5 Ways To Address A Loved One’s Substance Abuse Problem
It can be challenging to address a substance abuse problem of a loved one. In some cases, individuals may do their best to avoid it, thinking it’s none of their business.
However, letting a loved one reach rock bottom before reaching out to them can also harm their health.
Research shows that early identification of substance abuse is much more effective in long-term treatment. Substance abuse can be better addressed before someone experiences a traumatic event, such as:
- Dropping out of school
- Losing a job
- Breaking away from essential relationships
- Deterioration of their health
- Loss of self-respect
Waiting for someone to ask or approach you if they need help can be risky. Without help, loved ones may be arrested, experience drug-related medical emergencies, and may even die in extreme cases.
The following are ways to step-up and help someone who is dealing with a substance abuse problem:
The first thing to do is to ensure that your loved one is struggling with substance abuse.
Educating yourself on addictions is the best way to tell if your loved one is being affected.
There are plenty of resources on addiction available to the public, including governmental sites like SAMHSA, support groups, and counselors.
You can also reach out to rehab facilities in your area to talk to someone on the front lines about your loved one’s behavior. They can help identify the actions that are indicative of an addiction.
Although addiction symptoms can vary from substance to substance, there are a few common signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for, including individuals:
- Needing more of a substance to prevent withdrawal symptoms
- Continuing to take a substance despite the harm it is causing
- Neglecting family or work obligations and struggling with finances
- Losing interest in old pastimes and hobbies
- Rapid changes in mood
- Significant changes to sleeping and eating patterns
What To Do In an Emergency Situation
If your loved one is experiencing any of the following symptoms, contact emergency services right away:
- Losing consciousness due to drugs.
- Losing consciousness after heavily drinking (five or more drinks in a short time frame.)
- Having a seizure.
- Drinking and considering suicide.
- Has a history of heavy drinking and severe withdrawal symptoms, including trembling and confusion.
- Severe withdrawal symptoms like Delirium Tremens (DTs) can result in death.
Find Support For Yourself
Finding support resources for family and friends of those dealing with addiction is equally crucial as finding support for those dealing with addiction.
When you have a loved one who is dealing with an active addiction, it can create a great deal of difficulty for you and strife within the relationship.
It is equally essential for you to get the support you need. Managing stress caused by this situation is vital for both you and your loved one.
Some groups can help family members and friends cope with their loved one’s addiction and provide support to the person with the substance abuse problem at the same time.
A few of these groups include:
- Al-Anon (focused on alcohol addiction)
- Nar-Anon (focused on drug addictions, both prescription and illegal)
- Alateen (focused on supporting children and teens dealing with a loved one’s substance abuse)
When you are ready to approach your loved one, there are some things to keep in mind. You need to help THEM realize that they need help, not that they must get help ‘or else.’
This can be difficult if the person with the substance abuse issue has already broken your trust.
However, establishing trust from both ends of the relationship is an essential step to helping someone consider the consequences of their substance abuse.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to consider when talking to a loved one about their substance abuse:
- Focus on building trust
- Be honest
- Communicate respectfully
- Respect their privacy
- Threaten them
- Criticize their choices
- Expect immediate change
Keep in mind it takes time to establish trust, and while every situation is unique, it is best to approach a loved one with genuine concern and affection than with intimidation and bullying.
There are several levels of denial that you will likely need to wade through before your loved one can begin to see where you are coming from.
Here are some of the difficulties you may encounter:
- They may disagree they have a problem with substances.
- They may not want to change their current behaviors.
- They may fear the consequences of their actions.
- They may feel embarrassed to speak to you or others about this issue.
- They may be engaging in substance abuse to avoid another problem, such as a mental illness.
Even when you are trying to help, trust can be undermined. Here are some factors to keep in mind when talking to your loved one about their substance abuse:
- Trust goes both ways. Building trust is a two-way street. It cannot be established if you continue to put up with your loved ones’ unwanted behaviors such as substance abuse. If you do not feel like it is possible to establish trust with your loved one, then move ahead to step four.
- You will likely have different viewpoints. While you perceive your actions as helpful, your loved one may feel as though you are trying to control them. These mixed feelings may lead to an increased rate of substance abuse to cope with new negative emotions.
- Stressing out can make it worse. Your loved one is likely using substances as a way to deal with their stressors, at least in part. If you approach them about this habit, it could result in more stress and worsen the overall problem.
- The need for consequences. Individuals who struggle with substance abuse rarely change or acknowledge they have a problem until it begins to present adverse side effects in their lives.
Although it can be tempting to jump in and protect your loved one, it is vital to resist the urge. Because feeling these consequences such as job loss, loss of relationships, and possible criminal outcomes is one way to help someone realize how deep they’ve gone down the rabbit hole that is substance abuse.
It is in our very nature to love and want to be loved in return. We can show our love through words and actions. But when someone we care about struggles with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, the line between healthy helping and enabling can get blurry.
Enabling someone with substance addiction can cause them not to realize the full consequences of their actions and make it easier for them to continue these destructive behaviors.
The following are five common ways friends and family enable people with addiction:
1. Feeding their denial
Although denying someone’s substance abuse can be a part of the acceptance process, it can cross the boundary into enabling when it is ongoing.
Looking the other way while they continue to abuse substances only hurts both of you in the long-run. Here are some examples of what feeding denial can look like:
- You blame yourself for their substance abuse.
- You ignore other family and friends when they ask you to recognize your loved one’s addiction.
- You lie to make yourself feel better. If your loved one is sick from substance withdrawal, and you assume, it’s the flu instead.
- Believing your loved one when they state they cannot beat their addiction alone. (Someone struggling with addiction has the best chance of overcoming it with the help of a comprehensive treatment program.)
- You are suppressing your emotions to protect your loved one’s feelings.
- Being aware of but choosing to ignore signs of addictive behaviors such as finding hidden empty alcohol bottles and disposing of them without saying anything.
2. Making Excuses or Covering For A Loved One.
This kind of behavior is often related to denial but can also result from codependency or frustration with the situation.
Potential examples of excuses or cover-ups can include:
- Calling in sick for them when they are drunk, high, hungover, or sick from using too much.
- Covering up their actions to help them avoid trouble at school or with the law.
- Covering up their actions to avoid fighting or preventing other loved ones from finding out and getting upset or angry with them.
- Making excuses for them like “they are stressed out, or their school/work situations are challenging.”
3. Picking Up Extra Responsibility That Was Once Theirs.
When someone experiences an addiction, it is common for their responsibilities at home and work to take a back seat. This can place extra stress on you mentally, physically, and emotionally, in some cases, even financially.
Examples of picking up more responsibility include:
- Doing more than your share of chores around the house.
- Taking over your loved one’s responsibilities with children or elderly parents.
- Working more hours to cover missed hours or job loss of the loved one abusing substances.
While support is essential, you do not want to take over things they should be responsible for. Doing this gives them more free time to use substances and takes away any motivation to change these habits.
4. Financially Enabling
It is normal not to want to see those we care about suffer. Seeing someone you love go through a losing battle with addiction can cause people to jump in without fully understanding their ‘help’ is harmful.
An example of financially enabling a loved one’s substance abuse include giving them money for food, bills, and utilities. They could potentially use this money to buy more drugs. Or, they may purchase these things with your money and use their own to buy substances.
If you would like to help them out financially, consider contributing to your loved one’s addiction treatment costs.
5. Using With Them Or Providing Access To Substances.
This can be anything from alcohol to legal drugs like marijuana to illegal drugs.
Examples of using with or providing access to substances can include:
- Using a substance with them even when you know they have a problem because you want to “have a good time.”
- Buying substances for them because you figure they will get it from someone else anyway, and at least you know how much/what they are taking.
For many people who struggle with substances seeing/hearing/smelling or being near them, in general, may set them off and cause them to use.
If you recognize these enabling patterns in yourself, it may be time to take a step back and evaluate how you would like to interact with your loved one moving forward.
Identify Treatment Options
Choosing a treatment option that best suits your loved one’s situation is the most reliable way to assist them in overcoming their issues.
Every year there are more people experiencing addiction. As a result, there are more treatment models available than ever before. Sadly, many of the people in need of help will not receive it.
Here are some things to consider when researching potential treatment options for your loved one.
Inpatient Vs. Outpatient Treatment Options
While many people have successfully treated their addictions in inpatient and outpatient settings, specific scenarios may lend themselves to either treatment.
For example, individuals who have experienced the circumstances listed below will likely have more success with an inpatient treatment program.
- Been through previous addiction treatment
- Experienced a relapse
- Are dealing with dual disorders (substance use disorder and mental health disorder)
- Are addicted to more than one substance
- Have been using for more than six consecutive months
Inpatient treatment options are more intensive and provide a new environment to focus on healing.
Individuals who cannot enroll in an inpatient treatment may find that outpatient treatment is a good alternative for them since they are not required to live at the rehab facility and may continue to work while attending treatment.
Traditional Vs. Holistic Addiction Treatment
There are hundreds of different addiction treatment types. Some are more traditional, while others are more innovative. Which program will work best for your loved one will depend on them and their unique situation.
If they can relate to traditional 12-step models that are typically religion-based and use a one-size-fits-all model, then that’s them.
If they have been through a traditional treatment program, and it did not seem to stick with them, they may want to consider a more holistic treatment option.
Holistic addiction treatment may seem like a buzzword with how often it is tossed around, and just like no two addictions are the same, no two treatment programs are the same either.
That being said, if you are interested in a holistic addiction treatment program for your loved one, make sure that the facility is evidence-based. You can request previous clients’ treatment outcomes and even look into the facility’s treatment types.
At Elevate, we offer a variety of evidence-based, holistic treatments, including:
These compliments to our program help our clients heal addiction symptoms and their bodies, minds, and spirits.
All of which are important to consider during the life-long journey to recovery.
The Role of Family In Addiction Treatment
The role of the family in addiction treatment should not be understated. After all, addiction influences the lives of more than the addicted individual, but their family and friends as well.
Having a supportive family unit to call or lean on during the recovery process can make a world of difference while attending an addiction treatment program.
At Elevate, we make it a point to work with our clients on healing past wrongs. In many cases, these involve situations with family members.
Our counselors will be with them every step of the way during the phone calls and writing letters to family members who may need to rebuild their relationships with their loved ones.
Is Addiction Curable?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is “a chronic brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”
At Elevate, we don’t believe in this limited view. While we do not claim to know that addiction is not a disease, we understand that each person has the power within themselves to heal their substance abuse if that is what they wish.
We do not prescribe to the treatment model that addiction is a moral failing either, but rather a behavior pattern that can be overcome with hard work, determination, and the proper tools.
Although it is possible to experience cravings after formal addiction treatment, proper application of aftercare tools can keep individuals on track with their sobriety goals.
We also believe that it is entirely possible to live a happy and meaningful life while maintaining sobriety.
Am I Overreacting To My Loved One’s Substance Abuse?
If you have noticed your loved one experiencing problems with other family members, work, health, school, finances, legal issues, or social network, you are not overreacting.
Addicted individuals will continue to use despite these negative consequences, and that is a sign they genuinely need your help.
They might not have realized it yet, but they will need some form of outside support.
The best way to learn what to do next is to contact a substance abuse treatment specialist. They will be able to guide you through your next steps and how to best help your loved one.
How To Find Help
Finding reliable help can be difficult when it comes to other people’s substance abuse. Know that if you reach out to Elevate, you will reach a real, live person when you call.
We believe that addiction can be overcome, and individuals can lead safe, happy, and fulfilling lives completely sober no matter what they’ve been through.
If you have further questions regarding how to help your loved one with their substance abuse, contact us, obligation free, today.
Tim Sinnott, LMFT LAADC
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This page does not provide medical advice
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