How You Can (and Can’t) Help a Loved One Struggling with Addiction

It’s all too easy to feel like a loved one’s life is spiraling out of control. Even worse is the feeling that there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Your best friend’s propensity for binge drinking seemed a lot more manageable in college, but he graduated ten years ago, and things seem to be getting worse instead of better. Or maybe your sister had back surgery last year and quickly became addicted to painkillers. It’s a heartbreaking thing to witness. You must remember that you alone can’t fix them, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless.

Don’t Enable Them

A Blind Eye to Addiction

This is one of the hardest things to do, but it’s also one of the most necessary. If someone you love is hurting themselves, you shouldn’t let yourself become an accomplice to that sort of self-injury. There are small and big ways to enable someone. If an alcoholic friend claims they “just like to party” and “it’s no big deal,” tell them that actually, it is a big deal because you’re worried about them. That may be relatively easy to say, but it gets harder if a friend is trying to leave a party in their own car after drinking themselves into a stupor. In situations like that, it’s best to huddle with a few other friends beforehand and come up with a plan. You don’t want things to get violent, but you also don’t want your friend driving home intoxicated. Calmly try to convince your friend that they need to get some rest before they drive. If you have to, hide the keys and tell your friend, “Ooops, you must have misplaced them. I bet you’ll remember where you put them in the morning, though. Why don’t you go lay down on the couch?” Whatever you, don’t say, “I’m sure they’ll be fine” when they’re clearly not. Keep the tone light as long as possible. Consider calling them a cab and insist that you’re paying for it. Offer to pick them up and drive them back to their car the next morning. That may be enough motivation to get them into the cab and home safely.

It also goes without saying that you should not get into a car with someone who is drunk. If you’re not sure if they’re OK to drive, then don’t risk it. Too many people get hurt or killed in car accidents because they didn’t want to be “difficult” and tell someone no. Now is not the time to worry about being polite. If you can’t stop your friend from driving off without you, consider calling the police with their license plate. No, that won’t be a pleasant call to make, but it’s better to make that call than to see a news report the next day about your friend’s involvement in a fatal car crash.

Get Them Help If They’re Willing

3 Things You Can (and Can’t) Do to Help an Addicted Loved One

It’s nice to think that you can just will a loved one into getting sober, but that’s unfortunately not the case. You can suggest rehab until you’re blue in the face, but the person with the problem has to be willing and ready to take that step. Before you try to stage an intervention, call the therapists at your local therapy center. They can walk you through the step-by-step process, but it’s not going to be effective if your loved one doesn’t recognize they have a problem.

Think of addiction like a leaky pipe inside your loved one’s house. When you go over to visit, you might say, “Hey, what’s with this leaky pipe? You should get a plumber out here.” But your friend will say, “What leaky pipe? Everything looks dry to me.” It doesn’t matter how many times you point to the puddle developing below the bathroom sink; their leak detection system is simply broken, and they have no interest in fixing it. You could start splashing around in the puddle, but it wouldn’t matter.

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The truth is, addiction is a hard thing to face up to. It’s easy to tell yourself that things aren’t really that bad, that you can quit taking those pills anytime you want, because your brain desperately wants that to be true. There’s a lot of talk in addiction circles about “hitting rock bottom” before you can get help. That may be true with your loved one as well. You can let them know you’ll be there for them when they’re ready to seek help, but you can’t physically force them through the doors of a rehab center. Unfortunately, some of the most painful lessons are ones they’re going to have to learn on their own.

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