This is the second of a two-part article on extending help to a loved one who has substance use and mental health problems. Concerned friends and family often find themselves in unfamiliar territory when trying to help someone who is in active addiction. Common questions include: what can I do? How can I help without enabling or rescuing? How can I best communicate my own thoughts and feelings?
Many treatment centers have family meetings and offer some guidance in to avoid common pitfalls and offer appropriate support and encouragement. Here are some helpful suggestions.
6. Encourage change – Convincing someone that some important pattern in life can be different is not easy. It’s more important for me to believe that I can make changes, than to have someone make me believe that I must. Shame, faultfinding, and criticism rarely bring results. Demanding that someone else change, implies inequality- “I’m smart, you’re not. I do it right, you do it wrong. I know what’s best and you don’t.” Pushing someone creates resistance. Instead, point out what is going well. Highlight the positive character qualities you see and support constructive recovery behaviors when they occur.
7. Resist overprotection and enabling behavior – People rarely change until they experience consequences of their behavior. Letting someone experience the negative and serious consequences of a substance use disorder is often the first step in acknowledging that change is necessary. Rescuing, covering up, and making excuses for someone enables unhealthy behaviors to continue.
8. Be unconditional in love and conditional in your help – You can choose to care and love without regard to the actions of others. Your thoughtfulness and affection can continue even when it is unnoticed by someone focused on self and consumed with an addiction. However, you can add financial and emotional support as a response to solid recovery behaviors and prosocial and responsible actions. As a guideline: Help more after you see more.
9. Resist the urge to argue with addiction – A person’s addiction is powerful and cannot be reasoned with rationally. Using logic alone is counterproductive. Nagging or repeatedly telling someone how destructive their addiction is physically, emotionally, and relationally, creates distance and resistance. Instead, work to control your emotional responses and your actions rather than attempting to control another person’s addiction.
10. Support treatment – Treatment addresses social, relational, legal, occupational, environmental, financial, psychological, spiritual, and medical components of addiction. It seeks to establish positive lifestyle changes and teaches the necessary skills to sustain a long-term recovery. Short-circuiting treatment efforts will significantly contribute to relapse potential. Substance use treatment is associated with a reduced risk of death and a longer and better quality of life. Do whatever you can to support treatment efforts.
People with mental health and substance use disorders need help and support. You, however, must be cautious, giving what you can without enabling addictive behavior, and always guarding your own physical health and emotional stability. Get help for yourself as needed. Consider counseling or group support such as Adult Children of Alcoholics. With help you can be realistic, wise, and hopeful.
Recovery is a Journey. Enjoy the Ride!