3 Ways to Support Your Loved One Dealing with Substance Abuse


Regardless of race, class, and or generation, addiction is part of the modern human condition. According to statistics published in Canada in September 2013, about six million of that country’s populace meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. Knowing someone or having a loved one who is affected by substance use can not only be hard on the substance user, but family and friends as well.  Furthermore, it can be hard to know exactly what to do when you’re faced with a loved one in need of support.  Here are three ways you can help.

1. Be Understanding:

Listening to your loved one can show great insight into their reasons to use substances.  Moreover, listening can lead to asking yourself what may have happened to your loved one for them to use versus what could be wrong with them.  It is also helpful to consider whether or not your loved one struggles with a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health disorder. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder– these can all be underlying causes of their addiction. In fact, mental heath disorders are quite common among substance users. It can also be beneficial to keep in mind that every person is different. Not everyone will be ready and willing to change at the same time. Some substance abusers may not see their substance use as a problem, whereas others may be beginning to consider how their addiction adversely affects their finances, health, family etc. Some substance users may begin to take action and seek out options, whereas other may already have been through recovery but began using substances again. Work with your loved one based on where they find themselves within their unique set of circumstances.

2. Help Meet Their Needs:

Often, family and friends assume that the substance user requires inpatient residential treatment, or “rehab”. Through outpatient counseling, a “client-centered approach” focuses on listening and meeting the specific needs of the person and then creates the best fit for them. Residential treatments, out-patient treatments, community programs, and groups are just a few other examples of options to meet their specific needs.  If your loved one is in a place they don’t want to be, they may not utilize the tools they’re presented with. Only they can tell you what they need, because they know themselves best.  Once they’ve decided on what type of help/treatment/support they need or want, start looking into what options are available within that particular model.

3. Provide Support and Encouragement:

Support and encouragement can seem easy and obvious . However, shame and guilt are often a big element of addiction, and must be acknowledged. Your loved one may experience these feelings at times when they are actively using and/or are active in their recovery.  For example, one may feel ashamed of their substance use and fear being judged. Alternately, one may feel guilty about using substances after a period of not using. One may feel ashamed and/or guilty about how their substance use has affected those around them, and therefore shy away from owning up to what’s really going on.  Be sensitive to these feelings of shame and guilt, and try and validate your loved one’s thoughts and feelings. Provide encouragement, hope, and reassurance to them that they can get through and move forward from these feelings. Remember, it takes great strength to admit to addiction and seek help.

Understanding your loved one’s struggle with addiction, helping to meet their needs and, providing support and encouragement can open doors to a greater understanding of substance abuse. In turn, it can help your loved one through their addiction. Ultimately, it can open up a line of communication and help pave the path for their road to recovery.

That said, it’s important to stress that we may not always be able to support our loved ones. At times, you may feel you can no longer put yourself in the way of your loved one’s addiction, after long periods of trial.  This is normal, quite common, and it does not make you a bad person. We are all only human.  If this is the case for you, seek out support for yourself, let your loved one know how you feel, and remember that it’s okay to distance yourself at times if you feel you need to. At the end of the day, you can present options and offer support to those you love, but it’s on them to make the choice, not you. If you’re on a plane that seems to be going down after all, you have to put on your own mask before you can help others put on their own.

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