Support those still suffering from the disease of addiction
An addiction is a problem that impacts not only the person who has it but also those around them. Addiction takes a toll on the relationships and day-to-day lives of family members, romantic partners, friends, and even coworkers. Even when the person is on the path to recovery, there still are many issues that can be challenging and the person might hope for the support of their loved ones on this journey. So, what can you do to support a loved one with addiction?
The first thing to consider before getting into the details is the difference between support and enabling. You want to offer your loved one support but not promote their negative behaviors or sustain their addiction. Enabling might be characterized by shielding the person from the negative consequences of their actions and attempting to solve the problems for the other person. Essentially, through enabling, the person attempts to shield the one with addiction from assuming responsibility for the things that they did or are doing. Offering support means respecting the individual’s autonomy, which involves also accepting that they have to take responsibility for their situations.
In the case of addiction, it can be difficult separating the two. However, making excuses for the person with addiction or giving them money for their habit or being accepting of unacceptable behaviors are all paths towards enabling rather than support.
What does it mean to support them, then? First, it means being compassionate towards them and offering them emotional support. This means listening to them without judgment and with compassion without offering unsolicited advice or criticism. In the case of addiction, there may be things that are worth criticizing or very tempting to judge or label but it’s better to focus on offering support, especially when the person is aware that their actions were not the best. You should let the person know you still love and care for them. Sometimes, listening and being present is more powerful than giving advice. Focus on what the person is saying and make the effort to truly listen.
The second thing is to set boundaries. Boundaries are one of the main ways of separating support and enabling. By setting boundaries, you let the person know what you will accept, how will you help them, and what you will not tolerate. Boundaries might feel aggressive to some people but they are absolutely essential. They set the tone for your relationship. For example, you might tell a loved one with addiction that you will help them with housing if they attend therapy but not otherwise. This means setting a boundary. Telling a person they will not be able to visit you while under the influence is also a boundary. This helps maintain the relationship supportive but also make sure that you are not excessively drained or frustrated on one hand and that you are not enabling on the other. Set the boundaries that you need to set.
The third aspect of offering support concerns the practical aspects. Dealing with addiction can be hard and draining, and recovery also takes up a lot of energy. There are, however, still tasks that need to be done and that the person with addiction might not fulfill. Offering practical help with tasks like chores, cooking, taking the person to the doctor or sessions, and doing other things can be very useful and much appreciated. When you offer practical help, make sure that these are things you are willing to do and that you can commit to. Ask the person what they need or offer some alternatives yourself. In terms of practical support, you may also need to do a little research concerning addiction and the individual’s addiction in particular to be aware of some common pitfalls and issues that they might face, for example, irritability or depression.
There are many things that you can do to support a person with addiction. However, it is important that you offer that support you are willing to give and can manage. Do things that feel right to you. Respect the person’s autonomy and responsibility. You won’t be able to save them from their addiction but you will be able to make a difference in their life by offering to listen or help because social support is essential for anyone trying to overcome addiction.