It’s incredibly painful to see someone we love suffering. Addiction is a sharp sword that cuts deep. It breaks our hearts to see our loved ones struggle with something so difficult. But what makes it worse is feeling like we can’t help. So we shower them in love, comfort, and support, hoping that our strength will be enough to pull them up out of the dark pits of addiction to get adequate help. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
Love is not a lifeline for strength where addiction is concerned. We see someone suffering and we want them to know that we can stand tall for them, no matter how strained we become in the process. But a recovering addict needs to be his own strength in order to have a chance at turning his life around.
Reasons Why this Kind of Support Doesn’t Work:
It Essentially Supports the Habit, Not the Person
Many loved ones are afraid to show any tough love to an addict because they don’t see it as love. The alternative seems much scarier than enduring the habit. But there’s no real line between enduring the habit and supporting the habit. For example, a mom may let her adult son who is addicted to heroin stay in her home because she’s afraid he’ll die on the streets. But what motivation does that give him to stop using? I understand that you’re trying to help your loved one by keeping them safe. But they’re not safe if their dangerous habit is being sustained by the support you’re attempting to give.
It Depletes Our Own Strength
Standing strong for someone else leaves you vulnerable to lose your own, personal strength. Addiction is a family disease. It already negatively impacts everyone close to the addict. PTSD, depression, and anxiety are all common disorders that loved ones of addicts develop. The emotional distress will become much more intense if one loved one stands up to take the grunt of the work and the consequential pain for the addict. It doesn’t take long for a person to be more consumed in the addict’s life than his own. This will create severe problems in his own relationships, career, hobbies, and general wellbeing. Soon, two people will be severely struggling rather than one.
The Addict Needs to See the Severity of Addiction
Some people believe that an addict needs to hit rock bottom before they can really see that they need help. Others think that’s a myth that will ultimately hurt the addict more than trying to get him help before he is ready will. Whether you believe in the rock bottom theory or not, an addict will not see that they need help unless they see the destruction their addiction is causing. Supporting someone’s addiction lessens the blow of that destruction for them. It may seem appealing to try and lessen some of the pain when your child or your fiancé is suffering from addiction. But they won’t ever see that they need help if they don’t see the problem.
Ways You Can Be Strong for Someone Else:
Maintain Your Own Strength
Again, addiction is a family disease. There’s no doubt that a loved one will feel some sort of effect from an addict’s disease. It’s important that you keep working on yourself if you want to be strong for your loved one. If you’re struggling with a loved one’s addiction, it’s important to get help for yourself. Al-Anon is a good resource for friends and loved ones of addicts. If you don’t want to seek formal help, just taking time everyday to distract yourself and focus on your own mental health will help you to stay as strong as you can. Doing so will ultimately help you be strong enough to support your loved one when he does realize he needs help.
Learn to Say No
Addicts will do almost anything to satiate the call of their drug or drink of choice. Lying, manipulating, and acting out in aggression are all common addict behaviors. It’s tempting to want to say yes to the things an addict asks for because it’s just easier that way. But saying no will help in the long run. For example, remember that mom we mentioned earlier who keeps a roof over her son’s head because she’s afraid he’ll die on the street? Would it be better if her son dies under her own roof? Taking the roof out from over his head at least opens up the possibility that he will eventually see his own ruin and seek help.
If you’re worried about your own wellbeing, you can remove yourself from the situation. Setting boundaries on your ties to your addicted loved one is also a form of saying no. Recovery will eventually help the addict learn to rebuild those relationships. But it’s okay to look out for your own wellbeing in the meantime.
You can’t force someone else into rehab. Recovery only works if the addict wants it and is willing to work for it. If your loved one is still deep in their struggle and refuses to seek help, the best thing you can do is educate yourself on addiction and recovery. Learn about the drugs he or she is using. Research detox facilities and residential programs. Read stories of other loved ones of addicts. Look for support groups. All of these things will help you better understand your loved one’s struggle and help you to be more able to offer help when your loved one wants it.
We want to help the ones we love. But we can only give so much. Strength does come from love, but your own strength can’t be a placeholder for someone else’s. The best we can do in these situations is learn to keep ourselves strong until our struggling loved one is ready to reclaim their life.
If someone you know is struggling with addiction and is ready to seek treatment, New Start can help. Call our addiction staff at 855-737-7363 for a free and confidential screening.