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How to Help an Addict: Resources and Treatment

If you have a friend or relative who is living with addiction, you might be wondering how you can help. To be clear, it's not always easy to decide to provide help with substance use or another type of addiction. However, your loved one will often have a greater chance of overcoming their challenges with your support.


This blog discusses how to help a person with a substance use disorder. It includes strategies you can use to help a friend or loved one who needs help managing their substance use. We also discuss support for families so you know what to do for yourself while providing assistance and support to your loved one.


Do

  • Focus on building trust

  • Tell your loved one how the addiction is affecting your life and your relationship

  • Please respect their privacy while being supportive

Don't

  • Threaten or give ultimatums

  • Criticize, which can contribute to shame

  • Expect immediate change


Find Support for Yourself

Being in a relationship with a person who has a substance use disorder is often stressful. You must accept what you are going through is difficult and seek support. Many resources exist for this purpose.


Consider joining a support group, for instance, Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. Children and teens can get support from Alateen. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a variety of resources designed to provide insight and support for families of people with a substance use disorder.


It's also essential to develop stress management strategies. This is a crucial step in helping you help your loved one. These strategies will help you cope with the stressors you will likely encounter when helping a friend or family member seek and receive help with an addiction.


Find an Approach That Works

There are several different treatment options that can be effective, so it is important to consider them. Consider which approach might best suit you and your loved one's needs and goals.


Depending on the nature of the addiction, treatment might involve psychotherapy, medication, support groups, or a combination of all of these. A few options include:


Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT)

CRAFT is an evidence-based method for helping families get help for loved ones. It has replaced traditional interventions as the preferred method of helping people with addiction get the help they need, such as therapy.


Medication

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several medications that can be effective in the treatment of alcohol dependence and other substance use disorders. These include including Vivitrol (naltrexone), Campral (acamprosate), and Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone).


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Addiction therapy that uses CBT focuses on helping people understand how their beliefs and feelings influence their behaviors. It works by assisting people to change the thought and behavior patterns that contribute to substance use.


Online Therapy

Research suggests that online therapy can also be an effective treatment option for substance use disorders. Such programs often incorporate elements of CBT and motivational interviewing, which involves using structured conversations to help people think about how their lives will improve by ending their addiction.


Inpatient Treatment or Rehabilitation

Inpatient treatment may provide the best results, especially when substance use is more severe or if the person has co-occurring disorders. Rehab programs usually last either 30, 60, or 90 days. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends that people spend a minimum of 90 days in treatment.


Support Groups

Twelve-step and peer support groups can also be helpful during the recovery process. These groups aim to promote sobriety and may take a variety of approaches. Some promote total abstinence, while others focus on moderation. Many offer in-person meetings, but online support groups are also available.


Other essential factors affecting a person's recovery include family involvement and other social supports. Family therapy is a crucial part of an effective addiction recovery plan.


Expect Difficulties

There are many reasons why it can be challenging to help someone you care about who has a substance use disorder. Your loved one:

  • May disagree they have a problem

  • May not want to change what they are doing

  • May fear consequences (e.g., losing their job or going to prison)

  • May feel embarrassed and not want to discuss their condition with you (or anyone else)

  • May feel awkward about discussing their issues with a professional, such as a doctor or counselor

  • May engage in their addiction as a way to avoid dealing with another problem (such as mental illness)


There is no fast and easy way to help a person with an addiction. Overcoming addiction requires a great deal of effort and support. If someone doesn't want to change their behavior, trying to persuade them to get help is unlikely to work.


What you can do is take steps to help your loved one make changes in the long term. It's also vital that you get the support you need to cope.


Establish Trust

If your loved one has already betrayed your trust, regaining and maintaining it can be tricky. However, establishing trust is an important first step in helping someone with addiction think about change.


Avoid Trust-Destroyers

  • Nagging, criticizing, and lecturing

  • Yelling, name-calling, and exaggerating

  • Engaging in addictive behaviors yourself, even in moderation, which can be taken as hypocrisy


Trust is easily undermined, even when you are trying to help. There are a few things to keep in mind as you are thinking about talking to your loved one about their addiction.

  • Perspectives differ. While you may only want to help your loved one, they might think you are trying to control them. These feelings can lead them to engage in their addiction even more.

  • Stress can make things worse. Your loved one likely uses their addictive behavior (at least partly) as a way to manage stress. If the atmosphere between the two of you is stressful, they may turn to their addictive behavior more, not less.

  • Trust goes both ways. Building trust is a two-way process. Trust is not established when you continue to put up with unwanted behavior.

  • Understand the role of consequences. People with addiction rarely change until the behavior has consequences. While you might want to protect your loved one, resist the urge to try to protect someone with addiction from the consequences of their actions.


The exception to allowing for consequences is if your loved one is doing something that could be harmful to themselves or others—for example, drinking and driving.


Communicate Effectively

You might be more than ready to let your loved one know how you feel about the issues their addiction has caused and feel a strong urge to get them to change. Having an effective conversation involves learning how to communicate with someone who has an addiction.


While it can be frustrating, remember that the change is theirs. A person with an addiction is much more likely to be open to thinking about change if you communicate honestly and without being threatening.


Communication techniques that can help get your conversation on the right foot include:

  • Using "I" statements versus "you" statements (saying "I get sad when you drink" instead of "You never consider what you're doing to me when you drink"), thereby decreasing blame and confrontation

  • Turning negative statements into positives (replacing "You are such a jerk when you're high" with "I enjoy your company when you're sober") can reduce the likelihood that they'll get defensive

  • Providing empathy ("I can tell that your addiction frustrates you, and that must be hard to deal with sometimes") so they don't feel like no one understands what they are going through or where they are coming from

  • Letting them know that you want to be part of the solution ("I'd be glad to take care of the kids while you get help"), providing them the opportunity to seek help without worrying about other things


It's also important to pay attention to your non-verbal communication. If your body language or facial expressions are unfavorable, it may be more difficult for your loved one to view your concern as genuine or accept your help.


If you want a person with a substance use disorder to change, you will probably have to change, too. If you show you are willing to try, your loved one will also be more likely to try.


If You Participate in Treatment

The process of treating addiction varies depending on the type of treatment that a person receives. If you are involved in your loved one's treatment:

  • Keep working on establishing trust. Try to evaluate where you are with trust before going to counseling with your loved one.

  • Be honest about your feelings. Tell your loved one what their addiction has been like for you, and be honest about what you want to happen next.

  • Do not blame, criticize, or humiliate your loved one in counseling. Say what it has been like for you. Being confrontational generally doesn't work and can damage your relationship.

  • Be prepared for blame. Don't be surprised if your loved one expresses some things you have done or said that are contributing to their addiction. Stay calm and genuinely listen to what they're saying, keeping an open heart and mind.


If your loved one chooses to pursue treatment on their own:

  • Please respect their privacy. Do not inform friends, family, or others about your loved one's treatment without consent.

  • Please respect their privacy in therapy. If they don't want to talk about it, don't push for them to tell you what happened.

  • Practice patience. There are many approaches to addiction treatment, but no change happens overnight.



ANOTHER SOLUTION knows addictions, knows recovery, and knows how to help.

Call us at 972-669-8395.

 

Source:

Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.

Updated on July 25, 2022

Medically reviewed by 

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