There are few things as painful as watching a loved one destroy their life with drugs. And as their addiction develops and worsens, you’ll find that you’re just as entangled in the problem as they are. Substance abuse can significantly impact a person’s relationships and friendships, especially because very few individuals are inclined to sit idly by as their loved one becomes trapped in a cycle of drug use and withdrawal. For as painful as the lying, the manipulation, and the broken promises might be, it’s only natural that you find yourself wanting more and more to help that special person defeat their addiction. And while their substance abuse problem isn’t yours to fix, there are things you can do to set them off on the right track.
How to Tell If Someone is Struggling With Addiction
First things first – how can you be certain that your loved one is struggling with an addiction? Most individuals will attempt to keep their habit a secret, especially from those that are closest to them because they know the kind of disappointment and pain their problem can produce. If you’re not certain if you’re family member or friend is dealing with addiction, try looking out for these signs:
- Mood swings or uncharacteristic changes in behavior (irritability, violence, aggression, depression, etc.)
- Withdrawal from family members and social circles
- Loss of interest in activities and hobbies that they used to enjoy
- Neglect for personal care and grooming
- Significant dip in work or academic performance
- Red, glazed, bloodshot eyes
- Shaking, tremors, and excessive psychomotor activity
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Avoidant behavior (won’t make eye contact, avoids being in the same room as friends and family, etc.)
- Secrecy and isolation
For family members and close friends, you might also notice the individual frequently asking for money. In some cases, they might not ask at all, which means you might find that you’re losing money and valuables at an alarming rate.
What Can You Do?
If your suspicions are correct, then the next thing you might ask yourself is ‘what can I do to help?’ While a proactive outlook can be beneficial for the recovery of your loved one, it’s important to remember that an intrusive approach is unlikely to work. That said, if you do decide to get involved, make sure you consider these tips.
- Educate Yourself – Although you might feel an urge to just confront your loved one about their habit, it’s never a wise decision if you’re talking from an uninformed standpoint. Drug addiction may look just like any other dangerous, painful habit on the surface, but it’s almost always fueled by an underlying psychological and emotional distress.
Another thing to consider is that your loved one doesn’t choose drugs over you. As their addiction progresses, they lose the ability to control their drug use. The substance changes the way their mind works and thinks, forcing them to take subsequent doses even when they want to stop. What’s more, substance abuse is a mental health disorder and they’re highly complex. With so many unique details to every case, it’s only normal that you don’t fully understand everything right off the bat. Despite that, it’s important to recognize that drug abuse isn’t a choice, and that there are potentially numerous layers of unresolved pain at the root of your loved one’s drug problem.
- Ask a Professional – Sometimes, you might need some counseling yourself. The frustration, anger, and pain might drive you to act and speak in ways that are more harmful than helpful. If you feel that you’re not well-equipped to communicate with your loved one because of pent up emotions and frustrations, then you might want to consider asking for professional counsel.
There are lots of resources that provide information on how you can approach a loved one struggling with addiction. Aside from licensed counselors and therapists, local church groups and secular support groups can offer significant insight on what you can do and how you can approach the situation for the best results.
- Approach with Caution – If you feel that you have enough knowledge about drug use and your loved one’s situation, then you might be able to approach them about the topic. Adapt an air of understanding and compassion, and use validating phrases instead of canceling or dismissing the rationalizations and reasons they might offer.
It’s also important to remember that your friend or family member might not even recognize their drug use as a problem in the first place. Denial is common among addicts, and they might take a defensive stance against your approach to deny that their drug use is an issue. In this case, it’s important that you reassure them of your care and affection, and that you’re only interested in looking out for their best interest. Explain why their drug addiction is a problem and see how they respond. If they’re dismissive and unwilling, don’t let that frustrate you. Instead acknowledge that they’re not ready and save the conversation for a different time.
- Encourage Them to Seek Help – There’s nothing wrong with offering professional help, even when you know they probably won’t take it. There’s never any way to fully understand what’s happening inside their head at any given time. And the moment you offer a pamphlet for a treatment program might be the moment they’re contemplating finally kicking the habit.
Avoid being pushy when offering help and don’t use emotions to try to get them to say yes. Emotional blackmail, guilt-tripping, and shaming can work against your cause and may further bury your loved one in the negative emotions that pushed them to take drugs in the first place.
- Don’t Enable Them – It’s hard enough to watch your loved one struggle with addiction. That’s why most people feel it’s their responsibility to provide everything their loved one needs to minimize the burden on their shoulders. But this enabling behavior can bolster their addiction and give them reason to keep on going.
If they know there will always be someone there to catch them when they fall, then they become much more confident. Without any consequences to go with their bad behavior, they won’t learn the repercussions of their decisions and will feel empowered to keep choosing wrong. Don’t rescue them. If they’re caught in legal issues because of theft, let them resolve the issue on their own. If they run out of money for their next dose, don’t give it to them. If they decide to leave home because you’re no longer enabling them, don’t prevent them from leaving. When they realize the role they play in their own sad situation, they become more willing to seek help.
- Pay Attention to Yourself
Just as your loved one might be consumed by their addiction, so too can you be sucked into the problem. Because of the emotional and psychological stress imposed by drug addiction on the individual and those around them, you might feel burnt out and spent as you think of ways to help your loved one overcome their situation. The last thing you need is to feel completely emptied of energy and happiness as you try to combat the problem. Frustration, anger, and disappointment might feel overwhelming, and you might soon find yourself on the brink of depression, which is never helpful for either you or your loved one. Always keep in mind that someone else’s drug addiction is not for you to resolve. The best you can do is to offer your help, but recovery and sobriety are completely the responsibility of the addict. You can never force them into treatment, and they will always have to decide on their own. Understand the boundaries of what you can do for them and don’t forget to take care of yourself.
It’s Not Your Battle
For as involved as you might feel, it’s important to remember that your loved one’s drug addiction is not your battle to fight. There are a lot of things you can do to help them, but none of the choices are ever yours to make. As long as they don’t realize there’s a problem and as long as they refuse to receive help, then you need to recognize that they’re not ready to acknowledge the issue just yet. For the meantime, you can offer your care and affection. Make it a point to express your love and help them see that you’re interested in their well-being. But most importantly, don’t forget to care for yourself along the way.