How Can You Help Someone With An Addiction?
Medically reviewed byDr. Anna Pickering
April 3, 2019
The thought of talking with a loved one about their addiction can feel overwhelming, to say the least. It can be daunting to consider the different reactions they might have, or scary to think they may lash out at you for asking. Fortunately, the fact that you are searching for information on how to help your loved one is already a step in the right direction.
How Do I Talk To My Loved One About Their Addiction?
Educating yourself on the facts of addiction is a great start. We have a stigma here in the United States when it comes to addiction, and it is not untypical to try to place blame with the individual. It is not uncommon for someone who has never had any experience with addiction to claim “they never should have tried it in the first place”, but those of us who do understand addiction know just how blind this comment really is.
When someone is struggling with addiction, the blame and guilt they feel are already in place, and they do not need anyone to remind them of that. Instead, speaking kindly and without judgment can help them feel supported and less guilty, allowing them to open up more about the realities of their situation.
Especially when speaking to a teenager or young adult, it is sometimes easy to assume the superior role of “I know better than you”, particularly if it is your own child. It is exceptionally important to avoid this role and speak with your loved one from an equal point of view.
Addiction is stronger than we can emotionally perceive, and the realities of the chemical dependency of some drugs simply cannot be explained away with medical facts. For the most part, people who struggle with addiction know how dangerous it is, there is no need to inform them of this fact. Instead, putting the proper professional help in place and supporting a loved one through their addiction can help get them on the road to recovery.
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Common Myths About Addiction
When watching reports of addiction in the news and on social media, it is always clear to me when the individual making the report really has no experience or knowledge of addiction. There are many myths leading to the stigma of addiction in the United States, and unfortunately, many of these myths were brought about by people who truly cannot fully grasp the reality of addiction.
Some of the common myths I have heard or read in the past year include:
- Recovery only works if you really want it
- While the motivational sentiment of this may have been the foundation of this myth, it is sadly misguided. To think that there is anyone struggling with addiction out there that does not want to recover from their addiction is narrow-minded and simply incorrect. Addiction is a disease, not a conscious choice, and it is important to keep this in mind when trying to talk to your loved one about their addiction.
- Addiction is what happens when you experiment with drugs
- While it is possible that some addictions can have their beginnings with the experimentation of illegal drugs, the vast majority of addictions can be traced back to emotional trauma or mental distress. Drugs are used as a coping mechanism in an attempt to endure the realities of an individual’s emotional struggles. It is important to remember that you may not know the full story behind your loved one’s addiction, and that you never have the right to judge someone for turning to drugs.
- Drug addiction is indicative of a character flaw
- Always keep in mind, anyone can be affected by addiction. It has nothing to do with character, how someone was raised, or what their personal beliefs are. If your loved one is struggling with an addiction, there was likely something significant and formidable that has happened in their life to drive them to this point.
- It takes strong willpower to overcome addiction
- Willpower might get you through a week or two of saying ‘no’ to a drug, but it will not equip you for a lifelong recovery. Encouraging a loved one to just ‘find their willpower’ is not only misleading, but also insulting. Your loved one does not want to have an addiction, therefore willpower cannot get them out of it.
- “Just say no”
- Saying ‘no’ will work if you have never tried drugs before, which is why it is a great motto for our children to go by. However, saying ‘no’ after struggling with an addiction is not a valid recommendation. Addiction is a chemical dependency that occurs in your brain after exposure to a drug. This chemical dependency is subconscious and cannot be controlled by willing it away and just saying ‘no’.
- Punishing drug users helps us fight addiction
- Unfortunately this myth is alive and well here in the United States, as the war on drugs continues to put countless individuals struggling with addiction behind bars. As addiction is a chemical dependency, instilling fear of incarceration into individuals suffering from a drug addiction is not effective in battling the disease. Instead, it increases the stigma that drug addicts are criminals who intentionally chose to be that way.
Common Causes Of Addiction
Addiction is often a double-edged sword because it combines both a physical, chemical dependency with an emotional need to cope with a trauma or stressor. Often the chemical dependency aspect of addiction ends up being a symptom, or side effect, of the root cause of the addiction. The emotional coping role is generally the root cause of addiction, or the reason a person turned to drugs in the first place.
Therapists and counselors are responsible for trying to identify the root cause of addiction in an individual. Clients will sit down with these types of professionals many times during a residential stay in inpatient rehabilitation to discuss their history and any traumatic event(s) that may have lead to the addiction.
Through identifying and talking through these events, clients are left better equipped to cope with this significant emotional stressor. This coping mechanism can help prevent the chance of relapse in the future, as it can be a replacement for the effect drugs may have on the individual.
Addiction Treatment Options
There are three main types of treatment options to help individuals combating addiction at different stages. Not everyone needs all three types of treatment, however individuals struggling with severe or long-term addiction can benefit greatly from a well-rounded treatment program that tackles all facets of their drug dependency. The three types of treatment include:
Medical detox is often a first step for individuals who have decided to dedicate themselves to sobriety and recovery. Medical detox is not necessary for all types of addiction, but is often recommended for severe alcohol, opioid, and benzodiazepine dependency. These drugs carry potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, which is why medical supervision is necessary when attempting to detox from the drugs.
Residential Inpatient Rehab
Inpatient rehab is generally recommended for all types of addiction. Programs like these are especially effective due to the fact that they are able to remove a client from the stressors and temptations of their previous life and surround them with support in a positive environment. Residential inpatient programs will commonly offer treatment for the mental, physical, and emotional aspects of addiction through cognitive therapies, counseling, mentoring, group therapies, and emotional healing exercises and activities.
Outpatient rehab is a great program option for individuals who are transitioning to moving back home from a residential inpatient program. Often this transitional period can be daunting and can carry a risk for relapse. Outpatient programs are intended to provide additional guidance and a network of support after moving home. With outpatient programs, clients are able to live back in their own homes and participate in daily activities such as going to work, school, and social events. In the evenings, they will attend group meetings and alumni events to help put some of the coping skills they learned during inpatient rehab to use in the real world.
Want More Information For Your Loved One?
We know what you are trying to do for your loved one is not easy, but we are here to help. Our addiction treatment specialists are specifically trained to help you through this difficult time, and give you the resources to make an education suggestion for your loved one. Let us help guide you through this process so your loved one can get the best possible help to overcome their addiction. Contact us today.Article Sources
Harm Reduction Journal - The Evolutionary Origins And Significance Of Drug Addiction
Mayo Clinic - Drug Addiction
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Drug Abuse And Addiction
National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Health - Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction
NeuroMolecular Medicine - Genes Associated With Addiction