You want to help someone you care about who has an addiction, but where do you start? Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine what actions are supportive and which ones are enabling. One of the best ways to support a loved one is by encouraging treatment. Additionally, offer your emotional support by lending a listening ear and showing empathy for them. If you choose to share your resources with the person, set boundaries and only give what you are comfortable giving.
EditProviding Emotional Support
- Express your concern. The earlier you express your concern, the better. Talk to the person about their behaviors and what you find dangerous or harmful. Discuss specific examples of their behavior that worry you.
- When talking, do your best to remain nonjudgmental in your words. Approaching the person with judgment can cause them to feel defensive.
- For example, say, “When you came home last night, you were noticeably drunk. I’m concerned that your use is causing you to drive home unsafely, which puts you and other people at risk.”
- Avoid nagging or pushing the person to change. You can’t force a person with addiction problems to change. You can only help them find the motivation within themselves to change.
- Show empathy. Empathy is a way to connect with another person’s thoughts and feelings. Even though you are not going through the same experiences, you can imagine what it would feel like. Empathy can be a beacon of hope for someone with an addiction, as they often feel alone or like nobody understands their struggles or pain.
- Show the person with addiction that you care and can empathize with how they feel. A feeling of connection can help the person feel valued, human, and not alone.
- Some something like, “I know you’re struggling, and I’m sorry you’ve had difficult experiences. I’ve never had a traumatic childhood, but I can see how much it’s affected you and hurt you.”
- Listen to them speak. Be a supportive friend by engaging in good listening skills. Let the person talk about their thoughts and feelings. Avoid interrupting them or completing their thoughts for them. Instead, put your attention onto listening and understanding what they say. Some people with addiction problems struggle with understanding their thoughts and feelings, and having the opportunity to express them can help them sort through these aspects of their life.
- For example, instead of planning what you will say next, tune into the person’s verbal and nonverbal language.
- Help show them their strengths. Remind them of all the good qualities they have. Go over all the things they’ve accomplished and succeeded at with them. Showing the person their strengths can help empower them so they’re ready to make lifestyle changes.
- Remind the person that their addiction doesn’t define them and that they’re separate from their addiction.
- Disengage from enabling practices. There’s often a fine line between supporting and enabling behaviors. If you’re having a hard time distinguishing these behaviors from one another, note whether you keep secrets for the addict, lie to other people to protect the addict, cover up for their problems, or blame other people for their behavior. These are all enabling behaviors, not things that ‘good friends’ do for each other.
- If you catch yourself enabling the person, cut off those actions immediately. Tell the person with addiction problems that you want to support them, but refuse to enable their drug use habits.
EditSupporting Them in Seeking Help
- Clarify whether the person wants help. Ask the person outright whether they are willing to seek help or not. This can help you determine the best way to support them by knowing what they want. If they hesitate or refuse to get help, be firm in your boundaries so you do not contribute to any enabling behaviors. If they do want help, however, be enthusiastic about your support and ask what you can assist with.
- Knowing what the person wants can help you determine what kind of support to give. For example, you may be willing to offer more support to someone who actively wants treatment than someone who refuses treatment.
- Encourage them to seek help. One of the most supportive things you can do is to encourage them to seek treatment and help them research a place to go. Help them explore their options and encourage them to seek a new start through rehabilitation.
- Say to the person, “I care about you, which is why I want you to get help. I don’t know the best way to support you through this difficult time.
- One way to help is to see what kind of care they qualify for, given their insurance or eligibility. That way, you can present these options to them knowing that it won’t cause a financial burden to them.
- Discuss drug rehabilitation options. Discuss treatment options with the person so that they know what methods are available to them. This might include attending a group, seeing a counselor, completing a detox, going to therapy, attending residential rehabilitation, or undergoing medication assisted treatment. These choices may vary based on the severity of the addiction and what the person can afford.
- Some treatment may be covered in part or in full by insurance. It’s best to contact the person’s insurance provider before making arrangements for treatment.
- If they’re nervous about getting treatment for their addiction, try easing them into it by attending an AA, NA, Smart Recovery, or Celebrate Recovery meeting with them.
- Keep in mind that it’s possible for the person to recover without seeking treatment. Don’t give up if they aren’t interested in seeing a professional.
- Affirm your support of them getting help. Keep repeating your encouragement for seeking treatment. Whether they refuse help or are in the process of getting help, let them know that you care about them and believe that getting professional help is the best way forward.
- Knowing that they have your support throughout addiction, treatment, and recovery can help a person continue their journey and keep a positive outlook, even when things get hard.
- You can say, “I’m so proud of you that you’re willing to get help. I know that’s a difficult step, and I commend your bravery in moving forward.”
EditSupporting them with Your Resources
- Set appropriate boundaries in your relationship. People suffering from addiction problems often lack the ability to set or engage in appropriate boundaries, so it’s up to you to be clear and firm in your own boundaries. Some boundaries to consider include limiting financial support, only talking to the person when they are sober, not loaning your car to them, and not giving the person access to your children when they use. While it’s up to you what boundaries you set, be firm in implementing and enforcing them.
- If the person who’s addicted tries to bend or break a boundary, firmly say, “We’ve discussed this and I’m not moving from what I said.”
- Don’t feel bad for setting boundaries. By setting boundaries, you’re being a good role model for your friend by showing them what healthy behavior is.
- Give what you want to give. Whether you have lots to give or very little to give, be mindful in what you share with the person. Don’t let them pressure you into giving more than what you want to or can give. This goes for things like money, food, rides, favors, a place to live, etc. You alone are in control of what you’re willing to give and provide for the person.
- If a request puts a strain on you, your family, your finances or other resources, don’t feel pressured to help or support them in this way.
- If you feel uncomfortable agreeing to something the person asks for, don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that for you this time.”
- Only give financial support if you’re OK with not being paid back. Even if the person promises to pay you back, there’s a chance they won’t. If you’re going to give them money, understand that you may not be getting it back.
- Help them avoid triggers. If you’re supporting the person by giving rides or providing a place to live, do so in a way that helps them to avoid triggers. You might even set boundaries while the person is with you to deter them from using, spending time with people who use, or getting back into bad habits.
- Encourage the person to make friends who are clean, enjoy activities outside of alcohol and drugs, find a job, and get clean.
- Offer to take the person to see support specialists or to a social inclusion program to help them with their recovery.
EditTaking Care of Yourself
- Engage in self-care. Supporting someone with an addiction can be exhausting, so don’t forget to take a few moments for yourself each day. Give yourself some love by taking care of your mind and body. This might mean doing some meditation, enjoying a cup of tea or coffee, or petting your dog. Slow down and take a few moments to breathe deeply, relax, and enjoy your senses.
- Some other ideas might include taking a bath, going for a walk, or getting a relaxing massage.
- Connect with others who support an addict. Find a group for people who have a friend or family member with a drug problem. This can connect you with other people who know what it’s like to support someone with an addiction and can remind you that you’re not alone.
- Do your best, but remember that you cannot ‘fix’ them. While supporting someone with an addiction is a kind and noble act, remember that despite your best efforts, you cannot force change on the person. They are responsible for their actions and choices. If they choose to use while you support them, remember that it’s not your fault and you are not to blame.
- Always encourage the person to seek treatment. This is one of the best ways to be supportive and put positive change in their hands.
- To get an idea of what stage the person is at on their road to recovery, visit http://www.smartrecovery.org/resources/library/Articles_and_Essays/Stages_of_Change/understanding_stages_of_change.htm.