How To Help Someone Struggling With Addiction
John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health .
If you have a friend or relative who is living with addiction, you might be wondering how you can help. It’s not always easy to make the decision to try to help someone who has an addiction, but your loved one will have a greater chance of overcoming addiction with your support.
This article discusses some of the strategies you can use to help a friend or loved one who is struggling with an addiction. While every situation is unique, there are some general guidelines that can help.
Focus on building trust so they will be more likely to listen.
Be honest and let them know how the addiction is affecting your life and your relationship with them.
Respect their privacy while being supportive. You can’t force them into quitting, but you can be a source of strength.
Threaten. Giving ultimatums may lead them to hide the behavior.
Criticize. This can contribute to shame and lessen their belief in their ability to quit.
Expect immediate change. Recovery takes time and setbacks are bound to happen.
Know The Warning Signs Of Meth Use And Addiction
Identifying harmful patterns of drug use is one of the first steps towards getting a person help.
When a person first starts taking meth, theyll likely go to great lengths to hide their drug use. In the beginning, they might succeed, however, as such a powerful drug, the toll of meth use can quickly become evident.
Major signs of meth use and addiction include:
- cravings: Overwhelming urges and thoughts of drug use become disruptive to a persons day.
- tolerance: A typical dose doesnt create the usual effect, which often leads to higher doses.
- dependence: A persons body is reliant on the drug and cannot function normally without it.
- withdrawal: Physical and/or psychological symptoms occur when a person stops taking meth.
A deteriorating physical appearance can also be a major sign of meth use. Use of this drug may result in meth mouth, or severe dental problems. A person may also have a poor complexion and skin sores. Many people ignore personal care and fail to bathe or wear clean clothes.
People who are struggling with meth use or addiction may also develop problems at home, work, or school and begin to ignore important responsibilities that relate to these things.
Effects Of Addiction On Family And Friends
Addiction is a widespread concern in our society, with an estimated 50% of all Americans having a family member or close friend who has struggled with a substance use disorder.9 In fact, more than 1 in 10 children in the United States live with at least 1 adult who has a substance use disorder.10 The impact of substance use on family members can be profound. For example, children who grow up in a home with a caregiver who has substance use disorders are more likely to have social, emotional, academic, or behavioral issues.10 Other consequences in families where one member has a substance use disorder can include poor communication, increased risk of interpersonal violence, and overall impairment of emotional connections.10
When you live with someone who has a substance use disorder, you may engage in unhealthy behavior patterns such as codependency and enabling. Codependency is a pattern of behavior in which you seek to fix others and are unable to state your own needs and wants. If you are a person who displays codependent behaviors, you may value your loyalty to others over your own needs, even when doing so is harmful to you.11 Codependent behavior can result in enabling your loved oneâs substance use, allowing them to carry on without facing consequences for using drugs and/or alcohol.12 An example of enabling behavior is calling your loved oneâs boss and telling them your loved one is sick, when they are actually hung over.
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How Can I Tell If My Friend Is Addicted To Drugs
Their behaviour, their physical appearance, and certain stuff in their environment can provide clues as to whether your friend might be addicted to drugs.
- sudden changes in behaviour or mood swings
- withdrawal from family members and old friendship groups
- carelessness about personal grooming
- loss of interest in hobbies, sports or other favourite activities
- neglect of responsibilities.
- red, glassy or bloodshot eyes, or pupils that are smaller or larger than normal
- sniffing or a runny nose
- frequent nosebleeds
- shakes, tremors, incoherent or slurred speech, impaired or unstable coordination
- sudden weight loss or weight gain.
The following items could also be a sign of addiction:
- spoons and syringes
- small, resealable baggies that could be used to store drugs
- pipes, plastic bottles, or cans that have been pierced or tampered with
- burnt foil
- stuff missing, such as money, valuables or prescription drugs.
What Is Drug Or Alcohol Misuse
Drugs are substances that affect how the body functions. Illegal drugs such as ecstasy and heroin can be harmful and unpredictable. Unlike prescription medicines, there is no government organisation that regulates the quality or amount of active ingredients in illegal substances.
However, not all drugs are illegal. Alcohol is a legal drug that can be harmful if taken in large amounts or for a long time. Medicines that have been prescribed by a doctor can also be harmful if they arent taken as directed or are taken for non-medical reasons.
Drug and alcohol misuse isnt necessarily related to how often or in what quantity a person uses drugs, but the impact their drug use has on their life. Drug or alcohol use can become a problem when it starts to affect a persons judgement, relationships or general health and wellbeing. It can cause them to neglect other responsibilities such as school, work or family.
Drug and alcohol misuse is common. About 1 in 3 people in Australia drink alcohol at risky levels. Two in every 5 people in Australia have used an illegal drug at some point in their lives, including taking pharmaceutical medicines for non-medical purposes.
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Avoid Supporting The Addiction Financially
This is also a form of enabling and rears its head in different ways.
When a drug-addicted family member asks you for money, has you pay their bills, or even lives in your home rent-free, this may be enabling their addiction.
Your loved one may give many reasons why they are asking you for money, but unfortunately, all paths likely lead to supporting the drug abuse financially.
My Friend Took Drugs Once Will They Become An Addict
Most people only develop an addiction after regularly taking a drug. Its highly unlikely that anyone will develop an addiction after taking drugs once or twice or from drinking once or twice.
Some signs that a person is getting addicted to alcohol or drugs are:
- they take the drug very regularly or drink very regularly
- they take it despite trying to cut down or stop
- they lie about how much they take or take it in secret
- they keep taking it despite the harm it’s causing
- they drink or take drugs alone
- they do extreme things to get the drug or alcohol like stealing, getting into debt or faking symptoms to get prescription drugs
- they do less of the things they enjoy, because the drugs or alcohol are getting in the way
Remember that people who are addicted often dont think they are, or dont feel like they can admit it.
So if you think your friend has a problem and you want to help them, think about how you’re going to approach the topic and what youre going to say as you dont want to upset them.
And if they dont listen to you at first, dont be put off. Just give them some space and try again in a little while.
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What If The Person Doesnt Want Help For Drugs Or Alcohol
Ultimately, its the persons decision whether to seek professional help. Many people who misuse drugs or alcohol find it hard to ask for help at first, but may want to reach out later on. Be careful not to nag the person, since this might discourage them from opening up in the future.
Clearly state any behaviours you expect, or wont tolerate, from the person. You might not accept drug use in your home, for example.
Encourage the person to use safely to minimise the risk of harming themselves for example, through needle and syringe programs or opioid replacement programs.
Its important to know that you cant force the person to stop using drugs or alcohol. Only they can choose to change.
Keep A Positive Mindset
Its essential to try to seek the positives in the situation and celebrate the progress made. Changing addictive behavior is hard, just like making any significant change of habit. Yet its even harder than that because there are chemicals involved that interfere with their decision-making ability.
Even if they slip up, try to remain positive. Use supportive communication to explore what led to the slip-up, and then figure out how to avoid it in the future. You dont want your loved one to slide back, so encourage them to see how far theyve come already.
Also Check: How To Deal With An Addict In Denial
What To Avoid When Helping A Loved One With A Drug Addiction
Arguments or blame are not helpful and can increase feelings of stress, anger, and defensiveness.2 If you feel overwhelmed or your loved one is resistant, avoid pressing the issue if they dont want to talk. Come back to the discussion later when they are more receptive, or you are both feeling less emotional.
Its important to maintain trust when helping someone with an addiction. They need to feel that youre on their side. Some of the things to avoid include:2, 12
- Talking to them when they are under the influence.
- Stigmatizing language like referring to the person as an addict or alcoholic.
Tip #: Get Counseling
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It may be helpful to get some individual counseling to assist yourself. Counseling isnt just for the addict. The more you are able to manage the better you will be able to help your loved one. There are a variety of resources to find counselors. Your company may have an Employee Assistance Program or your health insurance may have mental health benefits that you can access. Talk to someone you trust about finding the resources you need and do a search for resources in your area.
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How Can I Help
It can feel daunting to confront a mate about their drug use, but its important for friends to help each other. You may feel hurt by things theyve done, but remember that they probably didnt intend to hurt you. Addiction drives the best people to make poor decisions.
Acknowledge that your friend might not see their drug use as a problem
Without an understanding that theres a problem, there wont be a solution. Be honest with your friend about what you think the problem is, and make sure they understand that abusing drugs is a serious issue.
Talk to your friend about your concerns
Talk about the negative effects of addiction in terms of something your friend really cares about. They might not be worried about their health or about getting through uni, but they may really care that someone they love is suffering because of their addiction.
Be positive and let your friend know that youre there for them
Help them stay focused on positive goals that dont include drugs. Support and acknowledge the positive things they do and achieve, and dont abandon your friend when they slip up it will probably take time for them to turn things around.
Avoid using emotional appeals
Dont try to guilt-trip them, and dont preach, bribe or threaten them this will only upset them and push them away.
If You Are Struggling With Addiction Know That Addiction Is A Treatable Disease Not A Moral Failing
Substance use disorders create changes in the brain, leading to a compulsion to use drugs or alcohol. It is a chronic mental health condition however, sobriety is possible with the proper treatment and support.
Olympia House Rehab provides patients with individualized addiction treatment tailored to their long-term goals and mental health concerns.
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How Do I Know If Someone Needs Help For Their Drug Or Alcohol Use
It can be difficult to tell if a person is consuming harmful levels of drugs or alcohol, especially if theyre trying to hide their drug or alcohol use.
Some drugs can result in noticeable physical symptoms, including:
- pupils that are larger or smaller than normal
A person may be misusing drugs or alcohol if their use leads to:
- difficulty keeping up at school or work
- relationship or family problems
- legal or financial difficulties
- injuries for example, due to accidents or violence after using drugs or alcohol
If you know that someone is using drugs or alcohol, they might be at risk of developing a problem if they:
- find it difficult to cut down or stop using
- spend a lot of their time trying to find or use drugs or alcohol
- use increasingly larger amounts of substances over time
- use substances more often over time
- have unpleasant symptoms when stopping or cutting down on drugs or alcohol
However, not everyone who misuses drugs or alcohol wants help.
Its also important to know that people may experience symptoms similar to those listed above but for reasons that arent related to drug use. This is especially true of young people coping with the challenges of adolescence.
If you arent sure whether a person is misusing drugs or alcohol or needs help, start a conversation to see if theyre OK.
How To Stop Enabling And Set Boundaries
Enabling is behavior that allows a person to continue abusing substances and avoid taking responsibility for their actions.14 A person who enables often feels powerless over a loved ones behavior.14
Having boundaries helps you know where your feelings and responsibilities end and the other persons begin. Boundaries can be thought of as personal guidelines or limits that dictate ways for other people to treat you.15 If you dont set boundaries, you might find yourself saying or doing things you dont feel comfortable with and feel resentful about it later.16
Setting healthy boundaries isnt always easy, but it can protect you from the negative behaviors of others, help you practice self-care, avoid enabling, and better communicate your needs in relationships.15
A lack of boundaries can be a feature of codependency in relationships. People who identify as codependent often find they are desperate to fix others.24 They may also display certain patterns of behavior related to control, low self-esteem, denial, avoidance, and compliance.24
Enabling behaviors can include:1, 16
- Financially supporting the person.
- Bailing the person out of jail or dealing with their legal issues.
- Blaming yourself for their problems.
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What Are The Signs Of Drug Addiction
It can be hard to spot if someone has a substance abuse problem until they are deep within the grip of addiction. Yet, they will likely exhibit selfish and destructive behavior by this point, breaking trust and hurting people close to them.
Some common signs that could indicate an addiction in a loved ones behavior include:
- Poor hygiene and self-care
- Intense mood swings and irritability
- Financial issues
- Exacerbation of existing mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression
Sometimes what could be perceived as signs of drug addiction are actually symptoms of other problems, such as mental illness. Sadly, substance use disorders often co-occur with mental health disorders.
Its never too late to encourage someone struggling with addiction to seek help and turn their life around. Recovery is always possible with the right treatment and support.
Look Into Professional Treatment And Drug Rehab Services For Them
Your loved one likely does not even know where to begin or what options are out there for them to get help.
In fact, it is likely they may not even want to hear about them. If they are not ready for a change, any option you present is likely to be shot down. If they are ready, it may seem simply too exhausting for them to have to research their options.
This is where you can be of service by seeing what is out there for treatment first, so you can make educated suggestions when the time is right. There are many methods of treatment, and it is important to keep this in mind before choosing a drug rehab facility to explore.
One of the more popular methods is the 12-step program. At Cirque Lodge, we believe every addiction and person is unique, and we tailor treatment accordingly. So while we are founded on the 12-steps, we also integrate effective forms of clinical therapies into a mind, body and spirit approach to help a person become healthy from the inside out. Understanding treatment approaches is the key to your loved one is success in that program.
Also, there is an alternative to helping someone who is in a downward spiral whom you believe must seek help very soon, whether they want to or not. This is what is called intervention. Interventions can require planning, because there are many layers to successfully staging it.
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