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How to Approach a Loved One Struggling With Addiction

How to Approach a Loved One Struggling With Addiction

Guest blog post contributed by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC of Addiction Hope 

Looking from the outside-in, it can be difficult to understand the power of addiction.  If someone you love has been trapped in the vicious cycle of substance abuse, you may have felt helpless and confused as you watch their life unfold in turmoil.  Whatever the addiction may involve, whether it is alcohol, street drugs, prescriptions drugs, or more, it is challenging to make sense of destructive patterns and behaviors.  Perhaps you have questioned the lifestyle your loved one has been leading.  How can something that results in such devastating consequences be continually sustained?  More importantly, you may be asking yourself, how can you help someone you care for who is struggling with addiction?

The nature of addiction is complex and intricate, involving many facets of an individual, including genetics, family history, social interactions, environmental pressures and more.  Because of this, in addition to the stigma about mental illness created in our society, approaching addiction is a sensitive matter.  Addictions can sever even the closest of relationships, causing divisions between family units and circles of friends.  You have likely experienced the strain and damaging effects from addiction on your relationship with your loved one.  With so much at stake, and the life of someone you care for in jeopardy, it can be frustrating to feel like a bystander.  The good news is that your love and support in their life can make a difference.  Even with the delicacy involved in addiction and recovery, your voice and involvement may be the choice between life and death for someone you love.

If you are considering voicing your concern and reaching out to your loved one about their addiction, consider these helpful tips as you plan your approach:

  • Be educated about the disease of addiction: With the many emotions involved in a relationship, it can be difficult to fully grasp what your loved one is struggling with or to view their addiction in a realistic way.  It is important to understand the disease they are suffering with and the need they have for professional help.  Many resources available can serve as educational tools.  If you are having a difficult time comprehending their addiction, seek the counsel of a professional.  Having a better understanding of how addiction is impacting your relationship and loved one will only help increase your awareness and change your perspective.
  • Create a safe place: Because of the sensitivity of the subject, the chances that your loved one may retaliate or react defensively are high.  Be sure to approach them in a place which feels safe for them.  Reach out to them at a time when emotions are calm and neutral instead of a situation where the environment is tense.  Aim to use a tone that is calm and gentle, and express your concern out of a place of love.
  • Have back-up support: If your efforts are supported by other family members or friends, your vigilance towards your loved one will only be strengthened.  Addictions are powerful and can bring forth manipulation and deception.  It is important to remember that you alone cannot “fix” your loved one, but rather, you are serving as a liaison towards their recovery.  Consider joining with a trusted family member or friend who is on the same page as you as you plan to approach a mutual loved one.
  • Reinforce boundaries: Without realizing, family members of addicts can enable behaviors that fuel an addiction.  While you may be intending to help support your loved one, it is important to ask yourself if your actions are only delaying treatment interventions.  As you approach your loved one about their addiction, it is vital to communicate and establish the boundaries of your relationship, helping them identify that they must take responsibility for their actions.  Convey your desire to support them in their recovery journey but stress the importance of accountability for their actions and choices.
  • Offer assistance:  Be prepared to direct your loved one to resources that can assist them in treatment and recovery efforts.  Meet them where they are at and connect them to the next realistic step.  Perhaps they might be willing to talk to a trusted mentor, church leader, or counselor?  Would they be willing to attend a support group meeting?  Putting some options on the table may encourage them to take the next step towards recovery.  Offer to attend a support group or counseling session with them if appropriate as a means of positively reinforcing their decision.

Observing a loved one’s struggle with addiction is heart-wrenching and painful.  Be encouraged that you do not have to remain idle on the sidelines.  Although addictions are destructive and overpowering, there is always hope for recovery.  Though you may feel helpless as a bystander, you can take actions that can make a lasting and positive impact on the person you love.

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