Dos and don’ts of helping someone with an addiction

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It’s difficult for everyone involved when a loved one has an addiction. But it’s important to know that no one has to be alone, not the person suffering or the person supporting them. Today, there are some amazing tools to help from support groups to visiting a drug rehab centre.

Difficult doesn’t have to mean impossible. In this post, we’re going to share some tips and advice to assist you in the bid to help an addict.

Firstly, let’s start with the dos…

Be caring and considerate

The first thing you should do is let them know you are there for them. This doesn’t mean messaging them every 20 minutes or showing up to their home unannounced – it’s more about reminding them that if they need help you’re there. This will help you to build trust which will be hugely important on this journey of support. Be patient, keep a thick skin and be kind.

Educate yourself

Research is one of the most important things to do. Find out more about their addiction to get an understanding of how their body and mind are affected. For example, alcohol has very different side effects to drugs. There are two types of addiction:

  • Chemical: This refers to an addiction which involves substances
  • Behavioural: This is an addiction to compulsive behaviours – persistent and compulsive actions which are done yet have no real benefits.

Address the issue

Ignoring the issue won’t make it go away. Confronting your loved one may not be the easiest thing to do, but doing so can break down many of the hurdles you’re facing. They may be wanting to tell you and don’t know how to. If you address it first they may open up. Equally, you might have to try a few times and be patient for the right moment to arise.

Before speaking to a person with the addiction, you could speak to a professional about how to address it and maybe even prepare your questions in advance (as long as you don’t look like you’re attempting an interrogation!). It’s really important to not make them feel guilty and to be a pillar of support for them. Once you’ve addressed the issue, you may then be in a place to recommend where they can get professional help.

Celebrate the achievements

When someone with an addiction starts to make some recovery, personal goals will start to be achieved. These should be praised and celebrated, no matter how small they are. But there is a fine line between praising and patronising so try not to use throwaway phrases such as “well done”. No goal is insignificant so celebrate every achievement, but be sure you know what goal and achievement you’re celebrating.

Help set goals

And with that being said, you should help them set goals. Talk about what they hope to achieve when they’ve recovered. Encourage them to set goals so they can have a vision of what they’re working towards. Writing down goals is recommended as that way, when one is achieved, they can see when it’s ticked off and been completed. Setting goals will be encouraged while they are in recovery as it can encourage positive thoughts.

Helping someone with an addiction is tough and there is a fine balance between what should be done and what shouldn’t be done. We’re now going to address what not to do when helping some with addiction:

Don’t place blame

This is essential to them getting help. Placing blame and being negative can have a detrimental effect on the road to recovery. It’s hard to see someone you love struggle with addiction and it’s easy to get upset – but know they’re suffering too. When you talk to them, instead of saying things like: “You shouldn’t have got yourself into this situation”, use supportive phrases such “you’re going to get through this” and “I can help you” rather than “you need my help”. They need to know you want to help and that they’re not a burden on you.

Don’t ignore it

You may feel like you’re better off not knowing and leaving someone to their own private issues, but sweeping a life-altering issue such as addiction under the carpet is the wrong way to go about it. Want to know how to spot signs of addictive behaviour? Here’s what to look out for:

  • Mood swings
  • Heightened temper
  • Paranoia
  • Weight loss
  • Poor memory
  • Lack of concentration
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sleep problems
  • Food cravings
  • Secretive behaviour.

Not everyone with an addiction will have all of these symptoms and there are potentially other signs too. Don’t be afraid to seek professional support if you’re unclear about what you’ve noticed in a loved one.

Don’t talk about willpower

The brain changes the longer drugs are being taken, which means “willpower” becomes blurred. Making decisions and controlling behaviours become much more difficult and as much as wanting to quit is their decision, doing so alone can bring with it many bad side effects – so you shouldn’t recommend they try and recover from addiction alone using willpower. The unpleasant side effects of quitting ‘cold turkey’ can see people start using again to get rid of the symptoms. It’s a vicious circle which professional treatment can help break.

Don’t force them to do anything

You can’t force anyone to do anything and they may not want your help and push you away if you try. Instead, give them options and let them make the decision. Give them your support with their decision and let them take a lead so that the change they make can be long-lasting. Some of the options they have available include:

  • Their local GP
  • Local support and advice found through Frank
  • Private rehab treatment.

Side effects of giving up drugs can be life-threatening too so it’s important that a professional’s advice is sought.

No one has to suffer alone, help is available online, over the phone and in person. Helping someone to accept they have a problem and to access this support is a key step and one that you can help with.




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