Substance Abuse: Strategies for Support (3/3)
Dealing with Substance Abuse is incredibly difficult, and if someone you care about is struggling, it can be hard to know the right things to say or do. While it is important to take care of that person and help as best you can, remember that your health and safety are equally important and that it’s okay to ask for help from a therapist or loved ones. With that being said, here are some practical tips for what to avoid, as well as advice from one of our clinicians that specializes in Substance Abuse and Addiction, Dan Cooke.
What to Avoid
Encouraging a loved one to seek help and assisting in recovery is crucial. However, it may be difficult to do so, especially if they do not see a problem with their behavior. According to Dan Cooke, it is important to avoid giving an ultimatum, because “it is usually not a simple yes or no for the addict, and may raise the level of resistance to help.” Additionally, Cooke warns against enabling behavior, saying, “it’s very easy to do, especially if it’s your partner, and you must be strong about not giving in to threats or things that might encourage it. When you stop enabling, there’s going to be pushback or a negative response...it’s not just a one-time thing, it’s a challenge, necessary unless you want to be a variable in the situation. If you stop enabling and the person gets upset, it’s anger at the drug or alcohol, not you. It’s very easy for them to blame other people in the relationship, so it’s for enablers to blame themselves.” According to The Recovery Village, some common pitfalls to avoid are:
Preaching, lecturing, threatening, or moralizing your loved one
Emotional appeals that may increase the feelings of guilt and the compulsion to use drugs
Lying or making excuses for their behavior
Taking over their responsibilities — doing this protects them from the consequences of their behavior
Enabling their behavior by covering up the abuse or giving them money for drugs
Arguing with your loved one when they’re using drugs — during this time, your loved one won’t be able to hold a rational conversation and likely won’t be open to what you have to say
Feeling guilty or responsible for their behavior — it’s not your fault
If you find yourself struggling in these areas, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional. You deserve support as well, and setting healthy boundaries and habits can be a good example for a loved one that struggles with Substance Abuse. If you tend to be an enabler and find yourself displaying codependent tendencies, it is critical that you and your loved one attend therapy in order to heal.
How to Help
If a loved one is struggling with Substance Abuse, it can be easy to think that there is nothing you can do to help, but that is not the case. The American Addiction Center provides a helpful list of basic steps one can take to help both parties:
Remember that addiction is not a choice or a moral failing; it is a disease of the brain
Addiction is ultimately a condition that the individual must learn to manage; no one can take the fight on for the addict.
Set boundaries and stand by them.
Encourage the individual to seek help; this may include finding treatment resources for them.
Find a therapist who specializes in addiction counseling and get help. Loved ones of addicts need support too.
Set an example for healthy living by giving up recreational drug and alcohol use.
Be supportive, but do not cover for problems created by substance abuse. The person struggling needs to deal with the consequences of their addiction.
Be optimistic. A person struggling with drug or alcohol abuse will likely eventually seek help due to ongoing encouragement to do so. If they relapse, it is not a sign of failure; relapse is often part of the overall recovery process
If you are concerned about bringing up the subject to a loved one, Cooke has some words of wisdom: “bring it up gently. Usually, it’s something they’ve tried to work on already, so saying that you’re concerned without being confrontational is helpful. I have also found that in cases where they don’t think they have a problem, it can be an eye-opener to talk about habits or construct a daily timeline that lists how often they are using a substance. Don’t forget to use ‘I statements’, like ‘I feel this way’ or ‘I am concerned about’ so you avoid blaming them or making them feel like they need to defend themselves.” Recovery can be a long and difficult process, and as Cooke says “it’s not likely that things will change right away, addiction is a disease, and it will poke its head.” However, with support and care, things may become easier over time.