4 Steps To Help Family Members Who Are Addicts

By:    Published: April 1, 2013

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Dealing with a friend or family member who is struggling with addiction can be a painful, difficult experience. If you are concerned about the effects of an addiction on someone in your life, read through this article for tips and information that will be helpful to you as you try to help them overcome this struggle. Though these steps may not always be easy to take, they are essential for someone who needs support as they try to change their addicted lifestyle.

Step 1: Gain a Better Understanding of Addiction

The mistake that many people make when trying to help an addict is not taking the time to learn about addiction and its effects on the body. Many people believe that addiction stems from a lack of willpower. This reinforces the mistaken belief that if a person wants to quit badly enough, they will be able to. Unfortunately, true addiction is much more complicated than a lack of motivation.

Addiction is actually a chronic brain disorder that hinders a person's ability to control their needs and desires for whatever they have become addicted to. Doctors have used brain imaging to determine that substance abuse can result in serious alterations to the brain areas that affect learning, memory, behavior control and decision making. This is what leads to the compulsive and destructive actions associated with addiction. The good news is that, although addicts will always have to deal with the possibility of relapse, this brain disorder is treatable.

It's also helpful to keep in mind that many factors may have come into play when the individual first began his or her decent into addiction. Studies have shown that genetic factors can play a role in addiction. Additionally, issues with childhood traumas, social environment and mental health can also contribute to addiction.

Step 2: Confront Your Loved One

Perhaps the most difficult step is confronting addicts about their addiction. However, this step is absolutely critical for laying the groundwork for a successful recovery. First and foremost, choose an appropriate time to talk to the person dealing with the addiction. Those dealing with addicts who are substance abusers should talk to them when they are sober. When confronting the addict, emphasize your support and steer clear of any language that will make the addict feel judged or guilty. Remain positive yet firm; let them know that though you won't do anything to enable their addiction, you will be there to support them throughout their recovery.

Some people are not as willing to accept or acknowledge their problem. If you feel this may be an issue, consider having at least a few friends or family members there for support. You may even want to ask an addiction therapist or counselor to attend the meeting as well. This is commonly referred to as an intervention. For some individuals, it may take a few confrontations of this nature before they agree to overcoming their addiction.

Step 3: Talk to a Doctor

If you haven't done so already, this is a good time to reach out to a physician. Addicts should, at some point, talk to a doctor about the depth of their addiction as well as their goals and expectations for recovery. A doctor will be able to provide valuable information about the physical effects of withdrawal that people might experience as they pull away from their addiction. For example, addicts going through withdrawal often develop serious side effects like nausea, vomiting, confusion or shakiness. Make sure that anyone who will be helping with the withdrawal process is well aware of what symptoms are normal and when to seek medical attention.

Step 4: Utilize Addiction Recovery Resources

There are several resources for addicts that can be especially helpful during their recovery. Here are some of the key options available:

  • Professional assistance: Consider contacting an addiction expert, mental health professional, therapist or counselor to give the addict added information, advice and support.
  • Support groups: Joining a support group can be a great motivator and aid for addicts going through recovery.
  • Rehabilitation centers: Addicts who may need constant supervision and assistance throughout their withdrawal may want to check themselves into a rehab center for addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a helpful tool for finding substance abuse treatment centers all over the U.S. at this website: http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/TreatmentLocator/faces/quickSearch.jspx.
  • Online resources: Visit the HBO Addiction website: http://www.hbo.com/addiction/understanding_addiction/resources.html, for a comprehensive list of online addiction resources.

Tips to Keep in Mind

Now that you know more about addiction and how to help your loved one, it's important to have these tips in mind as you prepare to help him or her overcome addiction:

  • Be wary of lies and deceit. Addicts may lie or manipulate people to satisfy their addictions. Remember that addicts feel whatever it is they are addicted to is critical to their survival, so even if they have to hurt family and friends, they may lie in order to obtain it. Encourage your loved one to show his or her commitment to quit through actions and not words.
  • Use financial support wisely. It can be dangerous to give an addict cash or checks. Use your financial support for medical bills, rehab treatments, therapies, etc. Be sure your checks or cash go directly to the facilities providing this support.
  • Set realistic goals. Don't expect an addict to recover overnight, or even in a matter of weeks. It can take months or years to achieve a full recovery, and even more work after that to prevent relapse. Setting realistic goals will make the process easier for both you and the person facing addiction.
  • Be positive in your support. Criticism and judgment won't be helpful for an addict, especially when coming from a trusted friend or family member. Keep your encouragement and advice positive, and reinforce your love and support through the process of recovery.

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