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“How do you help an addict?” That’s a critical question for those who care about someone with a drug or alcohol problem. Concerned friends and family members often wonder from a place of fear and exasperation what will help their loved one move in the direction of recovery from an addiction—and what, on the other hand, will only exacerbate a struggle with substance abuse. In the great majority of cases, “help” means getting a loved one into detox and treatment, so that they can receive an integrated plan of substance abuse care. So the question remains: “How do you help an addict get there?” Some of the best people to answer that question are seasoned clinicians in the field of addiction recovery. Candice Rasa is one of them. Rasa directs clinical programming at Beach House Center for Recovery. She recently agreed to offer her insights, which appear here alongside other helpful tips for anyone wondering how best to help an addict.
What to Consider When Your Loved One Has a Drug or Alcohol Problem
Before you can offer help to a loved one with a drug or alcohol problem, you need to consider certain factors related to their substance abuse. Are they showing signs and symptoms of a problem with drugs or alcohol, but in denial or hesitant to accept that they have an illness that needs treatment? If so, the first challenge will be to encourage them to move in the direction of recognizing they have a treatable disease, so they can take the next step in exploring detox and treatment options. On the other hand, an addict may already have arrived at this place of acceptance, but may find themself facing other obstacles to getting treatment, such as a lack of information about where to go for help, financial, family and/or work obstacles to entering treatment, and/or fears about the treatment process itself. “Help” in this situation will look somewhat different.
How to Encourage Your Loved One to Get Help for an Addiction
Often helping an addict first involves encouraging them to recognize their problem and get help for an addiction. This step will require facing and overcoming some big hurdles, and ideally together:
Denial of the problem and/or a need for help – Denial can be a big obstacle to accepting the reality of addiction and a corresponding need for treatment. An addict may not recognize they have a problem. They may not notice how their life is becoming unmanageable because of drugs or alcohol, and that commitments and/or relationships are suffering as a result.
In these cases where a person may be struggling to come to terms with an addiction and their need for help, Rasa offers the following advice: “Offer non-judgmental, positive support for the person while being as honest and firm as you can with concerns about their health and wellness, should they continue down the destructive road of addiction. It is important that we speak honestly about our love for them and our concern for their behaviors at the same time. It is best for the person to know that they are supported for who they are, but not for what they do.”
Fear and apprehension about treatment – Distrust about the rehab process and fear about what it will involve can be another common obstacle to persuading a loved one to get help for an addiction.
“Asking for help and entering treatment is one of the most difficult things a person can do, because it symbolizes vulnerability and the need to change something about your life,” Rasa says. “It’s very difficult for people to surrender to this idea and trust a treatment center to help them. Trust is at the heart of easing into this process.”
How do you help a loved one develop the trust and vulnerability they’ll need to seek treatment? Rasa recommends that friends and families provide safe, supportive and non-judgmental outlets in which their loved ones can share honestly about their fears and apprehensions. Giving your loved one a space in which they can practice being vulnerable may be the best way to support them taking the next step of calling a rehab facility and exploring treatment options. At the very least, it is a good way to build your loved one’s trust in you (as someone they can go to when they are ready to invite help).
How to Help Your Loved One Find the Right Substance Abuse Treatment(s)
The above obstacles often emerge in cases where an addict is struggling to come to terms with a drug or alcohol problem and may not be ready to seek professional help. There are other times, though, when an addict may already know they need treatment but don’t know how to get it. In these instances, they may come to you for help. Here are some tips for helping your loved one find the right substance abuse treatment(s):
Be “positively supportive” in response to a request for help. Your loved one needs all the encouragement they can get in order to take the next step of entering treatment. Your expressions of positive support will be critical. Thank your loved for coming to you for help and applaud their show of courage and vulnerability. Reassure them that you’ll be there to love and support them with next steps in the journey (and mean it). This is also a good time to reiterate that a decision to enter treatment is the right one, and that with treatment, freedom from drugs and/or alcohol is within reach.
Connect your loved one with a substance abuse helpline that can advise them about treatment options. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided a reliable place to start: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Help your loved one find a treatment center online. Do some preliminary research of your own first by reading up on medical and behavioral treatments associated with positive recovery outcomes. These so-called “evidence-based practices” (EBT’s) will be your loved one’s best shot at a successful recovery.
Once you have done your research, it will be time to help your loved one find a treatment center that offers these more effective EBT’s. This helpful resource, compliments of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, can then aid you in finding treatment centers online.