How to help someone with drug addiction

Most drug addicts want to overcome their addiction as they realize the harm from substance misuse. However, will-power alone is not enough to overcome this problem. The help of loved ones can play a critical role in helping to treat drug addiction. 

Drug addiction is a neurobehavioral disorder. National Institute on Drug Abuse asserts that it is a treatable disorder, a disease of the brain that is characterized by frequent relapses.

Addiction is a Disease

Treatment of addiction is similar to management of diabetes or hypertension, requiring continuous and lifelong management, care, and support.

Drug addiction, quite like hypertension or diabetes may be mild, moderate, or severe.

Drug addicts live with varying degrees of disabilities, impaired self-control, and social impairment.

How to Help Someone with Drug Addiction

Helping a person with drug addiction is complicated.

One of the most challenging phases of sobriety is withdrawal from drugs. During this phase, your loved one will require a great deal of support. 

Drug addiction affects many aspects of one’s life. Therefore,  one needs to provide support in many areas. This may include helping manage symptoms, getting engaged in the treatment process, helping a person manage the consequences of addiction, and emotional and financial support.

Researchers also warn to be careful when helping someone recover from drug addiction, avoid overindulgence, or being overprotective. Some individuals may even neglect their own health.

Here are some pointers when helping someone with drug addiction:

  • Have realistic goals– remember that there will be painful periods, frequently relapses. The road to recovery is rarely smooth. However, with the right attitude, you can keep the person recovering from addiction motivated. Just remember that relapses are a part of the journey to recovery.
  • Be compassionate– there will be times when a person addicted to drugs may shame you; there may be conflicts; the addict may even use abusive language. But you need to be patient, forgiving, and compassionate.
  • You cannot help alone– accept drug addiction as a complex disease of the brain that requires multi-specialty care. A person recovering from drug addiction will go through various stages, and you cannot manage all this without the help of a good specialist. During detoxification, needs are different, whereas in the later stages of care different issues arise. You may also need to engage other family members and friends in providing support.
  • Do not wait or deny- Yes, even family members can sometimes go into denial, especially in the early stages. It may result in a missed opportunity. Starting treatment in the early stages of drug addiction is favorable when much less physical, emotional, social, psychological damage has occurred. Even if the drug user is in denial, you can still seek guidance from specialized treatment centers.
  • Find the best professionals in the field- quite like you will go to the best surgeon for the treatment of any surgical problem, find the best consultant in the area. They will help guide you through the journey of caregiving, helping your loved one to recover from addiction.
  • Learn to support without enabling behavior- many people are not able to help effectively or may even make the matter worse by not realizing the difference between supportive behavior and enabling behavior. You should not be solving all the life-related problems of a drug addict, avoid helping a person all the time. 
  • Be strict and clear about what is acceptable and what not- you need to draw clear lines and let your loved one know when they have crossed the line. But also, acknowledge when your loved one makes progress in the right direction by providing positive reinforcement. 
  • Improve communication techniques- communicating with an addict is not easy and one may need to learn a few things. Remember that decision to use the drugs is voluntary only in the beginning and in the later stages it is an involuntary action caused by changes in the brain. Thus, do not lecture a person or threaten. Making emotional appeals have a limited role. Avoid arguing if you find that the person has re-used the drugs. Arguing or getting angry will only make things worse as the person will stop sharing his or her feelings with you.
  • Do not become a “victim of relationship” also known as codependencycodependency is a very complex phenomenon. However, many people taking care of a person develop a one-sided relationship, something that is emotionally destructive. The codependent person starts sacrificing his or her personal life, may even tolerate abuse, and may lose contact with their sense of self.
  • Do not forget your own well-being- taking care is a stressful job, so you must also have a plan for self-care. You cannot help another person if you become a victim of mental health issues. People taking care of drug addicts are more prone to suffer from depression. You may need to take a break from caretaking from time to time. Visit friends during the weekends, meet with other family members and discuss your problems with them. You may also want to seek professional counseling. 

When you are helping someone with an addiction, you are dealing with a person living with a chronic disease condition. The journey to recovery may be long, but doable for most people. Help from family and friends can often make a critical difference.

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