When you’re helping someone work through recovery, it’s important to remember that it’s ultimately neither your responsibility nor within your power to compel them to stay sober. It’s also important to remember that addiction is a disorder, and many who try to stay sober will struggle with cravings, temptations, relapses, and a series of thoughts and urges that defy logic or their own usual behavior and temperament. It’s not easy to stay sober, and it only becomes harder when every mistake you make disappoints and frustrates those around you.
If you want to provide help to a recovering addict, remember that it’s up to them to make their way through recovery, and that sometimes, recovery can be a game of ‘one step forward, two steps back’. Be patient, compassionate, and provide your loved one with the support they need in ways you know how – helping them back on their feet, helping them find work, bringing them to and from the sober living home, and so on. Here are a few ways you can make a big impact on someone as they’re working on their recovery.
First things first: be available. You don’t have to make it your private mission to see someone through their recovery – in fact, you shouldn’t – but being available for a chat, a call, a conversation or a quick favor can make a big difference. Sometimes, just letting someone know that you genuinely matter to them and that you care about what happens to them can make a world of difference. They may rarely call you, but they’ll know that you’re invested in them making it through this.
It’s also a good idea not to be available all the time. This can easily lead to the sort of emotional stress that isn’t good for you, either. Sometimes, if you’re the only person supporting your loved one, you don’t have a choice – but it’s recommended to work together as a family or group of friends to help someone with their recovery, rather than taking the task of helping someone all on your own.
Learn More About Addiction
Addiction is complicated, and there’s much to be learned. Different drugs have different effects on the body and brain, and drug tolerance and withdrawal alone are extremely complicated topics, with an assortment of possible symptoms, issues, complications, and concerns. Why is your friend or loved one addicted? How did it start? Does a family history of addiction play a role? What differentiates ‘normal’ behavior and addicted behavior? Is addiction a choice or a disorder? And if so, how accountable can someone with an addiction be? Where does trust come into play?
These are all complex questions, and the answers aren’t simple, each deserving their own full-length discussion. It’s safe to say that if you’re looking to help someone overcome an addiction, it helps to do your best to understand the issue at hand. Of course, there’s only so far you can go. Short of going through the same experience, addiction is unlike anything else. It isn’t anything like a craving for sweets, but it isn’t quite the same as severe thirst or hunger. The brain is manipulated into desperately wanting another fix, but there are biological, psychological, and social aspects all coming into play. The factors and circumstances vary wildly from person to person, and there’s no easy way of explaining the how, why, and what now for each individual case.
Create an Accommodating Atmosphere
Chances are that your loved one’s first step is through a rehab facility, or through a sober living home. But after that, transitioning back into normal living can still be somewhat difficult. While the outside world will always remind your loved one of days they spent addicted – especially if you don’t have the means to move away – you can do plenty to create a more accommodating atmosphere at home, specifically by clearing out any addictive substances, keeping the place clean and well-stocked for food, and adjusting to lifestyle changes oriented towards healthier and simpler living.
Minimize clutter at home, keep spaces open and welcoming, and help your loved one move in. If you’re not living with them, then help them move back home and arrange for their place to get thoroughly cleaned up and organized, with their permission. You can even turn it into a project together and get on doing a little quick renovating to turn the place into something brand new, rather than something your friend or loved one is sure to reminisce about.
Understand the Ups and Downs
Addiction recovery is most certainly not a straight line towards easy improvement. There will be ups and downs, and it’s crucial not to set yourself up for disappointment. This isn’t meant as a discouragement, but as a helpful point: pressuring someone to make progress when struggling with a mental illness is counterproductive, and more likely to lead to relapses, as well as developing anxious and depressive thoughts.
If you’re used to knowing your friend or loved one as someone with a stoic façade, it’s important to understand that addiction treatment requires a much more open approach and is likely to lead to some changes in the personality department. Open communication, compassion, and an understanding of how your loved one is feeling – these things are more important and likely more effective than tough love or feelings of frustration and impatience regarding someone’s condition and a perceived lack of improvement.
Set Clear Boundaries
The line between enabling someone and being genuinely helpful is saying what you mean and meaning what you say. If you’re going to lay down ground rules and set boundaries, you need to stick by them. It may seem contradictory to expect a relapse but then turn around and cut off support if they overstep a boundary, but it’s important to keep in mind that relapsing should not be a condition for losing your support.
Instead, work on creating boundaries that promote open communication, honesty, and trust. Tell them that it’s okay to struggle, and at times not reach a certain goal – but it’s not okay to abuse your trust. If they relapse but are upfront about it, that’s one thing – relapsing and lying about it is quite another.
Take Care of Your Own Mental Health
Working on someone else’s mental health and taking on the role of caregiver in any capacity is not an easy task. Many Americans struggle with their own mental health issues, let alone taking on the worries and problems of someone else. Understand that if your loved one’s addiction is becoming a serious burden for your own mental wellbeing, you need to take matters into your own hands and realize that you can’t help them anymore. Don’t ignore the signs.
If you’re feeling restless, constantly sleep deprived, struggling to concentrate, feeling low, being self-deprecating and finding yourself going through moments of great sadness, it’s time to stop and consider that you should get help, as well.