Supporting a loved one through addiction is a lot like riding a roller-coaster. Lyn Beasy* tells us how to best navigate this complex journey.
There is a great deal of pain watching someone appear to love their dependency more than they love you. A user didn’t wake up one day and decide to become addicted. They are not only addicted to a substance, but they become addicted to escaping reality by avoiding pain, loss or inadequacy in their life.
Addictions are wide-ranging, but the most problematic ones tend to be alcohol, drugs and gambling. The destruction and tragedy of addictions like substance abuse in a person’s life not only affects the addict, but becomes very difficult for those around them. Living in a home with an addict can lead to mental health problems for other family members and affects the family’s financial security and social stability and can even tear families apart. While you want the addict to change their life for the better, the journey can feel overwhelming for everyone.
The first step is education about the addiction, its effects and the steps to recovery, which include knowing how best to support their recovery when they are ready. Understand there is a difference between helping and enabling. Enabling behaviours such as rescuing and people-pleasing are self-perpetuating. Some types of support don’t teach the addict to accept the consequences of their behaviour. When you help addicts by giving them money, food, accommodation or going back on your attempts to say no, you are engaging in rescuing and enabling behaviours.
Don’t give in to their manipulation. Tough love is needed. You can still love the person while hating the disease and their behaviours. Addicts are good at manipulating and using emotional blackmail by lying, stealing, cheating and blaming others to get what they want. If you allow yourself to be manipulated by them, the more manipulative they are likely to become. As hard as it might be, set firm boundaries and stick to them. Don’t try to have a conversation with them while they are under the influence of a substance.
If possible, stand by and support the addict and let them know you will support their recovery. Avoid putting yourself in a situation where you or other family members could be harmed. You may need to physically remove yourself from them to keep yourself or children safe. You can still show your support without placing yourself in a situation where you could be harmed. Don’t blame yourself for the addict’s behaviour and don’t work harder than the person you’re trying to help. Ultimately, the hard work of recovery needs to be done by them.
Supporting an addict is emotionally and physically exhausting. The only person you can control is yourself. Build in self-care and invest in regaining your own life. Self-care means you respect yourself enough to take care of your own wellbeing and not live your life through the eyes of the addict. Support groups such as Al-Anon provide a safe network of people who are going through shared experiences.
*Lyn Beasy is a psychologist at the Wellbeing Clinic in Caringbah, Sydney.