Addiction is a powerful psychological disease that traps millions of men and women every year. Data shows that an estimated 1 in 10 Americans will suffer through some form of substance abuse or dependence in their lifetime, and while these numbers may be helpful in telling you that you aren’t alone, they can’t help you with the day in and day out struggle of loving an addict. No matter who your loved one is to you, loving an addict is mentally and physically taxing, and it often takes self-control, sacrifice, and real love to stay with them and to help them.
Addiction is hard for everyone involved, but it is important that you don’t fall into common mistakes that could make things worse for you or for them.
Judging Your Loved One
If you haven’t read up a great deal on addiction and the associated patterns of guilt and substance abuse that typically come with it, you might easily fall into a pattern of judgement and blame. It’s easy to be angry when people disappoint you, and that’s okay. However, directing judgement, blame, and anger at an addict will often make things worse. Just like most people won’t lose weight if you criticize their weight (most will gain it), most people will use their substance addiction to comfort themselves in the face of criticism, judgment, and blame from a loved one.
Why? Judgment, blame, anger, and criticism all tie into negative reinforcement, which is psychologically one of the reasons behind many addictions. Negative reinforcement actually increases the chances of the person using again, and reduces their chances of staying clean or sober, or of getting clean in the first place.
How can you get around this? Avoid showing anger and blame even when you feel it and try to be firm and gentle at the same time. People need to know when they are making mistakes, but you can’t blame them for their problems. No one chooses to become an addict, and most would not act the way they do if they weren’t addicted. It will be hard, but if you can avoid being angry at them, you can speed up the process of their recovery.
Making Choices For Your Loved One
It might seem too easy to sign your loved one up for rehabilitation, choose to take them to a sobriety group, or even take them to a doctor, but the truth is that until they make the choice themselves, you can’t help them. This also ties into the fact that anything they do is on them and not on you and no matter how much they slip up, it is not your fault or your responsibility. In fact, taking responsibility for their own actions and their own sobriety is a crucial element of getting clean and staying that way.
How do you work with people who don’t want to change? You can’t. You can suggest, ask, and even beg, but if they are not ready to change, your time and your money will be wasted. This also leads into our next point.
Enabling Their Behavior
If you have an addicted loved one then you know all about rent that hasn’t been paid, things that have gone missing, bills that they don’t have the money for, and this one other thing they need. Paying for their mistakes might seem like a kindness, but eventually, you are enabling them. Enabling means giving them the means to keep going as they are, and if you are paying their rent, helping with bills, buying groceries, or giving them money, you are enabling them.
What can you do about it? Use tough love, turn your back, and let the worst happen. You can support them and let them live with you or get the into a clinic if they lose their home, they can replace their house or their car at another point in time, and they can catch up on almost any mistakes they make later. While there are exceptions (like failing to pay a mortgage) you should only step in extreme cases, and when possible, take ownership of anything that you pay for.
Not Learning About Addiction
Addiction is complex, varies between genders, and is often rooted in an experience such as a trauma, abuse, stress, or other issue. Taking the time to learn about addiction, its causes, and the behavior that results from it will give you a much stronger grasp of the situation, so that you can plan and make decisions rather than reacting.
You can consider ‘The Social Psychology Of Drug Abuse’ by Steve Sussman and Susan L. Ames, ‘Get Your Loved One Sober’ by Robert J. Meyers and Brenda L. Wolle, or ‘Substance Abuse Intervention’ by Edith M. Freeman. Most sobriety groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous will also offer their own literature which you can invest in.
Failing to Communicate
Communication is a key part of any relationship, and while you might feel that the burden of being the good person lies on you (and it does), communicating at the right time can help someone to recover. Isolation is a driving factor behind continued addiction, simply because many addicts use their substance abuse to replace emotional bonds, comfort, and to make up for loneliness. By communicating, listening, and being there, you can help to ensure that doesn’t happen.
It’s important that you learn to listen without judging, or at least pretend that you are. Someone who is opening up to you will withdraw if you judge them, get angry, or fail to listen. If you can stay calm, listen when they need it, and offer your help without judging them, you can help them to stay clean, get clean in the first place, or avoid a relapse.
Living with addiction can be difficult, even if your loved one isn’t living in your home. It takes a lot of patience and self control to help someone with an addiction without blaming them, even if they’ve already been through rehabilitation. For that reason, you should remember to take time for yourself, relax, and take care of yourself, so that you don’t become too stressed, which will feed back negatively to both of you.
If your loved one is suffering from substance dependence or addiction, it is important that you try to get them to seek professional help. Please call Lighthouse Treatment Center today. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Contact us today to discuss your situation in confidence – we are here to help.
While you can’t force anyone to get help, you can lead them to the decision that they have to get help themselves.