It can be difficult to know how best to help someone with an addiction. You might worry that you will say or do the wrong thing and make things worse.
It is also hard to know whether you are helping them or ‘enabling’ them. Remember that helping someone with an addiction involves doing whatever means they are more likely to tackle their addiction. If the support you are giving means that they are actually less likely to get help, and more likely to carry on with their addictive behaviours because you are allowing them to function on a day-to-day basis, then you may be enabling rather than helping them.
Here are our tips for providing help to someone with a drug or alcohol addiction:
Encourage them to seek treatment. This isn’t always an easy conversation to have, as confronting their addiction might be very difficult for them. They may not even admit they have a problem at all, or be willing to make changes. They may be scared of the consequences of getting help, or feel awkward, embarrassed or ashamed about admitting their addiction. But it is important that you try and persuade them to get help, without threatening them. Why not try showing them the NHS guidance about what will happen when they seek help, which they might find reassuring.
Let them set the pace and be patient. They might not be in the right place to ask for the help they need at that moment. But letting them know you are there when they are ready to seek help can be really important.
Try to stay calm. Getting angry at them is only going to make the situation worse. Many people with addictions begin drinking or using drugs to help manage stress, so creating more stress for them is likely only to push them further towards the addictive behaviours.
Reserve judgement as much as possible and try not to blame them for their addiction. This can be really hard when there are often lots of complicated emotions tied up in how you feel about them and their addiction. But criticizing, nagging or lecturing them just won’t help.
Avoid addictive substances yourself, even if you think you don’t have a problem with them or you are using them in moderation. Otherwise they may say you are being hypocritical. It will also help to show them that you are willing to change too.
Avoid controlling them or their behaviour, even if you are trying to look after them. Remember that they are a grown adult and have to make their own choices, even if they are ones you don’t agree with. The only person who you have control over is yourself.
Don’t protect them from the consequences of their addiction. They need to know that it has repercussions for both them and the people around them. Without knowing this, it is unlikely they will seek treatment. Although it can be tempting to want to protect them from these consequences, it won’t help them in the longer term. The exception to this is when they might do something to hurt themselves or others, such as drinking and driving.
Establish boundaries to protect them, yourself and everyone else in your life. Try to stay firm and not give in to their attempts to undermine these boundaries, whatever they might say or do to persuade you. Hold your ground and remind yourself that you are practicing tough love.
Don’t expect miracles to happen overnight, even when they do get help. Addictions are often complicated and there is rarely an easy fix.
Respect their privacy. You may want to talk about the situation openly, but they may not. Let them tell friends and family about their addiction and any help they are getting when they are ready to do so.
Don’t worry if you do get it wrong occasionally. Caring for someone with an addiction is not easy, and everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Just keep doing your best.