How to Help a Drug Addict – Part I: While They’re Still Using
One of the most painful things for people can be watching a loved one battle with drug addiction. It is one of the most puzzling diseases — it’s like watching someone drown but who refuses to grab on to a rescue floatation device. After enough times trying to help, it starts to feel more like someone who can’t swim and refuses to use a life jacket.
People who have a close relationship with an addict have tried seemingly everything possible to help: lend or give money for food and rent, ignore the signs of addiction, demand they get help, cut off the relationship, and endless combinations of these techniques. Threats of rehab, of calling the police, of leaving—none of it seems to help.
Sometimes, the person addicted to drugs gets clean and stays clean for a few weeks or even a few months. Life does get better. They seem to be the amazing person that you remember from before the drugs. Sure, it’s a little rocky, and the former addict can be highly irritable. But they’re clean; they’re going to work; they’re coming home; they answer the phone; they spend time with family again.
And then that terrible day comes: they relapse, or you’ve caught them using despite their claims of being clean. Maybe they had never stopped. Whatever happened, they’re using again; you can’t believe it.
“I don’t have a problem. I’m not an addict.” They say these words, and the friend or loved one of this addict can’t believe what they just heard. How do we help someone who is addicted to drugs and either cannot, or will not, admit they have a problem? Perhaps worse, what can we do to help someone who knows they have a problem with drugs but refuses to change?
Maybe the most difficult thing to do, building trust with someone addicted to drugs is difficult for many reasons. For one, you might think, “why do I have to build trust? They’re the one who keeps lying.” While this may be true, trust here is about becoming someone they can trust to open up with without the fear of being judged. Once trust has been developed, people tend to become more open to admitting internal, emotional conflict and pain. This can open someone up to getting help for addiction.
Trust is a feeling of safety and security based on experience and beliefs that someone is knowledgeable, genuine, good, and effective at what they do. Trust is developed through repeatable actions and results.
When helping a drug addict, judgment and condemnation kill. Remember, addiction is a disease, not a crime. practicing active listening, suspending judgment, withholding advice unless asked, and maintaining a calm and patient tone can build trust with an addict. Trust can lead to moments of clarity when the person addicted reaches out for help because he or she has faith in you that you won’t judge them.
Take Care of Yourself, First
If you have a loved one that is struggling with addiction, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. It can be challenging to remember that their problems are not your problems. As loved ones of addicts, it is imperative to continue taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical health.
People who take care of themselves are better equipped to help others. Making sure you’re eating regularly and healthy food, maintaining a regular sleep schedule (not too much and not too little), exercising daily, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and practicing relaxation exercises like deep breathing and meditation are useful things that can be done each day.
Remember, we can’t control someone else’s actions or thoughts. Watching a loved one slowly destroy his or her life through drug addiction is extremely painful, but that doesn’t mean your life has to go down the drain along with it.
The more healthy and peaceful, the more effective someone can be in helping someone who is struggling with the disease of addiction. If you are struggling with a loved one’s addiction and wonder what you can do before they’re ready to get help, the experienced, knowledgeable staff at addiction treatment centers are uniquely qualified to help with all aspects surrounding addiction. With staff ranging from medical doctors specializing in addiction to former addicts who have remained sober for decades, they know what you’re going through and can give a full spectrum of information to help you through this difficult time.
Up Next: How to Help a Drug Addict Part II: Helping, Not Enabling