The far-reaching effects of addiction extend beyond the mental and physical health of the afflicted. Quite often, the partners and family members of those struggling with Substance Use Disorder find their lives and relationships disrupted and even torn apart. It is an incredibly painful experience to watch a loved one struggle and often we feel completely helpless in the face of addiction. No matter how ferociously you may love someone, it’s not enough. Realizing these limitations may leave you feeling hopeless or frustrated, but it doesn’t have to. While we may not be able to change their actions, by shifting the way we understand and relate to our loved ones with addiction, we can change the way we react and engage with them.
Finding resources to help loved ones start and maintain their path on the road to recovery can be a difficult learning process. Here are a few things you need to know when trying to support your loved one.
1. Loving someone with an addiction can be uncomfortable and complicated.
It’s important to know and respect your boundaries when dealing with a loved one who is an addict. You need to decide what you are comfortable with and set those boundaries with them by having an open and honest conversation about it. Addicts tend to have a colorful past and may have hurt people and done things that they are ashamed of. As important as it is for them to be able to talk openly and honestly in their recovery, you need to decide if you are willing to listen without judgement. If you can’t do that, explain to them why and support them finding someone to talk to who will listen without discriminating.
2. People in recovery relapse.
There is no cure for addiction; it’s a life long disease. If you’re going to love someone with a history of addiction, you need to understand this and be realistic about the potential of a relapse. Like many other serious diseases, some people seek treatment and get better and stay better, while others seek treatment, get better for a time and then find themselves sick again. While you can’t predict what will happen with a loved one’s recovery, you can talk to them about what they need from you to help them maintain their recovery.
3. Sorry doesn’t mean they’ll change.
Addicts are used to apologizing. Chances are they’ve had to apologize many times in the past for their behavior and its effects on their loved ones. But sorry doesn’t mean, “I’ll change”. Remember that actions speak louder than words. Loving someone means wanting to believe what they say, it also means we tend hear things we want to hear because we are desperate to get our loved ones back. Saying “I’m sorry” is not an excuse to hurt people, and you need to express that to your loved one.
4. You can’t guilt anyone into getting help.
Don’t try to give ultimatums and mandates. It won’t work and may only cause them to retreat more into themselves and their addiction. Again, honesty is the best policy. Talk to your loved one and tell them that you want to support them getting help when and if they decide to, but that you know it needs to be their choice.
5. Love isn’t enough.
“If you really love me you’ll stay sober.” This is a very common thought people have when dealing with an addict, but it is flawed for one major reason; addiction is not a rational disease. An addict needs the love and support of their communities, but love is not enough. If it were, we’d have very few addicts. Understanding that addiction has nothing to do with love or lack thereof is important. We all like to believe that love conquers. Unfortunately it doesn’t, and no matter how hard you love someone, you can’t make them love themselves. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t love someone and support them through their addiction, but be aware that your love can’t save them.
6. Support recovery – don’t enable addiction.
There is a very fine line between helping and enabling and often it gets blurred and crossed. Support emotionally, but be careful of the other types of support you give. Remember that addicts are used to deceiving people, especially themselves. They are less likely to get real help if they are not responsible for supporting themselves. It hurts to think about letting someone you love hit rock bottom, but if you’re trying to protect them from that, chances are you’re enabling them in their addiction.
7. Take care of yourself first.
The most important piece of advice to take away from this is to take care of yourself and your needs above all else. It’s common to forget about your own needs and pour all energy, time and care into a loved one who is struggling. The truth is, letting yourself fall apart in the process will not help save them. You need to be strong and in order to do that you must take the time for yourself and protect yourself from letting your own life crumble. There are very helpful resources available for the families and loved ones of addicts to help you cope with your feelings of guilt and frustration.
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