’s important to make these boundaries clear to the addict and that you are not going to rescue them from the consequences of their action. It doesn’t mean that you stop loving them but simply that you will not get caught up in their drama or take the consequences upon yourself.
Commit to Self-Care
It’s important to recognize that when dealing with difficult situations like substance use and addiction, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. If you are a caregiver of any kind this is an important lesson to learn. Self-care isn’t just a day at the spa; it’s doing things that fulfill you and help you become or remain a fulfilled person. Practicing self-care can be hard, but you need to make time and space to find joy in your life to cope with the emotional stress of having a person with substance abuse problems in the family or your circle of friends. If you can’t help yourself, you can’t help someone else.
It’s agonizing to watch from the sidelines when someone you love keeps hurting themselves through substance abuse. The only way to help them get sober and into recovery is to stop enabling them and let them suffer the consequences of addiction, short of permanent physical harm. Saving their lives is why you have to go to such extreme measures to get that person into rehabilitation. Judging them for their addiction and preaching to them isn’t going to get the job done. Give them support, love, and the way out of the cycle of substance abuse if they choose it. Here at Everlast Recovery Center, we can give them the help they need. We offer detoxification, rehabilitation, and recovery with aftercare when they leave our Riverside, CA facility. We teach people how to healthily cope with stress and anxiety. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, call us today at (866) 338-6925.