There are plenty of people in the United States who can easily name a person in their life suffering from an addiction, be it a family member, friend, partner, neighbor, or coworker. In the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), as sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the amount of illicit drugs users age 12 and older in the United States was estimated at 23.9 million people, just short of 10 percent of the American population. And with the opioid epidemic from prescription painkillers and heroin still on the rise in the country, these numbers haven’t gotten any better.
Drinking, on the other hand, has established itself as a staple of American culture; so much so that slightly more than half of Americans age 12 and older are current drinkers, with about 135.5 million folks downing beer, wine, and liquor on the regular. Still, not everyone socially drinks but instead sinks into a downward spiral of alcoholism. About 23 percent of the total US population (or 59.7 million people) were surveyed to be binge drinkers and 6.5 percent (or 17 million people) were heavy drinkers in general.
So what happens when someone you know begins to play out the horror story of substance abuse addiction right before your eyes? Do you cut them out of your life? Do you help them get over their addiction? When someone you care about is going through addiction, there will always be obstacles to overcome. Not every situation will have clear answers on what the right thing to do is. Some choices will be hard to make, and others will have ultimatums that are hard to keep. So it is important to stay strong so the person you love can become stronger.
If you choose to be involved in someone’s recovery, here are some principles you need to remind yourself of as you support your loved one toward treatment.
Principle 1: Remember that they’re human, not a monster.
Upon finding out about a loved one’s substance addiction, your initial reaction was most likely negative than it was loving, open arms and afterschool-special lessons learned. Perhaps you felt betrayed, an aspect of trust broken by the person’s addiction. You might have felt disgusted, disappointed, confused—or a hopeless, emotional cocktail of all three and then some. Confirming your suspicions or suddenly realizing someone you care about has fallen into an addictive cycle can be heartbreaking, but be careful with how you express your feelings.
Addiction can happen to anyone, so be wary of treating the person like an outcast or a disgrace to the family. Humans have complex psychologies and the reasoning behind their substance use can have a variety of emotional, psychosocial, and physical factors. Instead, communicate with your loved one. Understand how substance misuse became a routine part of their life. Listen to them.
Principle 2: There’s a lot about substance abuse you have to learn.
Now is not the time to nag, preach, or lecture the person about what they should have done, how things could have been better, or how wrong they are. Sure enough, your loved one has already beaten themselves up a thousand times for their mistakes, on top of building deep-rooted self-hatred and guilt. Even if they don’t express it or refuse to admit it, they know they have a problem with substance abuse and what they’ve done to get to that point.
The lesson to be learned here is not how they could have changed the past, but how they can change the future. Especially in cases where a loved one is beginning to give up on overcoming their addiction, you need to educate yourself on substance abuse, interventions, treatment methods, and recovery programs. Seek professional help on how to approach your loved one about their addiction so they can get treatment for it. The journey toward recovery is seldom a single pilgrimage. People need a navigator to point them in the right direction.
Principle 3: Love is not to be held hostage or used as a threat.
Having an addict in your life is not going to be peaches and cream. There won’t be montages with uplifting ‘80s songs in the background to gloss over the grueling, extensive process of convincing and encouraging the person to seek and fulfill treatment, nor will there be a clear “happy ending” to signal that the coast is clear, and addiction is officially out of everyone’s lives. It just doesn’t work that way, unfortunately. There will be fights, bitter words said, and ugly times. Your love for this person will most definitely be tested.
That being said, it is not a good idea to use your love as a tactical way of getting the person to quit their substance abuse. Saying things like “if you loved me, you’d quit” is the sort of manipulative behavior that almost always backfires—on you. Using your love as a threat will only translate as love gone to the addict, who might be triggered into doing desperate and rash retaliation, such as running away or purposefully overdosing. Instead, convey your concerns with your love. Continue to remind them that you are willing to support them through recovery, that they are not alone, and that you love them enough to see them live. Use love as a comforting tool, not a weapon.
Principle 4: You won’t enable their addictions, but you will support their recovery.
Addiction can manifest into a monster in people’s lives and can become more than just a burden to “deal” with. Addiction can put a strain or deplete people’s finances, can bring up legal troubles, can put people in physical danger, and all sorts of other problematic scenarios. There might be a time when you will have to face an ultimatum: to sink with your loved one who even you cannot help, or to remove yourself until your loved one is ready to change their life. This is a hard decision to swallow for many people, especially when this would mean refusing to give the person money, food, or shelter.
Just as how you should not use your love against an addict, do not let your love be used against yourself. Enabling a person’s addiction does equate supporting them. Stick to your principles and let the person know that you will only be supportive when they choose to seek treatment. If able, offer to assist them in paying for treatment or finding programs they can afford. Focus on providing healthy, future goals after treatment, such as continuing education or finding a job. Let them know that your love will fuel their health and recovery—and nothing else.
Principle 5: They must learn from their mistakes.
A tricky habit people fall into is becoming a bit of a coddler of their loved one, especially after the person completes their rehab treatment program. Remember that you are supportive, but you are not a safety net. Life is full of challenges, and you are not always going to be around to protect your loved one from making mistakes—nor should you prevent them from doing so! Part of recovery is learning how to learn from your mistakes and finding solutions for your problems instead of using substances to cope. As much as it may pain you, you will have to know when it’s time to let go and let your loved one fend for themselves in the real world.
This also means refraining from making your loved one’s recovery “easier.” Don’t tell friends and family members to keep drinks and/or drugs away from the person to withhold from bringing it up in conversation. Allow the person to learn how to gracefully reject tempting offers and speak about their substance abuse without shame. Your role in their support circle is to help them if they slip and to continue giving them love and courage to get stronger. It’s not about catching them when they fall. Rather, it’s about reaching a hand out to them so they can get back up.
Principle 6: Recovery is a lifelong process.
Another very important thing to know throughout your loved one’s recovery is that change is gradual and may have ups and downs. Not everyone has a clean, linear path to recovery. There will be setbacks—whether it’s a relapse, stressful stage in life, or feelings of resentment. An eight-year study of about 1,200 addicts showed that only about a third of recovering individuals who had been sober for less than a year remained abstinent, which meant that two-thirds of recovering addicts relapsed within their first year of recovery. As time goes on in sobriety, the chances for relapse drops, but it should be understood that relapses are not an indication of failure. Instead, they are an indication that the method of treatment needs to be changed.
Recovery is a lifelong process. Your loved one might relapse several times before finding an effective treatment method that keeps them on track. Stability in life is difficult to achieve—even for sober people! So continue to be supportive of your loved one’s improvement and sobriety. As long as they have the will to change, and you have the will to see it through, then with patience, time, and dedication, the both of you will get your lives back again. Be strong.
If you have a loved one struggling with substance abuse and addiction, California Highlands is available 24-7 to help you reach out to your loved one and guide them toward treatment. Call (888) 969-8755 today and learn about our rehab facility and treatment options. At California Highlands, we provide a unique approach to recovery, delivered with dignity and respect.