Have a loved one who has an addiction? Here are 10 things I learned that helped me:
1. It’s common. At least one out of every ten Americans will experience addiction in their lifetimes.
2. If you feel comfortable, consider being open about the addiction if your loved one comes up. More often than not, people will share back with you about someone close to them who has or has had an addiction. This also helps facilitate a common realization that addiction is very common and shouldn’t be a taboo subject.
3. Know the difference between your loved one and the addict. The addict can be insensitive, manipulative, and possibly violent. They are different entities and will treat you differently. Recognize it as such—it helps heal your personal relationship with that person.
4. Since addicts can be manipulative, make sure you have healthy boundaries that will help heal the person rather than enabling them to continue. IF you don’t know what that means exactly, spend some time learning about it. It could save you.
5. Caring for someone with an addiction can be tough and isolating without proper support. Find a group for people who have loved ones who are addicts. Even if you don’t completely agree with a group’s philosophy, you’ll be thankful to know folks who have experienced exactly how tough it can be.
6. Therapy is critical to your loved one healing from addiction. Bring it up often so that it’s no longer scary. You should also go to therapy, both to make it less intimidating and because you likely need it too.
7. Communicate in an open, non-accusatory manner. This helps remove any defense mechanisms or reactionary behavior from the addict. Seriously, use “I statements” and focus the impact on you—”I felt hurt/frustrated/sad when you did _________.”
8. Addiction often co-occurs with mental illness. This can be a challenging pairing. Make sure you’re educating yourself on how the two interact, and how to love and communicate with someone who also has a mental illness.
9. Your loved one may have to hit rock bottom before they’ll seek treatment on their own. Self-sought treatment is typically the most effective and long-lasting. But rock bottom is also incredibly painful to watch. Be aware and ready.
10. Chances are you’d like to improve the outcomes for your loved one and others like him or her. Research local organizations and see if any group is advocating for change in how people with addictions are managed. For example, maybe there’s an organization working on changing federal policy on mandatory minimum sentences for drugs.