How Can You Help an Addicted Loved One?

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When a loved one is struggling with substances, sexual behaviors, or both, life can feel incredibly frustrating. You may find yourself more focused on managing and solving your loved one’s problems than on living your own life. Or you may find yourself at wit’s end, wondering what to do next because you’ve tried absolutely everything and your loved one is still spiraling out of control. You might also be blaming yourself for your loved one’s issue with substances and/or sex, somehow taking responsibility for a problem that’s not of your making.

Whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone. Loving and caring for an addict is an incredibly traumatic and confusing experience. Especially when that person doesn’t seem to want to make changes.

The good news is that there are ways you can stay emotionally connected and provide effective help while also making your own life more manageable and enjoyable. Before we get into how to do that, however, we want to make two things clear.

  1. You are not responsible for your loved one’s behavior. The addict’s choices belong to the addict. There is nothing that you have said or done (or not said or done) that caused or perpetuated the addiction. It’s not your fault. Period.
  2. You cannot get well for the addict. If the addict chooses to enter recovery and a process of healing to overcome his or her addiction, that’s great. If the addict does not choose this path, you can’t somehow will it into happening.

So, how can you help?

  • You can let the addict know how his or her addictive behaviors affect you. It is best to do this not by berating the addict, but by saying, “When you engage in your addiction, it leaves me feeling unwanted, unloved, and unappreciated (or however it is you actually feel). Because of your drug use (or whatever the addiction is), I worry about your long-term health, the wellbeing of our family, and our finances (or whatever else you worry about). I have done some research and I believe very strongly that help is available. I would like to tell you about that help if you’re willing to listen.” Be aware, however, that the addict may not be willing to listen. (See point #2 above).
  • You can take better care of yourself. As stated earlier, loved ones of addicts often focus more on the addict and solving his or her problems than on caring for themselves. And there is nothing wrong with this (even though some of the people who preach “codependency” might tell you there is). As far as we’re concerned, when you love someone and that person is struggling, it’s perfectly natural to do everything you can to help. That said, you also need to care for yourself. This means getting enough sleep, eating right, exercising, spending time with supportive friends, and perhaps seeking therapy for yourself. To that last suggestion, you might say, “I’m not the addict. Why would I need therapy?” To which we say, “You’re right. You’re not the addict. But you’re in a relationship with and deeply affected by the addict, and you deserve to have knowledgeable, empathetic support as you walk through this experience.” Don’t think about seeking therapy for yourself as a punishment, think about it as a gift that you can give to yourself.
  • You can set prodependent boundaries with the addict. With this suggestion, you may be thinking, “I’ve done that. I’ve set boundaries and the addict has broken them. Repeatedly. My loved one is not going to change just because I set a boundary.” If so, this may be the result of thinking that you setting boundaries is about putting limits on the addict’s If you’ve tried to do that, you’ve inevitably learned that it doesn’t work. At all. Because other people, especially addicts, don’t want to be controlled by you any more than you want to be controlled by them. When you set prodependent boundaries (fully described in Dr. Rob Weiss’s book Prodependence), you focus on your own behavior rather than the addict’s. In a nutshell, your boundaries are about you—how you feel when certain things happen and what you plan to do to protect yourself if/when those things happen in the future. So you might say, “When you start drinking, I worry that you’ll get in the car, drive, and kill yourself or someone else. So from now on when I see you drinking, I’m going to take the car keys and hide them from you.” This way you’re not trying to control the addict’s behavior, you’re finding a way to stay safe.
  • You can stage a professional intervention. Most people think of interventions as highly dramatic confrontations (because that’s what’s depicted on certain TV shows). In reality, interventions are rarely dramatic, and there is a lot more to an intervention than just confronting the addict and attempting to guide him/her into treatment. A good interventionist will gather information through interviews with family and friends of the addict, educate the addict’s family and friends about addiction, lead a loving conversation with the addict (perhaps more than once), and guide the addict into treatment if the addict is willing to go, all the while continuing to work with the addict’s family and friends as they enter their own process of healing.
  • If you point the addict toward treatment, make sure it’s the best possible treatment for the right issues. Lots of addiction rehabs have savvy marketing teams and promise you the world, alleging they can cure anything and everything. But very few deliver on their promises. Centers that are run by fully licensed and credentialed, highly experienced clinicians who are entirely focused on helping people in need will do a much better job than corporate-driven facilities with pretty pictures and a slick sales pitch but a staff primarily comprised of inexperienced, unlicensed interns. 

If you think a loved is struggling with substance abuse or sexual behavior and you’d like to speak with us about that, please call us at 747.234.4325 or email us using this link. To learn more about the types of treatment that are available, click here. For free resources, visit our affiliate website SexandRelationshipHealing.com