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Watching someone that you care about struggle with addiction is overwhelming, sad, frustrating, all consuming, and so many other difficult things.  Seeing the destruction of someone’s addiction makes us feel really powerless at times, especially when we can’t help them or don’t know what to do to help them, regardless of how much we want to.  We find ourselves often times saying things like “if only I could…” or “if only he/she would…” which only leaves us feeling more hopeless and out of control.  It’s a very difficult process to experience.  However, there are some resources and supports that you can use in order to help guide your loved one toward recovery, or at least let them know that you’re supportive of them if they want to seek recovery.

Using Supportive Language

Living through the experience of having a loved one with substance use disorder sometimes gets the best of us and our emotions, which makes it easier to act in anger or say things out of frustration.  This is natural; you’re human after all.  However, communicating with anger could potentially push away the very person that you’re trying so hard to help.  They may not understand that your anger is coming from a place of love and concern.  Maybe your anger or frustration presents as pulling away from the person, which is also natural and sometimes necessary.  Your loved one may also view this as a reason to pull away from you, or tell you that you’re not supportive or don’t have their back.  Remember that throughout this process you’re not always going to know the right things to say or do, and sometimes you’re going to have to take care of yourself in the process.  Using supportive language is using language that comes from a place of compassion, understanding and empathy.  It isn’t hateful or diminishing and doesn’t put someone down.  Saying things like “I love you and I’m worried about you” sends a very different message than “I just wish you would stop acting so immature and ridiculous” or “you’re never going to amount to anything, you’ll always be an addict.”  By letting your loved one know that you have compassion for their pain and are available to help them find recovery, this allows them the space to feel comfortable and safe talking about their struggles with you.

Boundary Setting

Part of healthy communication in relationships, especially with someone with Substance Use Disorder, is setting boundaries.  Often times, the person struggling with addiction may see your boundary-setting as a negative thing that is pushing them away or harming them.  When in fact, your boundaries are helping them.  By setting and sticking to boundaries, you’re moving away from being an enabler and moving toward being a helper.  Four boundaries that are commonly used include:

  1. Not providing money or financial support that could be used to buy substances
  2. Not allowing them at family functions/gatherings if they’re intoxicated or under the influence
  3. Not allowing the use of substances on your property or in your home. And if this does happen, there’s a specific consequence that’s communicated ahead of time (i.e. “if you use here, you will not be able to stay here”)
  4. Not allowing use of your vehicle, bank account, credit/debit cards, etc.

There are many boundaries that can be put in place and be really useful in the process of trying to help someone stop using.  Whatever your boundaries are, the important part is to communicate them clearly ahead of time to your loved one and to remain consistent.  If the person knows that they can manipulate your boundaries or work around them, the boundaries aren’t effective.

Finding Treatment Options

Doing some research and getting information on some viable treatment options is always good to have available.  If and when your loved one is ready for treatment, you should already have some knowledge in your back pocket about their options.  Sometimes the window of willingness for help is minimal, so taking advantage of it when it happens is so important.  See also “How to Find a Good Treatment Center” for more information on this process.

Once your loved one is ready for treatment, you’ll want to continue using supportive language as well as healthy boundaries through that process, as well as in their ongoing recovery.  As difficult as it can be for you, it is also difficult for the person seeking recovery.  They have many different challenges and obstacles to face in their new journey, and your loving support is an important part of their healing process, as well as yours.  If you’re unsure about how to best support them, you can ask questions like “how can I help support your recovery?”, “is there anything that is helpful or isn’t helpful that I can say or do?”, or simply state “I’m here for you and love you, please let me know what I can do to help.”

Ultimately it’s not up to you to decide when someone else is ready to stop using and find recovery.  Their journey is going to be their journey, and sometimes all you can do is sit on the sidelines and offer messages of love and hope, while maintaining your boundaries and trying to take care of yourself.  Then, when they’re ready, they’ll know that you’re a person they can go to for help.  Pushing, telling, demanding or yelling aren’t going to ‘make’ a person want to stop, but loving, supporting, understanding, and caring could help guide them toward it.