How to Help Someone with a Substance Use Disorder
The decision to get help and commit to treatment and recovery ultimately falls on the person struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD). However, as someone in their life that cares about their health and wellbeing, there’s still plenty you can do to ensure they get the help they need. Here are tips for helping someone struggling with addiction:
1. Identify codependent and enabling behavior.
Without realizing it or doing it intentionally, you may be practicing behavior that fosters the addiction. This can happen when you take responsibility for that person’s actions and decisions. You may put their feelings first and avoid talking about their damaging behavior. You may also be unable to set personal boundaries, leading them to believe everything is fine and that they are in control.
Enabling behavior is putting someone with SUD in a situation that makes the substance more accessible. An example is loaning them money, knowing they may spend it on drugs or alcohol. Or assuring them that you’ll always be there to rescue them if they get into legal troubles concerning their substance use.
2. Have patience.
Deciding to help someone with SUD may demand patience, depending on how receptive the person is to your help. It may take time to establish and maintain trust. All the while, you need to remember to also take care of yourself because the process can wear you down emotionally, especially if the person with addiction refuses your help.
3. Educate yourself–with the right resources.
Whether it’s drug addiction or alcoholism, you need to understand the different forms of SUD and other co-occurring disorders. Educating yourself puts you in a better position to help your friend or loved one because it will allow you to understand their struggles and fear of getting help. There are also resources and support groups to help you manage your stress and identify the best approach based on your unique relationship with the person abusing substances.
4. Be persistent about treatment.
Explain your boundaries, so the person in your life struggling with addiction knows you refuse to be an enabler of their unacceptable behavior. Be persistent about getting treatment, but don’t cross the line into shaming them into getting help. Making them feel guilty may backfire and cause them to disconnect from you emotionally and shut you out. They need to recognize that your perseverance comes from a place of love. It also has to be delivered in a way that supports and empowers them.
5. Talk about treatment options together.
There are many reasons why the person in your life with SUD hasn’t already gotten treatment, starting with the denial that they have a problem in the first place. But once they’ve accepted that their addiction is real, the fear of committing to treatment and recovery creeps in. It’s scary thinking about giving up control, being alone in a treatment facility, and disappointing their loved ones if they relapse. They’re probably also thinking about the costs and the other things they could potentially lose throughout the process.
By discussing treatment together, you’re showing them all the possibilities and that you will support them.