The Ten Best Pieces of Advice for Family Members and Friends Who Want to Help the Addicts they Love

The Ten Best Pieces of Advice for Family Members and Friends Who Want to Help the Addicts they Love

The Ten Best Pieces of Advice for Family Members and Friends Who Want to Help the Addicts they Love

The Ten Best Pieces of Advice for Family Members and Friends Who Want to Help the Addicts they Love After attempts to offer advice, assistance, and support to addicted loved ones have been repeatedly rebuffed, the family members and friends of substance abusers often throw up their hands in despair and surrender, convinced that the situation is hopeless and that they have no power to make a difference. Feeling as if they have no other choice, they may reluctantly decide to cut the addict out of their lives completely, leaving her all alone to face the stark consequences of her self-destructive, out-of-control behavior. No one wants it to end this way, but if a substance abuser refuses to grab any of the lifelines that her loved ones have thrown into the turbulent waters of her life she will inevitably drown, and there will be nothing anyone can do to stop tragedy from occurring.

But while the loved ones of an addict or alcoholic whose attempts to help have been rejected may believe that terminating the relationship is their only remaining option, before they permanently sever the ties that bind they may want to take a little time to reassess their previous approach. In many cases, the strategies that families adopt when trying to rescue an addict from the dark pit of chemical dependency are ill conceived and inappropriate.

When someone is lost in a storm you wouldn’t tell them to use the stars in the sky as their guide back home, since the sky would be covered by clouds and the stars would not be visible from their location. But addicts and alcoholics are wandering aimlessly in a tempest-plagued land where the sun, moon, and stars are perpetually obscured, which is a fact that many family members and friends truly fail to truly grasp. Because they underestimate the all-encompassing and all-corrupting influence of addiction, they choose approaches that might work perfectly well in other situations but will make no impact on the life and distorted world view of a substance abuser. So before giving up completely on an addict or alcoholic, it would behoove her loved ones to take a second look at what they have been doing to see if perhaps there might be a better way.

The advice that we are about to offer is for the benefit of family members and friends of addicts and alcoholics who can see the iceberg on the horizon, but are not quite ready to head to the lifeboats just yet, while there still may be time to change the ship’s course.

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Are you on the verge of abandoning the substance abuser in your family to her fate? Before taking that final, irrevocable step, you might want to consider a new plan of attack that will incorporate some or all of the following ten recommendations:

  1. Discuss, but don’t preach.
    Substance abusers who have not been through treatment are the true masters of denial, which means they will have a built-in hostility toward any attempt to browbeat them into facing up to their addictions. You have to discuss things patiently and with a willingness to listen, no matter how frustrated you might feel, and any acknowledgement or sign that would indicate the addict realizes she has some issues with chemical dependency should be seen as a huge victory and an important step forward.
  2. Don’t get angry, and don’t feel sorry for the addict/alcoholic.
    Substance abusers are in a sensitive state and will never respond well to anger, regardless of how righteous or justified it is. Feeling sorry for the addict, on the other hand, won’t help either, because if she senses your pity she will see it as an affront to her dignity and will likely be offended. A calm and respectful approach works best when communicating with substance abusers.
  3. Let there be consequences, and make sure they are consistent.
    The addict should understand that her actions have consequences. When she drinks or uses, no one in the family should do anything to help her, support her, enable her, or bail her out if she gets into trouble. It doesn’t matter if she really believes that her drug or alcohol use is a problem; it is a problem for you and you aren’t going to accept it, period, case closed.
  4. Until she agrees to enter treatment, you should not give the addict/alcoholic any financial or material support whatsoever.
    We are not suggesting that you decline to give the addict money only when you are afraid that she might spend it on alcohol or drugs. No financial support whatsoever means exactly that—if you are paying her bills or taking her shopping for food you will be enabling her dysfunctional lifestyle, of which her substance abuse is only a part. As long as she is drinking or using, she should be completely responsible for meeting all of her own financial needs, without any help from anyone.
  5. Don’t try to understand the substance abuser.
    Whatever the underlying causes for addiction might be, that will be for her and her counselors to discuss once she agrees to enter a rehabilitation center. If you start mucking around in this area, you will quickly find yourself in over your head and you will likely provoke a negative response from the addict/alcoholic, who will resent your attempts to pry into her affairs. You need to focus exclusively on the addiction itself and on the damage it is causing in the addict’s life and in the lives of the people who love and depend on her.
  6. Don’t make accommodations to the disease.
    You might be surprised at all the subtle ways you are actually enabling the abuser’s alcohol or drug use. You need to look very closely to see if your patterns of normal activity and behavior have been affected in any way because you have been trying to make things easier for your substance-abusing loved one. If you have, then you should change things immediately—the chances of getting the addict/alcoholic to realize the havoc her chemical indulgences are causing will be dramatically enhanced if she is forced to face the full consequences of every action she takes each and every day.
  7. Don’t look for or accept promises to change.
    Addicts are liars. If they pledge to stop drinking next week or swear that they will go to rehab as soon as they can get a leave of absence from work, nine times out of ten they will go back on their word without giving it a second thought. These sorts of promises are designed to buy time and get people off their backs and are hardly ever sincere. You should always demand action from substance abusers, not promises, and when you see those actions then and only then should you offer your praise and encouragement.
  8. Whenever they want to do something constructive, be there to help.
    It doesn’t necessarily have to be connected with sobriety. Anything that brings positive energy into the life of someone who has been subsumed by mind-altering substances—returning to school, taking an art or karate course, reconnecting with estranged family members, organizing a birthday party for a child, etc.—will bring new meaning and purpose into her life, which can give her motivation to finally confront the truth about her substance abuse. This is the problem with disowning the addict completely, even though you won’t be enabling her any more you won’t be supporting her sincere efforts to improve her life, either.
  9. If they are willing to let you come over to just hang out, don’t pass up the opportunity.
    One of the biggest mistakes that family and friends make is that once they decide to help the addict/alcoholic they think they must talk about substance abuse with her every time they see her, as if beating her over the head with caring and concern will somehow convince her to see the error of her ways. In order to beat her disease the addict will need motivation to live differently, and fun times spent with loved ones can do a lot to provide it, since she knows that those moments will become increasingly scarce if she continues to use intoxicants.
  10. Do some research.
    Want to know the best way to deal with an addict or alcoholic, short of a full-out intervention? Ask others who have been through it, or read their testimonies on the Internet. Groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon can provide a wealth of valuable insight, and there are hundreds of Internet forums, support groups, and websites out there now devoted to the subject of addiction. Important and useful information is available, if you are willing to put in the effort to find it.

No Retreat, No Surrender

At the end of the day, an organized group intervention may be the only way to convince the addict to enter treatment for substance abuse. But interventions don’t always work, and because they usually involve ultimatums and potentially severed relationships every effort should be made to get through to the substance abuser through a series of social interactions first before resorting to this final dramatic step.

Gentle, respectful persuasion, backed up with a little tough but compassionate love may be enough to penetrate even the most truculent addict or alcoholic’s defenses. Just because your previous entreaties have failed does not mean the situation is hopeless; many times it is just a matter of staying with it and adjusting your strategy on the fly until you find the approach that makes the difference. There may be a few legitimate lost causes out there, but in reality they are few and far between.

Find relief in recovery. Life gets better with addiction treatment.

Call our experts today.