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Many people come to therapy because they don’t know how to help someone with substance dependence. They ask questions like:
- “I think my partner is using again. They disappear for days at a time. I want to confront them, but I don’t know how. What can I say to them?”
- “My best friend has started hanging out with people who use hard drugs. I suspect she’s using too. Will giving her an ultimatum help?”
- “My son’s behavior is getting erratic. He’s always drunk when he gets home. Is this just a phase, or is it a sign that I need to step in and stop him?”
It’s never easy to watch a loved one suffer from substance dependence. Maybe you’ve seen them go through withdrawal or watched them lie about their use. Maybe you’re worried about their health or the choices they’re making. It’s a tough road for both the struggling person and for those who care about them. But there is hope.
The first step is to understand that addiction is a disease. Just like any other chronic illness, it requires professional medical treatment. You can’t “fix” someone with addiction; only they can do that for themselves.
However, there are two things you can do to understand and support them during their fight for sobriety.
1. Educate yourself on the truths about substance dependence.
You can’t help someone through a struggle you don’t understand. There is a lot of sensationalism and misinformation around addiction, so it’s important to get your information from reliable sources.
HAS paper published in Addiction describes 10 of the most important things we need to realize about substance dependence. They are:
- compulsive behavior is at the core of addiction.
- For most people with a substance problem, initiating drug-seeking behavior lies outside their conscious control.
- It can run in the family.
- Most people who need help with addiction also need help with other mental health problems.
- Substance dependence is often a chronic condition, and people are prone to delay.
- A good relationship between the individual and the therapist is more important than the type of de-addiction psychotherapy used, which all have similar outcomes.
- We don’t have to wait for the affected individual to be motivated to quit. Instead, quietly listening to their experiences while offering empathy and human connection is a great first step.
- Treatment plans must be customized for an individual’s unique situation and must address the social problems they face.
- It is hard to manufacture epiphanies.
- It is not wise to expect quick results, as change takes time.
2. Be patient, present, and loving.
Substance dependence is often characterized by isolation. So, it may be counterproductive to give the cold shoulder to a loved one who is using or going through a relapse.
HAS study published in Addictive Behaviors revealed that those who were dependent on substances had a more insecure style of attachment compared to healthy individuals. This, along with the finding that they are less likely to separate their feelings and their thoughts, means they are highly sensitive to what they perceive as ultimatums or shunning.
One of the best ways to show someone you care for them is to be present in their lives but not directly confront them about their use.
Instead, what you could do is show them that you care about their health, safety, and well-being. Here are a few examples of what you could say:
- “Have you been sleeping well? You look like you need some rest. Is there anything I can do to help?”
- “Your fridge is empty. Shall we go grocery shopping today?”
- “You look like you haven’t seen the sun in a while. Can we go to the park later?”
This way, you show them how much you love them and also help them with the aspects of their life they are neglecting because of their condition.
If you find that your own mental health is compromised by being there for a loved one who is going through substance dependence, try your best not to make them feel responsible. The last thing you want to do is make them feel they are a burden on you. Instead, be compassionate to yourself, confide in a friend you trust, or seek professional help.
If you have loved one struggling with substance dependence, know that you are not alone. Millions struggle with addiction, but help is available. Educate yourself about addiction and offer support without enabling them. This may not always be easy, so be prepared to seek out help for yourself if you need it. With understanding and support, recovery is possible.