Ask the Experts
How Do I Help a Loved One Struggling with Addiction?

If you have a family member who has been struggling with substance abuse or dependence, it’s often difficult to know exactly what to say or do. You want to do everything in your power to help (of course), but you’re also concerned about pushing your loved one further away. Addiction can be a difficult disease to comprehend. Why does your family member refuse to receive the help that is so clearly necessary? Doesn’t he or she want to get well? Before approaching your family member, it’s important to thoroughly understand the disease of addiction.

In this article we will go over what addiction actually is, how to speak to a family member who has been struggling with addiction, and what steps to take if the one-on-one conversation doesn’t go as planned. If you have any additional questions you can always reach out to Guardian Recovery Network directly.

Q & A with a Licensed Addiction Specialist

Q. What should I know about addiction?

A. Learn about the Disease Model of Addiction

There are few things as frustrating and heart-wrenching as watching a loved one struggle with addiction. If you have been faced with the problem for an extended period of time, you are probably feeling hopeless, helpless and at the end of your rope. The good news is that there are many ways in which you can help. However, before attempting to intervene, it is important that you understand the Disease Model of Addiction.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (or the DSM-5) is the gold standard when it comes to mental health. The American Psychiatry Association (and thousands of mental health professionals across the country) utilize this text when diagnosing any mental health disorder — including substance abuse or dependence. The DSM-5 lists 11 main symptoms of a diagnosable substance use disorder which can be broken down into four categories: impaired control, social problems, risky use and physical dependence. The DSM-5 also defines addiction as a “chronic and relapsing brain disease,” meaning that there is no known cure (though the condition is treatable). If your family member is struggling with addiction, he or she has completely lost control over alcohol or drug use. Picking up is no longer a choice. As the brain is repeatedly exposed to the chemical, substance use becomes entirely compulsive. This is why someone who is struggling with a moderate or severe substance abuse disorder does not have the wherewithal to “simply stop.” Intervention is often necessary if an addictive disorder has progressed to a later stage.

There is a common misconception in circulation that in order for your family member to get well, he or she needs to hit rock bottom. This is a dangerous way of thinking considering the fact that addiction is a progressive, fatal disease. Imagine that your family member was struggling with another chronic condition like cancer. Would you wait for the cancer to spread before intervening? The sooner the addictive disorder is treated, the better. It is also important to understand that addiction treatment does not need to be initially voluntary in order to be effective. Many individuals enter treatment reluctantly, but once they experience the freedom of recovery, become much more willing to participate. At Guardian, we offer professional interventions to help family members confront their loved ones about their addiction. Contact us to learn more about intervention services.

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Q: What are some steps I can take to help an addicted family member?

A: The first step you must take is getting healthy yourself.

It might seem counterintuitive at first, but remember — you cannot pour from an empty cup. Engaging in self-care and prioritizing your own mental and emotional health allows you to come from a more compassionate place when you do decide to intervene. We highly recommend seeking out an Al-Anon meeting in your immediate area and speaking with other members of the meeting about their personal experiences. Al-Anon is a peer support group specifically designed for the loved ones of addicts and alcoholics. Seeking out individual therapy with someone who has experience with substance abuse and addiction is also a good idea. Reach out for support and professional advice whenever possible. Watching a loved one suffer from addiction is an emotionally damaging experience, and it is important that you take the necessary steps to begin your own personal journey of healing.

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Q: How do I talk to a family member who has been struggling with active addiction?

Tips for helping a family member who is struggling with addiction.

A: It is never a good idea to attempt speaking with a family member if he or she is drunk or high.

Wait until you know that your loved one is sober. Try to have a conversation somewhere neutral, never in a bar or a restaurant that serves alcohol. It’s a good idea to meet in a public place and avoid having a conversation in your home (which will give your family member an easy out). Avoid placing blame or pointing fingers. When you address the addiction, focus on how it makes you feel and what affects your loved one’s drinking or drug use has had on you personally. Make sure that you go into the conversation prepared to offer a solution. This might mean looking into 12-Step meetings in your area or finding a treatment center that accepts your insurance. At the end of the conversation, offer a solution to the problem in a gentle and supportive way.

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Q: How do I know whether or not I’m enabling my family member?

A: It can be difficult to tell the difference between helping and enabling.

If you are enabling your family member, you are letting him or her continue their pattern of self-destructive behavior. Enabling takes many different forms and it can look like:

  • Ignoring the addictive disorder
  • Continuously bailing your loved one out of sticky situations (either by offering financial assistance, legal assistance or other forms of help)
  • Making excuses for your family member
  • Avoiding the issue at hand or continuously brushing it off
  • Not taking care of/neglecting your own personal needs
  • Setting personal boundaries and then failing to maintain them

It can be extremely hard to avoid enabling your loved one. How do you go about doing this? Provide them with the tools they need to succeed, teach them skills that will help them in the long run, and help them access recovery resources.

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    Q: What steps should I take if my family member denies help, or if he or she isn’t sober for long enough to sit down and have a conversation?

    A: Staging a professional intervention is always a good option.

    An intervention is a carefully staged event designed to provide a loved one with treatment options and encourage them to accept help the same day that the event takes place. We work closely with several professional interventionists who we are more than happy to put you into touch with. The interventionist you are paired with walks you through the entire process, and offers follow-up support whenever necessary.

    A Family Approach to Healing

    At Guardian Recovery Network we believe that the immediate family is a crucial part of the recovery process — from start to finish. We also believe that addiction affects the entire family For this reason, each individual member of the family must also undergo mental and emotional healing simultaneously. We have developed a comprehensive program of recovery that allows for this to happen. In addition to family therapy, which is facilitated by a licensed and experienced therapist, we have designed a Family Retreat Workshop that focuses on intensive therapeutic recovery over a three day time period. If you are looking for additional insight on how to help a family member in need or if you would like to be put into touch with one of our licensed interventionists, contact us today. We are standing by 24/7 to help in any way we can.

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