Get educated, prepare for a difficult conversation and persevere.
Confronting a loved one, friend or family member struggling with addiction can be a difficult and emotional journey. The most important steps to start with are:
- Education: Educate yourself on addiction
- Get as much information as possible about addiction, the different theories behind it, the drug that the person concerned is using and behaviour associated with the drug.
- Read up on the reasons why people become addicted in the first place, what cravings are, how withdrawal symptoms present and how addiction is treated (usually a combination of psychological and psychiatric intervention).
- Speak to an addiction counsellor, psychologist or doctor to add to your knowledge bank.
- Preparation: Once you have educated yourself on addiction, gear yourself up for a sometimes difficult conversation.
- Accept that you will be addressing an uncomfortable topic and as such there will be barriers to overcome. Mentally prepare yourself for possible denial, anger, refusal or even manipulation from the person.
- Remind yourself that many most people / while often resistant do secretly hope that someone will actually help them.
- Commit: The task will demand commitment, effort, time, patience and perseverance from you. Different people will have different thresholds. For some, they will be tempted to turn their back on the person at the first sign of manipulation. However, you can choose not to let this type of behaviour derail you. Decide how far you are prepared to go and stick to it.
Tips to use when helping someone who is addicted
- Respect the person
- Stay calm
- Be honest
- Listen carefully without judging or interrupting
- Do not react negatively to their feedback
- Show empathy
- Do not engage in arguments
- Do not take the high ground (do not preach, lecture, moralise, blame, threaten)
- Do not ‘take over’
- Express your concern that the person has developed a problem
- Ask what is worrying the person or causing the abuse
- Talk about your own experiences with unpleasant emotions (not ones caused by them)
- Suggest treatment (use the knowledge gained from your research)
- Reassure the person about detoxification, medication and life after rehab
- Promise to support the person during the treatment period
- Offer to help the person to seek funding for the treatment
- Ask the person if there are others who they think can help, such as family, friends
- Offer to talk to the person’s employer (to reduce their anxiety)
- Offer to take the person to a doctor to prevent relapse
- Do not push too hard for agreement – rather tell the person you will talk again later
- If your talks fail, ask an experienced addiction counsellor to advise you on the way forward
What would people with an addiction like others to know/ understand?
Addiction comes from trauma. It is not a “brain disease” or “genetic”. It is trauma that results in an inability to cope and the pain has to be medicated somehow. Different people medicate the pain in different ways. Some with drugs and alcohol, others with sex, food, gambling, etc. The hopelessness of the persons situation generally feeds into the substance use and the cycle continues.
What mistakes do families make while trying to support a family member with an addiction?
They assume that it is the persons choice and they treat them like they have messed up their own lives. Whether or not the person picked up drugs, alcohol, gambling there still would have been dysfunction due to the trauma.
Families are also ashamed of the persons problem so they sometimes delay in getting the person help because they are scared about what other people might think; in this case, they are effectively putting other people’s opinions ahead of the life-threatening situation of the family member.
Lastly, parents often think that it is their fault – “what mistakes did I make that made my child this way” – parenting does play a role in childhood trauma, but it is not the only factor. Others to look out for are bullying, sexual abuse, growing up with overt hardships, family members with substance use problems etc. It does not help to blame people – what matters is understanding the source of the pain and figuring out how to fix it.
How can families/ friends help effectively? Does ‘tough love’ work?
Be supportive, loving, caring and ready to help with the healing process and the lifestyle change. Be open and honest in communications and try to reserve judgement as much as possible. Also, most importantly, keep an open mind to learning new things about addiction / substance use disorders and leave all your previously gained knowledge at the door!
The Recovery Centre in Cape Town
Thanks for visiting Recovery Direct. Cape Town’s leading treatment centre for alcohol and drug and behaviour disorder assistance such as common eating disorders, gambling and sex addiction. The underlying operators of dependency and harmful routines are usually originated in distress and trauma sustained often physically or psychologically.
Our specialist led Post Traumatic Stress Disorder recovery centre operates by learning about your different goals and enabling you develop the perfect techniques to move forward.
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