How Do You Help Someone with an Addiction?
And What NOT to Do
There are many debates raging on right now about how to help struggling addicts or people with possible addictions. From safe injection sites that reduce the risk of death from overdose, to raising the legal drinking limit, to using fear campaigns to scare you straight. Yet at the same time the government has made addictive substances, like alcohol, more readily available by allowing sales in grocery stores, offering "buck a beer" deals, and legalizing marijuana (not that I'm against that last one) all the while cutting funding to fight the onslaught of addiction. What we really need are more well informed media campaigns, more front line staff, and most importantly, people who understand how to help an addict in their own way. So what should and shouldn't you be doing to help someone struggling with addiction?
First off, in my opinion, interventions don't work. TV shows would have you believe they do, but as someone who struggles with an addiction myself, putting me in a room full of my loved ones and hearing all the shameful and hurtful things I've done to them is just going to drive me deeper into the bottle.
An addict already lives with more shame and guilt than you'll ever know. They know what they're doing is hurting the ones they love. Trust me, we're not stupid. We're just so entrenched in the throngs of our disease that we really don't care who we hurt as long as we get our next fix. We fight with this guilt each day which just makes us use more and more and more. Shoving that in our face isn't going to make things better. You can't force someone into treatment until they're ready to commit to a life of sobriety, and that has to be THEIR choice.
I think this goes without saying, but never enable an addict. Don't lend them money. Don't fall for their sob stories. I know you think that giving them the money is better than them committing crimes to get their fix 'cause you don't want them in legal trouble. I say let them go out and get caught 'cause maybe that's what will start their road to recovery. Picking up a small bottle or 6 pack thinking, "this can't do them much harm and it'll keep them quiet from pestering me," is only opening a whole can of worms. Once that poison, whatever it may be, is in our system, we'll do ANYTHING to get more. And for the love of God DO NOT give them your debit card to do grocery shopping for the family cause there's a 100% chance they're coming home with more than food. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.)
Don't ever judge someone with an addiction. The same goes for shaming or blaming. Just like you don't like to be judged, neither do we. You have no idea what personal hell this person is going or has gone through that's bringing them to the point of insanity. It's probably beyond your understanding and beyond their comprehension to explain at this point. "Judge not, lest ye be judged." (I read that somewhere....)
Don't ever give up, push them away, or abandon them. I know at times you're gonna be at your wits end and just want to throw in the towel, but please don't. Take a step back if you need to but don't fully leave. Abandonment is more likely to push the addict even further into the grips of their personal demons.
Some great things you CAN do is learn. Learn about the substance they're using. Its effects, causes, treatments. Learn about addiction. Learn about recovery. Research where the closest AA meeting is, where detox and rehab centres are, where they can find support and addiction counseling. Be a fountain of knowledge for when the addict is ready for change. Most importantly, and if they're open to it, learn about them. Why do they use? How does it make them feel? Why do they keep using to this day? Do this all in a very calm manner. You don't want to sound like an interrogator.
Be supportive. Be reassuring. Let them know that while you may not fully understand what hell they're currently going through, you're still there for them. Support is a HUGE thing for addicts. Even when they're going through recovery, stay supportive. It's a rough and tough road and slips may happen. I recently had a slip myself, but did my mom stop supporting me? Get mad at me? Disappointed? Not one bit. Someone has to keep the positivity going.
Lastly, and most importantly, love. Love them unconditionally. Be they family, friend or foe. 'Cause you'd want the same if the shoe was on the other foot. You get what you give. Like some famous song once said, "All you need is love."