1. Take Care of You First
It can be second nature for many humans to offer help to someone who may need it before taking care of themselves. This is emphasized on airplanes when the flight attendant reminds all of the passengers that they cannot help others with their oxygen masks until they help themselves with their own oxygen mask first.
When a loved one is struggling with an addiction, it can be tempting to put their needs ahead of our own and to justify it in our minds that they need the help more than we do at this time. However, if we continuously put their needs ahead of our own we are at risk for becoming enmeshed in a codependent relationship with someone struggling with an addiction and find ourselves along for the chaotic ride feeling complete powerlessness and helplessness very similar to the addict themselves.
We can be most helpful to our loved one struggling with an addiction and to ourselves if we consistently make it a priority to take care of ourselves first. This means following through with our own independent lives, engaging in self care, attending our own therapy services and support groups, going to work and/or volunteering regularly and sticking to our own schedule and what is best for our own mental health regardless of what is happening in our loved one's life.
2. Be an Example
Addiction can come in many ways, shapes and forms. People can become addicted to almost anything that feels good. Some examples are pornography, shopping, sex, gambling and then obviously drugs and alcohol. Despite the many different forms of addiction, the behaviors that come along with an addiction are all very similar. Someone that is struggling with an addiction will typically engage in behaviors that protect their addiction. These behaviors consist of manipulation, justification, dishonesty, selfishness and more.
If we are trying to help a loved one in their addiction it is important that we are not also struggling with an addiction because that will be the first thing that our loved uses to continue to justify their own behaviors. This is another reason why it is important to continue to help ourselves first before helping others. We can be an example by attending therapy services and by participating in support groups to show that is okay and that it is courageous to ask for help when we are struggling with an unhelpful behavior, unideal life circumstances, and/or uncomfortable emotions.
3. Become Educated
Knowledge is power. The more that we continue to learn about addiction and continue to
seek out relatability and support, the more prepared we will be for the roller coaster ride that is our loved one's addiction. We can benefit from having a balance in our own independent lives of engaging in self care that has nothing to do with addiction and that solely benefits us and our own mental health, like engaging in exercise, going on walks with friends or volunteering at an animal shelter mixed with self care that specifically helps us to cope with our loved one's addiction, like attending support groups, therapy services and lectures on the disease of addiction.
4. Have strong boundaries
Boundaries are a must to protect ourselves, to be proactive about preserving our relationship with our loved one and to help them the most. This may not always feel like it is helpful and it may not always feel like something we want to do because setting boundaries and being consistent with boundaries can be extremely uncomfortable and even create conflict at times. However, boundaries are the utmost importance when helping a loved one with an addiction.
Lets run through an example—
We are about to walk out the door to meet with friends at a restaurant and our loved one calls us and urgently, desperately needs us to give them a ride somewhere. We might want to cancel on our friends and help our loved one first. We might even feel selfish for thinking of choosing ourselves first and following through with our own plans when our loved one needs something.
However, if we think through both scenarios we can visualize how we would feel with the outcomes of either decision. We can ask ourselves how would we feel after we canceled on our friends and jumped to our loved ones needs, would we be left feeling better or worse at the end of the day? Would we feel like we made a big difference in their addiction by canceling our own plans? Would they be able to appreciate that we canceled our own plans to ‘help’ them?
Most times if we put ourselves last on the list we will be left feeling irritated, resentful and probably more anxious and full of fear. We can set boundaries with our loved one by saying that we already have plans for the day and make a decision with ourselves that if we still want to help when we are free we can. The most important part of setting boundaries is continuing to remain consistent.
5. Find a Good Support System
Helping a loved one through an addiction is hard work. It takes a toll on both our physical and mental health because of the stress, worry and anxiety that comes along with it. In our own self care it can be extremely beneficial to find like-minded people who have gone through similar experiences. There are a ton of support groups out there that offer relatability and support that can be comforting in such a stressful, unpredictable time of our lives. Some of the support groups that can be helpful are nar-anon, al-anon, family support groups and church groups specifically for addiction that can all be found in our local communities.
6. Practice a Bit of Tough Love
Being able to practice tough love comes directly as a result of being able to take care of ourselves first and being able to remain consistent with our boundaries. We need to be engaging in these two things first to be able to shift our perspective in helping our loved one with their addiction. The reason for this is because often times when we are running to our loved one’s aid we think that we are helping them. We can easily rationalize this. Some examples are, if I give them a place to stay than they are not sleeping on the street and therefore I am keeping them safe or if I give them money or a ride than they will not put themselves in jeopardy to get what they need/want.
However, when we are running to our loved one’s aid we are actually enabling their addiction. Enabling is giving them a means to continue with their addiction. We are essentially making their active addiction much more comfortable for them and as a result, they are less likely to experience consequences from their own decisions that might influence them into seeking recovery.
Sometimes this perspective shift really stings if we have been desperately trying to help our loved one. If we have been jumping through hoops to save our loved one from their own addiction, it is important to practice self compassion and grace with ourselves because our motives have been pure and we have genuinely been trying to help them the best way that we could. We cannot do better, until we know better.
7. Let Go of Expectations
Unfortunately, at this time there is no magic treatment plan for addiction. There is no treatment center or magic pill or twelve step program that guarantees a lifetime of recovery and there are many paths to recovery that speak to all the different forms of addiction.
For us to continue to have the most patience with our loved ones, their choices in their active addiction and their possible choices in recovery it is importance to let go of any expectations that we may have.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey, I'm Brooke! I'm a licensed anxiety and addiction therapist serving individuals, adolescents and couples in the state of New Jersey. My experience brings both a personal and professional perspective to the work that I do with my clients. If you are interested in learning more about the therapy process and would like to schedule a free consultation, I would love to chat with you!