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Reaching Out to Addicts:
Dos and Don’ts for Friends and Family Members

When drug addiction strikes a friend or family member, one of the first questions that comes to mind other than “How did this happen?” is “How can I help?” Unfortunately, feelings of anger, guilt and regret that often lead to well-intentioned attempts to help and support addicted loved ones can actually do more harm than good.

If you’re ready to reach out to an addicted friend or family member find a drug rehab center, but aren’t sure how to go about it, here are some things to avoid and things to do that you might want to consider.

Things to Avoid

Avoid blame – When addiction rears its ugly head, one of the first impulses for friends and family members is to lay blame; either on themselves or on the addict. In either case, blame serves no positive purpose. If you feel guilty and responsible for a loved one’s behaviors you’ll most likely end up keeping them from accepting full responsibility for their addiction—a necessary step toward recovery. And if you play the martyr, asking “Why?” and blaming the addict for all the hurt they have caused you and others, the extra guilt they feel may actually increase the compulsion to keep getting high.

 

avoid blame

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Avoid being preachy – Being hurt by the behaviors of a loved one can lead to feelings of anger and resentment. Acting on those feelings by preaching, lecturing, making threats, or moralizing will only drive a bigger wedge between you and the addict. If you really want to provide love and support, try to keep all interactions with your recovering loved one as positive and nonjudgmental as possible.

 

avoid being preachy

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Avoid conversations when they’re high – Being in the company of an addict when they are using can be emotionally upsetting for friends and family members. When these encounters happen, it’s best not to try to engage the addict in a rational conversation, as these can often escalate into arguments that cause more hurt feelings and reinforce existing barriers. A better approach to conversing with an addict while high is to wait for a time of sobriety when cooler heads and clearer minds can prevail.

 

Avoid being an enabler – Feeling guilty about not having done more to recognize and prevent a loved one’s slide into addiction may cause friends and family members to be overly supportive. This can lead to misguided attempts to cover-up for, lie for, or make excuses for an addict, thus allowing them to keep getting away with dishonest, disrespectful and destructive behaviors without taking full responsibility for their actions and the very real and painful consequences of those actions.

 

Avoid setting unrealistic expectations – Recovery is an ongoing process. Still, it’s not uncommon for friends and family members to have high hopes for quick and complete success when an addicted loved one enters rehab. But having unrealistic expectations can set you up for heartache and disappointment, as setbacks will invariably occur. In addition, voicing your unreasonable expectations to an addicted loved one in an attempt to encourage them—“Don’t worry. You’ll have this beat in no time”—could make them feel even more pressured to succeed, potentially triggering a relapse.

 

Things to Do:

 

Do your homework on drug addiction – If your loved one had cancer, you’d do all you could to learn about the disease. Drug addiction is just as life threatening and learning all you can about it will help you to be more objective, supportive and understanding of your addicted friend or family member. Getting educated will also provide you with practical information about addiction that can be crucial in identifying and preventing relapse. In addition, doing your homework can help answer your questions and ease the myriad of feelings you yourself are experiencing in dealing with a loved one’s addiction.

 

do your homework

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Be an active participant – Drug addiction takes a major toll, not just on the user but also on all who truly care about them. While it’s tempting for friends and family members to breathe a collective sigh of relief once a loved one has entered a rehab program, this kind of “tag you’re it!” attitude just won’t work. It takes constant support to overcome an addiction.

 

To help make the rehab program successful long term, it’s critical for friends and family members to be active participants in the process. Writing ongoing letters of encouragement, visiting frequently as allowed by the facility, and participating in counseling sessions both during and post-rehab are all effective ways to participate.

 

Watch for signs of relapse – Relapse is a reality of rehab. And those who educate themselves and participate in the program are better at watching for signs of relapse than those who choose to live in denial. Anxiety, anger, moodiness and poor judgment are all potential signs of relapse that need to be recognized and dealt with quickly. Addicts can’t overcome their addictions alone. The support of friends and family at the first sign of relapse is your loved one’s most important backup plan.

 

Speak up – If you are sensing that a loved one is having a problem with drugs or alcohol, the time to speak up is now. This is not about making accusations and putting the person on the defensive. It’s about expressing concerns in a genuine and loving way and offering your full participation and support. In this caring and non-judgmental atmosphere, there’s a much better chance that those who suffer with addiction will be more willing to open up about it and ask for help.

 

Seek your own support – Let’s face it. Providing love and support to an addicted friend or family member—day in and day out—can be all consuming. What’s more, refusing to recognize and address your own needs can leave you emotionally and physically drained. And that helps no one. Along with making sure to get plenty of rest, to exercise regularly and eat right, you need to seek out others—either in groups or individual counseling—who understand what you’re going through and can offer valuable support to you.

 

seek support

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