5 Things to Do When Your Loved One Has an Addiction

Here's a guest post from Bethany Hatton. Like the recent article from Michelle Peterson, it focusses on addiction and provides some helpful ideas for anyone facing this extremely challenging situation. 

The effects of addiction on society are profound, with some research indicating that drug addiction alone costs up to $700 billion per year. However, the way it affects us is often more personal, especially when we are so close to people with addiction. Here’s some practical advice for having open, compassionate conversations that bring about meaningful change for those who are on the road to addiction recovery.

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Educate yourself carefully about your loved one’s addiction. This will set a foundation for communication and develop a sense of compassion. Becoming familiar with resources regarding different treatment programs can help you understand their struggle, and you can begin having meaningful conversations. 

Consider seeing a counsellor to get advice and develop coping mechanisms during this difficult time. An excellent resource is available from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which explains some of the science about addiction and treatment.

Focus Communication on Understanding

Progress will occur when you’re focused on understanding and both of you feel safe to communicate your feelings. Spend some time together and listen to each other’s thoughts, experiences, and feelings. When people interrupt or the conversation escalates and becomes heated, it impedes progress.

Consider taking turns, where one person says their part and then doesn’t interject or interrupt the other person when they’re speaking. Taking turns yields good results in some addiction treatment groups. 

Don’t immediately try to solve the problem. Having multiple conversations about each other’s feelings and thoughts can help your loved one see how much you care and builds a solid infrastructure for working together.

Draw a Clear Line

Depending on the nature of the addiction, it’s critical you know when and where to set boundaries so you don’t enable your loved one in their addiction. For instance, if you cover up for your loved one in order to prevent them from getting hurt, tell them you won’t do it anymore. This can be a hard thing to do, but until they realise the consequences of their addiction, it’s unlikely that behaviour will change.

Research shows that preventing relapse often requires treating multiple variables that contribute to addiction. As you draw lines, remember that this could be a good time to help your spouse avoid triggers that might cause them to lapse into addictive behaviour. 

Discuss Treatment Programs

There are many different kinds of treatment options and programs, so you and your loved one should be aware of the distinct benefits offered. One option includes 12-step programs. The principles of 12-step programs have been applied to many other addictive, behavioural, or compulsive problems. 

There are also treatment programs that have a spiritual or religious basis. These can be powerful because of their ability to work in a fundamental way with personal beliefs and values. Other programs focus on helping people find balance between spirit, mind, and body. Treatment options provided by holistic programs often overlap with other treatment programs. 

There are many options to consider in terms of treatment length, paradigm, or the particular techniques that a program uses. As you consider different options, strongly evaluate how each program lines up with your specific circumstance. What works for one person may not work for another, so don’t be afraid to change programs where necessary. 

Give Them a Support System

A recent report from the United States Surgeon General indicates that a reason for some treatment success is the ability to create recovery-supportive social networks. As you help your loved one through their addiction, find an encouraging social system in you as well as others. 

You can start by learning about their addiction, then seeking to understand and listen to them. As you work together with the boundaries you have set, consider which treatment program fits your situation as well. Always remember that addiction can be overcome, even if it takes time.

Bethany Hatton, a retired librarian with 32 years of experience, created PreventAddiction.info after her oldest grandson became addicted to opioids.

I strongly advise you to take a close look at her website and keep an eye out for her upcoming book, The Prevent Addiction Clearinghouse, A Quick Reference Guide for Parents. I'm extremely grateful for this post, as it is such an important subject and I'm well aware of the effect it has on people's lives and the importance of early intervention.

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