Loving someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can be complicated. Many times, in our efforts to show our addicted loved ones support, we end up enabling them, even without realizing it. So what can you do to support your loved one while keeping healthy boundaries? Is there a way to gently guide them in the right direction?
Caring for someone with an addiction can be hard, but it’s still possible to have a healthy relationship with them. Below are a few ways you can show your loved one your care and concern without condoning their behaviors.
1. Show Them They Are Valued
Self-esteem has a two-way relationship with drug and alcohol addiction. People with low self-esteem may become dependent on drugs for a variety of reasons, and people dependent on drugs often develop low self-esteem. You can’t fix someone’s broken self-esteem, but you can give them encouragement through your words and actions. Showing your addicted loved one that you still love, value, and care about them can help them believe they’re worthy of recovery.
There are several ways you can do this:
- Give them compliments, especially on personality traits, accomplishments, and strengths.
- Call them regularly just to talk.
- Invite them to do things with you, like take walks or play games.
- If they are part of your social circle, continue to make them part of the group.
Addiction is a dark, lonely place, so remind your loved one you are still there.
2. Learn More About Addiction and Recovery
It’s hard to support anyone dealing with addiction without understanding addiction. Although you can’t fully put yourself in their shoes, you can learn about addiction. Read blogs, articles, and websites from reliable sources, like:
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
And don’t forget to learn about recovery!
Your loved one will appreciate the time you took to learn more about their struggles. And when they’re ready to get help, you’ll be ready with informed suggestions. You will be more prepared to do things like:
- Offer to go with them to the nearest AA meeting
- Suggest they find a sponsor
- Look into a local recovery program
- Recommend a specific addiction counselor
It’s important to avoid getting too involved, though. Don’t overstep their boundaries by actually contacting counselors or programs.
More About Helping Loved Ones
3. Don’t Give Up on Them
This one is especially tough to balance while maintaining boundaries. It’s easy to lose hope in someone who’s addicted to substances. People in active addiction are often manipulative, unreliable, and hurtful. They may ask you for money, large favors, or to turn a blind eye to things that are not okay with you. Maybe your loved one has already been to treatment and relapsed. People can relapse once, twice, or a dozen times while in their recovery journey. It’s easy to become frustrated and give up on someone in active addiction. It’s also easy to lose hope that they’ll ever change.
Staying hopeful is exactly what you must do. Your loved one may not realize how much they’re hurting you, and while they’re under the influence, they may not care. Despite this, try to remember who they are beneath the addiction. Drugs and alcohol twist and change people, but it helps to be able to see through that, so you can continue to offer encouragement and hope.
Still, don’t compromise your boundaries. If your loved one steals from you or hurts you, for instance, you may have to learn to love and encourage them with some distance between you.
4. Take Care of Yourself First
If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you’ll know they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs. This is because you can’t help others if you don’t take care of yourself first. This is especially true when showing support for your addicted loved one. Focus on tuning in to and meeting your emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. You can’t pour from an empty cup. When you feel whole and healthy, you can be that much more present for your addicted loved one.
Plus, you have the opportunity to role model appropriate self-care. By talking about how you meet your needs—and demonstrating how you do it every day—you show your loved one that it’s possible. This might just help them envision a healthy, happy life without drugs or alcohol for themselves.
5. Provide a Safe and Sober Environment
One of the most beneficial things you can do for your addicted loved one is to provide them with basic needs, such as shelter and food. These things sound basic, but for people dealing with addiction, they’re not taken for granted. Drug addicts and alcoholics often struggle with homelessness and malnutrition. They’re at high-risk for being assaulted, robbed, or even trafficked. A safe living environment or an offer to let someone stay the night in a pinch could mean the world to them and may be the glimmer of hope they need.
This may not be appropriate to do in every case. If you don’t know the person well, maybe you can help set them up with someone who does know them well. And in every case, make sure you set and stick to your boundaries to keep yourself and them safe. For example, they can live with you but cannot do drugs or drink alcohol in the house.
6. Respect Their Privacy
This is an especially important point if you want to support someone who isn’t a loved one but may be a friend, coworker, or acquaintance. Perhaps you’re aware of their addiction but don’t know the extent of it. You may continue to feel you don’t know them well despite seeing them regularly and speaking to them often. This is normal. People in active addiction are often secretive for many reasons. They may fear you’ll judge them or won’t want to be close to them. People struggling with substance abuse often feel ashamed and embarrassed. They may also fear you’ll get them in trouble, especially at work.
To support someone in these situations, give them space. Don’t pressure them with questions, and definitely don’t make assumptions. Be compassionate, asking them how they’re doing and treating them like you would any of your other friends. This will slowly build trust between the two of you. Eventually, they may open up to you about their substance abuse. Or, they may not. Either way, do your part to communicate that they are worthy of kindness, care, and sobriety.
Remember, loved ones are often the main reason people choose to go to treatment and get sober. Maintain your relationship with a loved one struggling with substance abuse, even when it gets hard, and you may end up getting to support them in recovery too.