Insight for the Journey: Pitfalls of Helping Someone with an Addiction

Insight for the Journey: Pitfalls of Helping Someone with an Addiction

It’s not easy to extend 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 support 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? 

Common Pitfalls 

There are many difficulties within an addiction. Relationships with friends and family members that have substance use disorders are also affected in numerous ways. Trying to help someone with an addiction also has challenges. Many people have very consistent, knee-jerk responses in interactions with an alcoholic or addict that are not helpful. Here are some of the more typical problems and responses people use: 

1. Retreat– This strategy tries to avoid conflict. You may find yourself withdrawing in general and reducing contact when necessary. Certain conversational topics may be avoided by changing the subject or by walking away. Evading the person with a substance use disorder and attempting to dodge tense discussions is often a short-term tactic that leaves important issues unresolved. 

2. Confront– Often out of fear, some family and friends present a harsh and angry attack on the addictive lifestyle. The person who engages in this provoking behavior may look for evidence of substance use, negative social connections, and illegal activity. This confrontational style is filled with complaining, criticism and faultfinding to get the person with a substance use disorder to quit drinking or using and to be more responsible. This punitive attack is discouraging, verbally abusive, and frequently hostile or violent. 

3. Enable– As a strategy to reduce problems and live with some degree of harmony, some family members become codependent and enabling. These rescuing behaviors are attempts to reduce behavioral consequences of an addiction and lessen relational upheaval. Because the person with a substance use disorder is often making poor choices there is a desire to help him or her with advice, loans, gifts, covering mistakes, phone calls, and excuse making. These behaviors end up supporting the continuation of addictive choices and lifestyle. 

4. Control– Another strategy to deal with an addiction is to control the environment or the person who has a substance use disorder. This approach uses manipulation, commands, and demands to reduce the impact of the addiction on family members. Tactics include structuring the home or schedule, hiding alcohol and destroying paraphernalia. 

5. Reason– Some people attempt to dissuade family members from using substances by presenting a solid argument. Education, facts and logic are used to prove that substance use is damaging and destructive. They may point out the health risks, legal consequences, and social or relational problems that result from use. The person using this tactic may lecture and sermonize about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol. 

Although these five styles cannot be entirely avoided, they are not very effective either. Instead, focus on your own mental and spiritual health. Set strong limits and firm boundaries. Encourage treatment by professionals and educate yourself about the chronic nature of addiction. Get accountability and guidance to help navigate this difficult path. Change is possible. Don’t grow weary and give up! 

Recovery is a Journey. Enjoy the Ride!

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