Addiction is a very poorly understood, highly stigmatized disease. Many people see addiction as a behavioral problem wherein addicts consciously and repeatedly choose alcohol or drugs over their health, relationships, careers and independence. However, most addicts don’t want to be in active addiction. As the repercussions of having a substance abuse problem accumulate over time, it quickly becomes an unhealthy, dangerous way of life.
For those of us who haven’t experienced addiction first hand, it can be difficult to understand why addicts have such difficulty ceasing a behavior that wreaks such havoc in their lives. Understanding addiction and the recovery process is necessary because, while only ten percent of the population suffers from substance abuse problems,1 there’s a far larger group that has an addicted loved one. Of course, a major part of understanding the addiction recovery process is knowing how best to help someone through it. Also, support from family and friends can be a great asset for someone who is on a recovery journey. Therefore, the following is a selection of tips that can help you be involved in a loved one’s recovery.
Consider Staging an Intervention
It’s really difficult to watch a loved one suffer through addiction. The disease causes a profound physical and psychological transformation, turning someone familiar into a stranger who behaves in dangerous, self-destructive ways. Most people with addicted loved ones have offered help to them numerous times to no avail. However, another option could be to stage an intervention. In short, an intervention is a gathering of an addict’s close family and friends who plead with him or her to get help.2 These can be emotional events during which the addict’s loved ones tell how they love him or her and how they’ve been affected by the addict’s substance abuse problem. It can be helpful for family members tomake tentative arrangements for an addict’s rehabilitation at a treatment center in the event that the intervention is successful.
Offer Support Unconditionally
Addiction is a very lonely disease because it causes people to behave in ways that serve to isolate them. By the time an addict decides to get help, the individual will have damaged or possibly destroyed many relationships. Sadly, recovery can often feel nearly as lonely as active addiction. A person must do his or her own healing, but getting support from others is still greatly beneficial. In fact, it’s often said that ample support and encouragement are integral to a person’s success in recovery.3 Therefore, offering support to a loved one in recovery can be momentously helpful for a number of reasons.
When you offer support to an addicted loved one, it gives him or her hope. If the individual had harmed the relationship while in active addiction, the support shows the individual that the relationship has not been completely destroyed or damaged beyond prepare. Support also shows that you want to be part of his or her recovery process. As well, it shows that there’s no judgement or persecution for the individual’s past and a willingness to start over with a clean slate.
Show Understanding and Willingness to Learn
There’s something else that a show of support says to a loved one in rehabilitation: It shows him or her that you want to understand and learn about the disease of addiction. Additionally, this will help you to learn about other things that you could potentially do to aid in his or her recovery from addiction. When you’re willing to devote your own time to learning about this process, your addicted loved one — who is feeling alone and misunderstood — will see that you have faith and are personally invested in his or her recovery. Take the initiative to do some research about addiction and recovery as this will provide a framework with which to track your loved one’s progress in recovery.
Communicate Openly and Respectfully
At any stage of any relationship, communication is essential. It helps us to consider others’ viewpoints, is instrumental in building trust and allows us to vent our feelings. There’s also a certain amount of comfort and reassurance that comes from knowing that there’s open communication in a relationship, so it’s beneficial to both sides. Similarly, listening is an important complement to communication because it shows that you’re receptive to feedback and sensitive to his or her specific needs.
Encourage Productive, Meaningful Pursuits
Getting sober can be a jarring experience. After spending a period of months, years or even decades in active addiction, a person in recovery must essentially rebuild his or her life. This can mean finding a new home, making new friends, discovering new interests, finding new hobbies and so on. As you can imagine, a person is likely to feel overwhelmed in this situation, especially without the alcohol and drugs that had recently taken up so much of his or her life. However, you could help your addicted loved one to find ways to occupy his or her time in productive and meaningful ways. The ideal scenario would be to find something that’s enjoyable while offering the feeling of accomplishment, such as learning a new skill or trade, volunteering or starting a business. Finding a new pursuit would offer a constructive way to spend the individual’s time while helping him or her to prepare and providing hope for the future.4
Facilitate Healthy Lifestyle Changes
As a person becomes an addict, there’s less and less concern about meeting basic health needs. By the time he or she is in recovery, the individual will need to invest time and effort in self-care. Ensuring that one’s basic health needs are met is one of the fundamental necessities of a successful recovery.5 When a recovering addict isn’t getting enough sleep, isn’t eating balanced meals, doesn’t get much physical exercise and frequently feels stressed, he or she is at a significantly higher chance of relapse. Therefore, it would be incredibly beneficial for you to help facilitate your loved one’s positive lifestyle changes. Also, having someone there to remind him or her and encourage these changes would make them more likely to take hold.
The recovery journey is different for everyone. Some people experience success after clinical addiction treatment programs while others swear by 12-Step programs. However, while the rehabilitation process differs greatly, every addict needs supportive loved ones for his or her recovery to be long-lasting. With the support, communication and understanding of close family members and friends, anyone can achieve lasting sobriety and live a long, fulfilling life.
Written by Dane O’Leary