How to Help someone in active Addiction: Resources and Treatment

If you have a friend or relative who is living with addiction, you might be wondering how you can help. To be clear, it’s not always easy to make the decision to provide help with substance use or another type of addiction. However, your loved one will often have a greater chance of overcoming their challenges with your support.

Do

  • Focus on building trust
  • Tell your loved one how the addiction is affecting their life and relationships
  • Respect their privacy while being supportive
Don’t

  • Threaten or give ultimatums
  • Criticize, which can contribute to shame
  • Expect immediate change

Find an Approach That Works

There are a number of different treatment options that can be effective, so it is important to consider the options. Think about which approach might be best suited to you and your loved one’s needs and goals. Depending on the nature of the addiction, treatment might involve psychotherapy, medication, support groups, or a combination of all of these. A few options include:

Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT)

CRAFT is an evidence-based method for helping families get help for loved ones. It has replaced traditional interventions as the preferred method of helping people with addiction get the help they need, such as therapy.

Medication

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a number of medications that can be effective in the treatment of substance use disorders. These include including Suboxone (Films and Tablets), Subutex, Subzolv and many more.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Addiction therapy that uses CBT focuses on helping people understand how their beliefs and feelings influence their behaviors. It works by helping people change the thought and behavior patterns that contribute to substance use.

Online Therapy

Research suggests that online therapy can also be an effective treatment option for substance use disorders. Such programs often incorporate elements of CBT and motivational interviewing, which involves using structured conversations to help people think about how their life will improve by ending their addiction.

Inpatient Treatment or Rehabilitation

Inpatient treatment may provide the best results, especially when substance use is more severe or if the person has co-occurring disorders. Rehab programs usually last either 30, 60, or 90 days. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends that people spend a minimum of 90 days in treatment.

Support Groups

Twelve-step and peer support groups can also be helpful during the recovery process. These groups are aimed at promoting sobriety and may take a variety of approaches. Many of these offer in-person meetings, but online support groups are also available.

Other important factors that can affect a person’s recovery include family involvement and other social supports. Family therapy is an important part of an effective addiction recovery plan.

Expect Difficulties

There are many reasons why it can be difficult to help someone you care about who has a substance use disorder. Your loved one:

  • May not agree they have a problem
  • May not want to change what they are doing
  • May fear consequences (e.g., losing their job or going to prison)
  • May feel embarrassed and not want to discuss their condition with you (or anyone else)
  • May feel awkward about discussing their personal issues with a professional, such as a doctor or counselor
  • May engage in their addiction as a way to avoid dealing with another problem (such as mental illness)

There is no fast and easy way to help a person with an addiction. Overcoming addiction requires a great deal of effort and support. If someone doesn’t want to change their behavior, trying to persuade them to get help is unlikely to work.

What you can do is take steps to help your loved one make changes in the long term. It’s also important that you get the support you need to cope, too.

Establish Trust

If your loved one has already betrayed your trust, regaining and maintaining it can be tough. However, establishing trust is an important first step in helping someone with addiction think about change.

Avoid Trust-Destroyers

  • Nagging, criticizing, and lecturing
  • Yelling, name-calling, and exaggerating
  • Engaging in addictive behaviors yourself, even in moderation, which can be taken as hypocrisy

Trust is easily undermined, even when you are trying to help. There are a few things to keep in mind as you are thinking about talking to your loved one about their addiction.

  • Perspectives differ. While you may only want to help your loved one, they might think you are trying to control them. These feelings can lead them to engage in their addiction even more.
  • Stress can make things worse. Your loved one likely uses their addictive behavior (at least partly) as a way to manage stress. If the atmosphere between the two of you is stressful, they may turn to their addictive behavior more, not less.
  • Trust goes both ways. Building trust is a two-way process. Trust is not established when you continue to put up with unwanted behavior.
  • Understand the role of consequences. People with addiction rarely change until the behavior has consequences. While you might want to protect your loved one, resist the urge to try to protect someone with addiction from the consequences of their actions.

Communicate Effectively

You might be more than ready to let your loved one know how you feel about the issues their addiction has caused and feel a strong urge to get them to change. Having an effective conversation involves learning how to communicate with someone who has an addiction.

While it can be frustrating, remember that the decision to change is theirs. A person with an addiction is much more likely to be open to thinking about change if you communicate honestly, and without being threatening.

Communication techniques that can help get your conversation on the right foot include:

  • Using “I” statements versus “you” statements (saying “I get sad when you drink” instead of “You never consider what you’re doing to me when you drink”), thereby decreasing blame and confrontation
  • Turning negative statements into positives (replacing “You are such a jerk when you’re high” with “I really enjoy your company when you’re sober”), which can reduce the likelihood that they’ll get defensive
  • Providing empathy (“I can tell that your addiction frustrates you, and that must be hard to deal with sometimes”), so they don’t feel like no one understands what they are going through or where they are coming from
  • Letting them know that you want to be part of the solution (“I’d be glad to take care of the kids while you get help”), providing them the opportunity to seek help without worrying about other things

It’s also important to pay attention to your non-verbal communication. If your body language or facial expressions are seen as negative, it may be more difficult for your loved one to view your concern as genuine or to accept your help. If you want a person with a substance use disorder to change, you will probably have to change too. If you show you are willing to try, your loved one will be more likely to try as well.

If You Participate in Treatment

The process of treating addiction varies depending on the type of treatment that a person receives. If you are involved in your loved one’s treatment:

  • Keep working on establishing trust. Try to evaluate where you are with trust before going to counseling with your loved one.
  • Be honest about your feelings. Tell your loved one what their addiction has been like for you and be honest about what you want to happen next.
  • Do not blame, criticize, or humiliate your loved one in counseling. Simply say what it has been like for you. Being confrontational generally doesn’t work and can damage your relationship.
  • Be prepared for blame. Don’t be surprised if your loved one expresses some things you have done or said that are contributing to their addiction. Stay calm and truly listen to what they’re saying, keeping an open heart and mind.

If your loved one chooses to pursue treatment on their own:

  • Respect their privacy. Do not inform friends, family, or others about your loved one’s treatment without their consent.
  • Respect their privacy in therapy. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push for them to tell you what happened.
  • Practice patience. There are many approaches to addiction treatment, but no change happens overnight.

What to Expect When a Loved One Receives Treatment

Once your loved one has decided to begin treatment, it can be helpful to know what to expect. The answer depends on a variety of factors including:

  • The severity of your loved one’s condition
  • The duration and frequency of their substance or alcohol use
  • Past attempts at recovery
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Motivation and commitment to recovery
  • Support and assistance available

Long-term treatment and recovery will last for months or even years. Overall progress and setbacks during recovery can extend the duration of treatment. During this time, there are things that you can do to offer support. Learning more about the treatment process and offering help with immediate needs—such as driving them to appointments or attending support group meetings with them—are all ways that you can support recovery.

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