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How to Care for a Loved One With A Drug Addiction
The information provided on this page is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health care professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.
Caring for a loved one with drug addiction can leave you in the middle of a storm of feelings like sadness, anger, resentment, isolation and loneliness. It is difficult to watch someone you care for experience the hardships, challenges and pain that come with drug addiction. Even when he or she is undergoing treatment and actively in recovery, learning to cope is a challenge for everyone involved.
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Drug addiction is sometimes looked upon as a moral failing or lack of self-control. However, as more research comes out about substance use addiction more people realize that addiction as a chronic brain disease rather than a personal failure. The good news is that current mental health research and knowledge also offer many strategies for people in your situation, which means effective treatment is available for your loved one. Continue reading to learn about substance abuse and how you can help a sufferer cope.
Understanding the Nature of Drug Addiction
If drug addiction is something that you haven’t experienced personally, it can be difficult to relate to what your loved one is going through. It is helpful to understand the nature of drug addiction so that you can better empathize. Remember the following when caring for a person who struggles with drug addiction.
- Addiction lowers the user’s self-restraint. Repeatedly using drugs affects and changes the brain, especially the part of the brain that is used for self-control. Your loved one is responsible for his or her actions, but addiction changes a person’s brain chemistry the moment he or she decides to habitually take drugs.
Addiction is compulsive and uncontrollable. It is a chronic disease that has compromised your loved one’s ability to exert control over his or her own behavior. Your loved one needs proper, professional care in order to successfully treat his or her addiction and, even then, recovery is an on-going process that forever needs to be a priority in your loved one’s life.
- Accept that you cannot control your loved one’s addiction or recovery. Facing the reality of the situation is not easy and it is difficult for many individuals to accept that they do not have control over their loved one’s choices and behavior.
Denial and refusal to face the facts are common. The ultimate choice to seek help and continue on the road to recovery lies with the addicted person. Offering encouragement and support are often the best gifts that caregivers can offer.
Accepting this reality is healthy and necessary, much more so than living in a fantasy space or believing that things work out on their own. Understanding the factors that cannot be controlled gives room to focus on the things that can.
- Promote a lifestyle of recovery. Make creating a substance-free environment a priority, especially if you share a home with your loved one. Remove drug paraphernalia and encourage him or her to stay away from people, places and situations that present temptation. Encourage healthy habits such as exercise and enjoying a home cooked meal. Create positive, fun, new memories together.
- Celebrate milestones and keep communicating. Focus on building and strengthening your relationship. Good communication is key. Try not to criticize, judge or be negative. Express your love and lend a listening ear for your loved one’s struggles, concerns and triumphs. Celebrate milestones and achievements together, no matter how small.
It takes a lot of courage to seek help for drug addiction, so tell your friend or family member how much you respect him or her for making brave strides forward. Also, express that you wish to be supportive throughout your loved one’s effort. Recovery is an ongoing process, so be patient, but do know that there is hope and help available.
Learn About Strategies for Caring for a Person With Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is often a personal struggle, but addiction recovery doesn’t have to be. Though everyone’s recovery journey faces unique obstacles, there are common strategies that friends and family can practice to help care for their loved one fighting addiction.
Make Sure Your Loved One Gets the Right Treatment
The number one thing you can do for your loved one is to encourage him or her to continue going to treatment. You are not a mental health professional and, even if you were, it is not your job to provide treatment. However, it is good to know the principles of effective treatment so that you know what to look for and are able to determine if your loved one is receiving the right care.
The program or therapy should be based on scientific research. Though no single treatment is right or every individual, it’s important that it is easily accessible and addresses all of your loved one’s various needs, not just the drug use.
If the program includes medically-assisted detoxification, this should only be a first step in the process. If a medication is being used to help the process, there should be close monitoring by staff and, if ongoing medication is necessary, it should be coupled with behavioral therapy to address his or her changing needs.
Find Practical Ways to Help Your Loved One
Aside from encouraging and helping your loved one find effective treatment, there are other ways you can show support. Express your love and say you want to help as long as he or she is pursuing recovery. Give praise and encouragement frequently when he or she reaches a new goal or milestone, like a stretch of sobriety. Ask how you can help or offer some specific ways you can provide assistance. Offer to call and check in regularly, give a ride to treatment or set a schedule for spending quality time with one another.
Encourage Healthy Habits and a Support Network
You should not be the only support system your loved one has. Encourage him or her to connect with a support group or other peer support services. Having good friends who care for your loved one’s best interest is key. Promote healthy choices all around, from friendships to food. Most treatment plans include recommendations for health and lifestyle essentials such as exercise, a balanced diet, social interaction and regular check-ups. As a sign of solidarity, consider adopting some of these positive changes yourself, if you haven’t already.
Keep Having Hope in Your Loved One’s Recovery
When at its peak, your loved one’s addiction can feel overwhelming. Your loved one may feel like he or she has lost themselves and life has been taken over or ruined by addiction. You can help by encouraging your loved one to reclaim old hobbies, interests or goals that he or she may have lost sight of during the addiction crisis. Remind him or her how good and full a sober life can be by creating new, happy memories and experiences with one another.
Your loved one hasn’t lost anything. Instead, he or she has gained possibility, potential and hope. Addiction does not have to define him or her. You can help remind your loved one of this by seeing him or her as a unique individual, not just as an addict, despite any setbacks. Though the journey of recovery is long and challenging, don’t give up hope because each day counts as a small step forward.