Loving someone with an addiction can be a devastating experience. You long for the person you knew before substance abuse took them away. You want them to get better, but maybe they don’t want this for themselves. How can you support them while not losing sight of your own needs and well-being?
Be Supportive Without Enabling
It’s important to be there for your loved one without unintentionally aiding in their drug or alcohol abuse. Some common ways we enable addicts include:
- Giving them money, knowing that they may use it to buy drugs or alcohol.
- Repaying their debts to others from whom they’ve borrowed money.
- Making excuses for them to others about why they didn’t show up for a social obligation, work school, etc.
- Keeping alcohol or addictive substances around.
- Being the emotional rescuer, which may include actions such as downplaying their destructive behaviors, buying into their sob stories about why they messed up again, and coddling them.
- Not holding the boundaries we’ve set.
Read more about enabling.
Boundaries are difficult to set, but in the end, they benefit both you and your loved one. Addicts are talented at crossing lines and pushing the limits. This is the nature of addiction. It’s important to decide what behaviors are unacceptable and establish consequences. Tell your loved one what you won’t accept. Write it down, and have them sign it. Specific boundaries will depend on the person, situation and relationship (ex. partner, child, parent, friend, etc.), but some examples include:
- I will not be around you when you’re drinking or using drugs. If you’re under the influence I will leave, or if you are in my home, you will leave.
- If you steal from me, you will not be able to live here anymore/come to my home.
- You will not disrespect me. If you do, I will leave, or you will leave. If you continue to disrespect me, we will not have a relationship until you are sober and make amends for your actions.
- If you do not attend school/work/social obligations, I will not make excuses for you.
- If you get into legal or financial trouble due to your alcohol or drug use, I will not bail you out.
Get Outside Help
If your loved one is resistant to seeing a mental health professional or attending an addiction treatment program or support group, consider an intervention. A professional interventionist will typically meet with you prior to the intervention and coach you on the most effective way to communicate with your loved one. You’ll also rehearse the intervention and the interventionist will designate an order for attendees to speak. Once your loved one is present, the interventionist guides the conversation and serves as a referee of sorts if emotions get high.
Many interventionists are in recovery themselves and can relate to your loved one on a personal level. They can also lend insight into what drug rehab entails and the rewards of recovery. Interventions are often a turning point for addicts who were previously resistant to alcohol rehab or drug rehab. The experience of seeing many of their loved ones gathered together out of concern can provide a powerful wakeup call. They realize that this is a real problem, and they can’t handle it on their own.
Take Care of Yourself
Research shows that loved ones of addicts are at increased risk for depression, stress and poorer overall well-being. It’s important to attend to your own physical and mental health so you can be strong for both you and your loved one. This is easier said than done when you’re likely cycling through a continuous loop of fear, anger and worry. Living with or loving an addict can consume your thoughts and energy.
Some tips for taking care of yourself include:
- Exercise regularly — Research shows physical exercise can have immense benefits for easing anxiety and stress.
- Practice mindfulness — Many studies have shown mindfulness eases stress, anxiety and depression. Try integrating activities like meditation, yoga and body scanning into your day.
- See a therapist — Addiction affects everyone in its path. A therapist can help you sort out the complex emotions you feel toward your loved one and provide guidance on your interactions with them. They can also help you keep your own mental health in check.
- Attend a support group — Groups like Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics and Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL) are free meetings for loved ones of addicts. These support groups connect you with others going though similar challenges and provide valuable recovery resources for you and your loved one.
Remember that ultimately you cannot control your loved one. You can support them, keep healthy boundaries, hold a loving space for them and encourage them to get help, but you can’t do the work for them.