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How to Help an Addicted Friend or Relative

People who know someone struggling with an addiction often wonder how to help an addicted friend or relative. The decision to try and get help for someone you care about who has an addiction is never easy. Fortunately, with your support, they have a greater chance of overcoming their addiction. Each situation is unique, but there are some general guidelines that will help you approach this task.

Expect Difficulties

There are many reasons that helping someone you care about with their addiction can be difficult:

  • They may not agree that they have a problem.

  • They may not want to change what they are doing.

  • They may fear consequences e.g., losing their job, going to prison.

  • They may feel embarrassed, and not want to discuss it with you.

  • They may feel awkward about discussing personal issues with a professional.

  • They may be engaging in the addiction as a way to avoid dealing with another problem that bothers them more.

There is no fast and easy way to help someone with an addiction.Overcoming an addiction requires great willpower and determination, so if they do not want to change what they are doing, trying to persuade them to get help is unlikely to work.

However, you can take steps that will help your loved one to make changes over the long term and will help you to cope with a loved one with an addiction.

Step 1: Establish Trust

This can be hard to do if the addicted person has already betrayed your trust. However, establishing trust both ways is an important first step in helping them to think about change. Trust is easily undermined, even when you are trying to help.

Step 2: Get Help for Yourself First

Being in a relationship with a person who has an addiction is often stressful. Accepting that you are going through stress and need help managing it is an important step in helping your loved one, as well as yourself.

Step 3: Communicate

Although you may feel tempted to let your loved one know that their addiction is a problem and that they need to change, the decision to change is theirs. They are much more likely to be open to thinking about change if you communicate honestly but in a way that does not threaten your loved one.

Step 4: The Treatment Process

The treatment process will vary according to the kind of treatment your friend or relative is getting.

If you are involved in your loved one's treatment:

  • Remember to keep working on establishing trust.

  • Re-read Step 1 before going to counseling with your loved one.

  • Be honest about your feelings, what you want to happen, and what the addiction has been like for you.

  • Do not blame, criticize or humiliate your loved one in counseling. Simply say what it has been like for you.

  • Do not be surprised if your loved one says that things you are doing are contributing to their addiction. Try to listen with an open mind.

If your loved one has treatment alone:

  • Respect their privacy in everyday life.

  • Do not inform friends, family or others about your loved one’s treatment.

  • Respect their privacy in therapy.

  • If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push for them to tell you what happened.

  • There are many different approaches to the challenge of how to help addicts, but remember, change does not happen overnight.

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