Watching a friend or loved-one battle with an addiction is one of the toughest things you’ll ever do. You’ll often feel powerless and useless. At the same time, your loved-one will drift further away from you. Offers for help can often be misconstrued with threats and accusations. Remember, that’s their addiction talking. It’s a beast that is more powerful than you can imagine, so don’t give up. The key approach here is providing a supportive, but strong shoulder. Make sure you’re there for them, but don’t be afraid to take a firm approach if things are getting out of hand.
Spot the early signs
The first thing to do is spot the early signs of addiction. It can be easy to dismiss some of the early symptoms out of hand. “Oh, John’s drinking a lot these days.” If you think something is wrong, start to take a bit more notice, and look for signs of personality change. If you can help stop the problem at this early stage, it will be much easier and more effective. Perhaps they just need a friendly word before things get out of control.
Understand the addiction
If your friend or family member is deep into the addiction process, then they need help. But, wading in with accusations and threats will almost certainly fail. Addiction is incredibly difficult to understand if you haven’t lived through it. It’s not something you ‘switch off’ or ‘snap out of’. Learn the intricacies of the disease (because that’s what it is), and find out how best to help them. Don’t judge the addiction, just learn about it, and figure out how to provide support.
Express concern and offer help
The hardest part is broaching the subject for the first time. Get it wrong, and it could destroy their trust in you. Helping someone through addiction is a long process. It won’t simply stop when you sit down and have a chat. Your starting point is just to express concern, and let them know you’re there if you need them. Your goal here is to get them to open up naturally about it. Sometimes a friendly ear will help get deeper behind the addiction, and you can deal with the issues. If they’re instantly defensive, you’ll need a different approach.
Recommend a self-help group
If you’re struggling to get through to your loved-one on their own, try recommending a self-help group. At this point, you’ll have to judge the situation. Is a sensitive tone helpful? Or do they need a dose of tough love and leverage? Never use ultimatums or threats, but give them clear options about their future. Let them know how their behaviour is affecting others. Tell them you think that addiction treatment would give them hope, and stop the suffering they’re causing.
This is the last resort, and will be incredibly difficult and emotional. But, sometimes it takes a group of family members and friends to relay the magnitude of the problem.
It’s never easy to watch someone battle with addiction. Just make sure you provide support and care without judgement.