How to support an addict

Addiction is a serious condition. It is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior. There are many things that people can be addicted to, such as:

  • alcohol
  • tobacco
  • drugs
  • gambling
  • food consumption
  • sex.

People who have addictions need treatment. This may include rehabilitation, detoxification, therapy, recovery programs, or other forms of treatment. It is also important that those close to the addicted person provide support. This can be difficult, but there are things you can do to help your loved one.

The Road to Better Health

Here are some ways you can help an addict.

Learn more. Ask your doctor questions about your loved one’s health. Find out about addiction. The more you learn, the more you will understand the condition and be able to help.

Set limits. It’s crucial that you and your loved one have clear boundaries. This can help treat your addiction and prevent relapses. Limits also protect you from physical and emotional harm.

Avoid favoring an addict. When you make it possible for a person to be an addict, you allow him or her to relax or break the boundaries he or she has agreed to. Examples include lending them money, lying for them, getting them out of jail, and accepting if that person uses or abuses their addiction again. Favoring an addict is harmful to you, your loved one, and your relationship.

Avoid triggers. Be sensitive to the things that can trigger your loved one’s addiction and try to avoid them. For example, don’t drink alcohol or visit places where alcohol is prominent. For a food addiction, don’t schedule dinner at a free buffet.

Look and listen. Addicts may require more attention. Be there to listen and don’t judge your feelings. Watch for signs of abuse or relapse. However, don’t let them abuse this need or take advantage of your time; your needs remain important.

Stay calm. Supporting an addict can be difficult and frustrating. There are times when you may be angry with them. Try to express your feelings calmly and directly. Avoid raising your voice, threatening or judging them. Talk to them about their concerns and their health. Focus on the future, not the past.

Offer respect and praise. Just as it is difficult for you to support an addict, it can be very difficult for the addict to overcome addiction. Be respectful of the treatments your loved one chooses to do. For example, you may need to attend inpatient rehabilitation for a month or more. Or you may decide to join an evening support group. Insist on praising your commitment and any goals you achieve.

Try new things. Look for activities that you and your loved one can do to replace what you were addicted to. Examples may include exercise, cooking, painting, traveling, or meditating.

Things to Keep in Mind

You can encourage an addict to get treatment, but you can’t force it. In the end, it has to be your decision. You may recommend that your loved one see a doctor who will discuss his or her treatment options.

Keep in mind that for many addicts, recovery is a lifelong process. Things may get better over time, but a relapse is always possible. When supporting your loved one, don’t forget your own needs. You may also benefit from support or therapy. Talk to a doctor about how to get help for yourself, a child, or your family in general.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How can I support an addict?
  • Are there certain things I shouldn’t do?
  • What should I do if my loved one has a relapse?
  • What should I do if my loved one becomes violent with himself or others?

Intervention: Helping a Loved One Overcome an Addiction

It’s hard to help a loved one who has problems with some kind of addiction. Sometimes direct, honest conversation can pave the way to recovery. But when it comes to an addiction, the person with the problem often has a hard time seeing or accepting it. In general, a more specific approach is needed. It may be necessary to join forces with others and take action through formal intervention.

Some examples of addictions that may need intervention are:

  • Alcoholism
  • Prescription drug abuse
  • Illegal drug abuse
  • Compulsive eating
  • Ludopathy
  • People with an addiction usually deny the situation and do not want to seek treatment. They may not recognize the negative effects their behaviors have on themselves and others.

In an intervention, your loved one is presented with a structured opportunity to make changes before things get worse, which can motivate that person to seek or accept help.

What is an intervention?
An intervention is a carefully planned process that can be carried out by family and friends, with the advice of a doctor or professional, such as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, or that can be led by an intervention professional (interventionalist). Sometimes, it involves a member of your loved one’s religious community or other people who care about the person’s addiction problem.

During the intervention, these people meet to confront your loved one about the consequences of the addiction and ask him or her to accept treatment. Intervention:

Provides specific examples of destructive behaviors, as well as the impact they have on the person with the addiction and their family and friends.
Offers a pre-established treatment plan with clear steps, goals, and guidelines
Details what each person will do if your loved one refuses to accept treatment
How does an intervention work?
An intervention usually involves the following steps:

Develop a plan. A family member or friend proposes an intervention and forms a planning group. It is best to consult a qualified professional counselor, an addiction professional, a psychologist, a mental health counselor, a social worker, or an interventionist to help you organize an effective intervention. An intervention is an emotionally charged situation with the potential to generate anger, resentment or a sense of betrayal.
Find out more. Group members learn about the extent of your loved one’s problem and research the condition and treatment programs. The group can begin with arrangements to enroll your loved one in a specific treatment program.

Form the intervention team. The planning group forms the team that will personally participate in the intervention. Team members set a date and place, and work together to present a consistent, rehearsed message and structured plan. Usually, unfamiliar team members help keep the discussion focused on the facts of the problem and shared solutions rather than intense emotional responses. Don’t let your loved one know what they are doing until the day of the intervention.

Decide on specific consequences. If your loved one does not accept treatment, each person on the team must decide what action to take. For example, you may decide to ask your loved one to move out of your home.
Make notes about what you will say. Each team member describes specific incidents in which the addiction caused inconvenience, such as emotional or financial problems. Analyze the harm caused by your loved one’s behavior while expressing concern and expectations that it may change. Your loved one cannot discuss facts or your emotional response to the problem. For example, start by saying, “I was upset and hurt by your drinking…”.

Hold the intervention meeting. Your loved one with an addiction is asked to go to the intervention site without telling the reason. Then the team members take turns expressing their concerns and feelings. Your loved one is presented with a treatment option and asked to accept it at that time. Each team member will tell you what specific changes he or she will make if your loved one does not accept the plan. Don’t threaten a consequence unless you’re ready to carry it out.

Follow up. Involving your spouse, family members, or others is critical to helping someone with an addiction follow through on treatment and prevent relapse.