Take care of yourself first. Having significant problems with substance use is a chronic illness. It not only affects the person who is using, but everyone close to them. Family and friends often place the needs of their loved one above their own. That results in a lack of self-care, increased illness and sometimes struggles with depression and anxiety. Taking care of your own physical, emotional, spiritual and mental needs will leave you better able to help your loved one through the difficult journey of recovery.
Remember that they’re human, not a monster. Addiction is a disease. It results in a distorted value system that shifts toward supporting ongoing substance use. It is OK to get frustrated or angry with your loved one and, for your own well-being, you may need to limit your contact if your loved one is actively using. But be wary of treating the person like an outcast or a disgrace to the family. This can shame your loved one and interfere with them reaching out for support. Once they enter recovery, though, communicate with them and try to understand how substance misuse became a routine part of their life.
Realize there’s a lot about substance abuse to learn. Having feelings of fear, worry and anger is understandable and normal. As with any other chronic illness, the more informed you are the better you will be able to support your loved one. You can help them, and yourself, by educating yourself. Learn more about substance use disorder, interventions, treatment methods and recovery programs
Be careful to not use your love and comfort as a weapon. Being in a close relationship with someone who is addictively using substances can be very challenging. But saying things like, “If you loved me, you’d quit,” is destructive behavior that almost always backfires. Instead, convey your concerns with your love. Remind your loved one often that you are willing to be their recovery support and that they’re not alone. Tell them that you love them enough to see them live. At the same time, it’s important for you to know that setting boundaries with someone in recovery is perfectly OK. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for another person is to allow them to experience the consequences of their actions. This does not mean you are punishing your loved one. It does mean, however, that you are no longer shielding them from the results of their behavior.
Know that you can give recovery support without enabling their addictions. Severe substance use disorder can put a strain on or deplete people’s finances. It can bring up legal troubles. It can put people in physical danger. And it can lead to all sorts of other problematic scenarios. Family and friends tend to try to protect the person who is using from those consequences. But that often has the unintended effect of helping the addiction get worse. People in early recovery typically need emotional and material support in early recovery. This support is helpful and healthy, but let them know you will only be supporting their recovery efforts – nothing else. Focus on supporting your loved one’s healthy, future goals, such as continuing education or finding a job.
Understand they must learn from their mistakes. Allow the person to learn how to gracefully reject tempting offers by themselves. And let them develop the ability to speak about their problems with substance use without shame. Your role in their support circle is to help them if they slip. It’s also to continue giving them love and encouragement.
Be prepared for recovery support being a lifelong process. Remember that change is gradual and may have ups and downs. A multi-year study of people with addiction showed that only about a third of recovering individuals who had been sober for less than a year remained abstinent. That means 2 out of 3 recovering addicts will likely relapse within their first year of recovery. As time goes on in sobriety, the chances for relapse drops, and relapses are not an indication of failure. Instead, they are a sign that the method of treatment needs to be changed.
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