When someone you love is addicted to drugs, it can be hard to figure out ways to help them navigate the road to recovery. Often times, the road to recovery is paved with setbacks and heartbreak, for both those who are addicted to drugs and those who are trying to help them. It can often seem easier to ignore the situation at hand because it’s so overwhelming. However, ignoring the situation can make it worse for everyone involved. Here, we’ll explore some ways you can be supportive and help your friend or family member through one of the most difficult times in their lives.
Understanding Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is when you have to take a drug at regular intervals throughout the day to function or to avoid symptoms of withdrawal. An example of this would be having to take Percocet throughout the day to avoid being nauseous, shaky, or in pain. Drug addiction starts with a person abusing drugs, but not everyone that uses drugs will become addicted. For example, someone can smoke weed once or twice at a party but not need to do it all the time. Conversely, someone can smoke weed a few times and then want to try other drugs, like cocaine. After trying cocaine a few times, that person can develop a need to use more and more cocaine to achieve the high that they had with their first cocaine experience -- this is the beginning of an addiction. Reasons, why they are using the drugs, may change – it may no longer be to have fun at a party, it may now be that they are using drugs to deal with problems at home or work. They may need drugs to function during the day to avoid physical withdrawal symptoms. Watch out for any unusual behavior that is out of character for your loved one, since it can vary from person to person. Drug addiction has both physical and mental warning signals, and it’s important to understand both. Physical warning signs of being addicted to drugs include: feeling sick when trying to stop using drugs, shaking, changes in weight (loss or gain), and having to take more of the drug to get the same experience you had the first time you used it. Mental warning signals of drug addiction can include: needing drugs to get through everyday tasks, withdrawing from family and/or friends, only hanging out with friends that do drugs, and increased anxiety, depression, or mood swings. This is not an all-inclusive list, but these are important things to watch out for.
How Can I Help?
- Understand drug addiction.
The first step you can take is educating yourself about the problem at hand. Learn about the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction, warning signs, possible causes, and ways to support ongoing recovery efforts. This is the first, and arguably most important step in helping someone who suffers from addiction. If you show that you understand what they’re going through, they may be more likely to talk to you about it.
- Talk about it.
This is one of the harder things you will have to do in your efforts to support your loved one. It’s commonly said that the first step in recovery is to admit you have a problem, and you may find that you have to initiate the conversation about your concerns. This is an incredibly important step, talking about your concerns and how they are affecting your loved one and those around them. Try to avoid being accusatory, remain calm even if they get upset. Remember that you only have good intentions, and that one day they will see that. If you think it’s appropriate, gather other close friends or family who have similar concerns for support during this difficult conversation.
- Encourage recovery.
Once your loved one has decided to pursue rehabilitation or other avenues to recovery, it’s important to remember that your support doesn’t end there. Be present during all stages of the recovery process. Recovery can be physically, emotionally, and mentally tough, so it’s important to understand that and be empathetic. Listen to them! Encourage your loved one to talk about what they’re going through. Understand their triggers and help them to avoid situations that may lead them to resume drug use.
- Support them after recovery.
Recovery from drug addiction doesn’t ever end, it is a lifelong struggle that your loved one will face. Be the support that they need, always have an ear for listening and a shoulder to cry on if they need it. Continue to educate yourself on addiction and recovery so that you can continue to understand what they are going through.
Drug addiction and recovery are life-changing for all those involved. With these tips, you can be a beacon of support through your loved one’s tough time. For more information, see the below resources.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.
This is a great website devoted to supporting those who are dealing with a loved one’s addiction to substances.
The Nar-Anon Family Groups are a worldwide fellowship for those affected by someone else's addiction. As a twelve-step program, we offer our help by sharing our experience, strength, and hope.
Hazelden Betty Ford offers a wide variety of educational resources and support services to help family members learn how to heal from the effects of a loved one’s addiction. With care and support, your family can work through the chaos you've experienced, understand how to set healthy boundaries, gain new communication skills, and begin to rebuild a trusting relationship with your loved one.