If someone you care about is struggling with drug abuse and dependence, you no doubt want to help in any way you can, but it can be difficult to figure out how. You may feel powerless to stop the person you love from walking down a path of self-destruction, or perhaps you’ve become stuck in damage-control mode, constantly trying to prevent your loved one from losing his or her job or pawning possessions to pay for drugs.
As a family member, you can play an important role in your loved one’s recovery, but some of your well-intended actions can also have unexpected consequences. By trying to help our loved ones through addiction and defend them from the consequences of their drug use, we can end up creating an environment that makes it easier for them to continue using, and hurt ourselves in the process.
Though there are many things you can do to help your loved one overcome drug abuse and dependence, there are many things you should not do, like:
- Minimize. Don’t make light of your loved one’s problem, or try to rationalize his or her drug use. Family members often find themselves in denial about a loved one’s addiction, explaining away the problem with excuses like “a lot of people are much worse” or “he’s had a difficult life—anyone in his situation would use drugs.”
- Control. You shouldn’t try to regulate your loved one’s drug use or purchase of drugs. Don’t bribe or bargain with your loved one to quit, or try to threaten or manipulate him or her in any way. Though you may do these things with your loved one’s best interests at heart, these strategies often backfire and result in more damaging behavior from the addict.
- Shield. Don’t try to cover up the consequences of addiction or protect your loved one from the penalties of using or purchasing drugs. Don’t attempt to rescue him or her, or make excuses for his or her actions. Don’t allow yourself to take over responsibilities like paying bills or taking care of his or her home. To understand the need for change, your loved one will need to experience the consequences.
- Collude. Do not help your loved one obtain drugs or buy drugs for him or her. This may be done in an attempt to help, but will only aid further drug use and put you at risk of repercussions.
It’s commendable and understandable to want to help a loved one out of the dangerous downward spiral of addiction. However, helping your loved one can also prevent him or her from every truly feeling the consequences of drug abuse, and this can make it difficult to become motivated to enter treatment.
Many family members of addicts get caught between wanting to save their loved ones from serious harm and wanting them to have an experience that finally leads them to seek treatment. If someone you know is suffering from addiction, reach out to an addiction specialist near you who can guide you through the best way to help your loved one.