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    How to help someone with an addiction

    It’s well known that addiction affects everyone, not just the person with the problem. Spouses, partners, children, parents, friends, and colleagues also suffer from the emotional and financial fallout of substance use disorder.

    If you have someone in your life battling an active addiction, here are a few valuable tips that’ll help you get them the help they need and help you cope in the process.

    What NOT to do

    Don’t threaten, belittle or criticise the person; focus on solutions.

    Don’t nag or force them to get help; lasting recovery relies on the addict committing to change.

    Don’t expect immediate change; you need to be patient.

    Don’t enable the person; ask yourself how much of the problem is on you?

    Expect things to get a lot worse before they get better.

    Don’t think that hitting ‘rock bottom’ will be the caveat for change.

    Don’t try to fix the problem; give them the support and tools to help themselves.

    Don’t blame yourself; it’s not productive, and it won’t solve anything.

    What to DO

    Recovery from addiction takes great courage, determination and faith in the addiction treatment process. And that applies to everyone walking the path of someone’s addiction journey. Here are a few tips that can help you and your family at this difficult time.

    Work on building trust

    Harder said than done, but rebuilding trust is an essential first step in helping someone with an addiction. It can be challenging if that person has betrayed your trust repeatedly and shown little or no remorse for their behaviour. At this stage, love and respect may already have gone out the window.

    Trusting someone with an active addiction can be difficult because of the nature of the disease and how an addict lies and manipulates people to feed their habit. However, trust in addiction recovery is a two-way street; you have to learn to trust the person who has betrayed you, and they have to trust you again.

    Tip #1

    There are four stages to trust; paranoia, cautious optimism, optimism and confidence. You’ll find yourself bouncing between the four but always keep the end goal in mind; one day, your loved one will be free from addiction.

    Hand over control

    It’s a natural response to want to fix the person or the situation. That can lead to nagging, begging, fighting, estrangement and a general breakdown of trust and compassion. What you try to do out of love and concern feels like control to the person with an addiction. This makes the situation a whole lot worse, most of the time.

    People living with active addiction are unlikely to change until their condition has terrible consequences. Even then, there’s no guarantee that hitting rock bottom is enough to motivate your loved one to get help. You can only support them as they navigate the different stages of addiction.

    Tip #2

    The only time you should take control is if your loved one is at risk of harming themselves or others, leading possibly to a fatal end. As hard as it is, you have to let go of control and let go of the fear that plagues you. Do your best to help your loved ones get help without trying to control them.

    Get help for yourself

    Living with someone with an active addiction is stressful. You’re constantly on edge and fearing the worst, which can have a devastating effect on your wellbeing. Managing your stress and health in these trying times is essential.

    Tip #3

    Speak to your doctor if you are suffering from depression or anxiety. Your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant to help you cope with your own emotions. Then, speak to an addiction therapist or join a support group for the tools you need to survive the addiction journey.

    Educate yourself on addiction

    Addiction is a complex disease. It’s easy to lose sight of this when living with the fear and anxiety that addiction brings into the home. Educating yourself on how the disease works will help you understand what you’re dealing with, and it’ll help you identify the best treatment options for your loved one. Remember, it’s not the person you have to tackle but the disease itself.

    Tip #4

    There’s a lot of good information online that offers insight into different types of addiction and how they’re treated. Read up as much as you can on the subject or talk to an addiction counsellor at White River Manor. However, don’t fall into the trap of labelling the condition. Addiction diagnosis must be left to the professionals because the disease is complex, and there may be a co-occurring mental illness.

    Get a proper diagnosis of addiction or dual diagnosis

    Helping someone with an addiction

    At the very least, you need to make sure that your loved one doesn’t have a physical illness or undiagnosed mental illness that’s fueling the addiction. Often, an addict has a co-occurring mental disorder or vice versa; a person with a mental disorder has a co-occurring habit. This person has a condition called dual diagnosis.

    Diagnosing an active addiction requires a thorough medical evaluation and assessment by a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed alcohol and drug counsellor. Blood, urine or other lab tests are used to assess drug and alcohol use, but they’re not a diagnostic test for addiction.

    To diagnosis of a substance use disorder, most mental health professionals use criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) which is published by the American Psychiatric Association.

    Healthcare professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria to identify mental illnesses, published by the American Psychiatric Association.

    Tip #5

    Your loved one’s first port of call is a doctor for a thorough medical examination to determine if there is an underlying physical illness. Remember, medical tests cannot diagnose an addiction; they establish drug or alcohol use. Your doctor should refer your loved one to a professional addiction specialist for a formal diagnosis.

    Set healthy boundaries for yourself

    Setting boundaries is the most important thing you can do for yourself and other members of your family. Setting solid, unnegotiable boundaries will allow you and your family to bring a measure of control and sanity into a chaotic and insane situation.

    An excellent place to start is to set the following boundaries:

    • No drugs or alcohol are allowed in my house
    • Friends who abuse drugs or alcohol are not allowed in my home
    • I will not bail you out or pay for a lawyer to defend you if you get arrested
    • No more insults, ridicule or disrespectful behaviour allowed in my house
    • I will not give you money to pay bills, buy food, buy petrol etc.
    • I will not pay off your debts to keep you out of legal trouble
    • I will not lie to your friends or work to cover for you
    • If you don’t come home in time for meals, you will go hungry

    Tip #6

    Hold firm on your boundaries. It’s very hard, but if you don’t stick to your words or actions, they’ll just be seen as idle threats. The whole family must act as a united force.

    We’re here to help.

    Contact us today if you’d like a confidential and free chat with one of our highly-trained addiction professionals at White River Manor in South Africa.

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