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How to help a loved one
This wiki is to explore some suggested techniques for helping a loved one. It comes with a health warning, one size does not fit all! Different things will work for different people and at different stages in their journey.
In order to help someone who is using drugs it is important one first of all understands the reasons they may be using drugs in the first place..
This list is not exhaustive and there are many things included that may be completely unrelated to substance use. E.g this might be simply normal behaviour for any teenager! Where you are seeing multiple things included on the lists below, it may point to a possible substance issue and it would certainly be worth checking in with your relative or friend.
Although any kind of substance use may be considered a problem for a relative or friend to discover, this may well not be the case or the user may not perceive it as a problem. There are many users who are able to use substances safely and do not experience a negative impact on their life. There are many ways to minimise the harm for substance use and there is a good wiki available on harm reduction.
It is also important to add that many people experiment with drugs for a period then move on from this without developing any form of addiction or dependency.
Because different types of drug have completely different effects on different users its very hard to list definitive problem issues to cover all drugs. However, there are a few symptoms that most types of problematic drug use seem to share.
Everyone is different, so what will work with one person may not work for another. There are many schools of thought on interventions. Some believe shock tactics and tough love are best and others believe in more supportive interventions. You will find many threads on the forum about different methods which have worked for them or people they know.
As a general rule of thumb, treating people with core conditions of acceptance, genuineness and empathy is almost always effective. Acceptance is about accepting the person not the behaviour. Telling them when they are out of line but still valuing them as a person. Genuineness is about giving them straight talking, again telling them when they’re out of line, when they have hurt you and how you feel. Empathy is about trying to understand what things are like for them in their world. It’s putting yourself in that persons shoes as much as you can, it’s not to be confused with sympathy, which is a natural emotion but not always helpful in this situation. Anyone of these core conditions would not work in isolation; it’s when they come together that they work. E.g you can tell someone how much they have hurt you but when you balance this with the fact that you still care for them and communicate you want to understand why they did this it will be heard much better.
The age old saying “you have to want to” is very true of addiction. Forcing someone to stop rarely achieves lasting recovery. Most addicts will have some part of them thinking about stopping although it may be a very tiny seed. This needs to be nurtured and slowly motivation can be developed for change. Sometimes an addict will simply not be ready to stop but by opening up the lines of communication, you will have ensured they know who to come to when they are ready. In these kind of situations, sometimes the best thing you can do is tell them to come back when they are ready. This might be by cutting off regular contact for a while. The important thing is you also have to keep yourself safe. There is no point in going to the ends of earth to help someone who doesn’t want it and by doing this running risk of ruining your own life. Creating personal responsibility within addiction is very important as it inevitably empowers someone that they can take the control back if they choose too.
Offer support to attend meetings, appointments etc. This may mean going along with them or simply picking them up and dropping them off.
Get them information about detox, rehab and other support available. More often than not people benefit from outside support as sometimes a relative or friend is simply “too close”. Hearing from others in recovery can be very motivational and can help someone feel understood.
Help them eat well, cook healthy meals and encourage them to eat.
Give them money e.g if they need money for rent and you want to help, pay the rent direct to landlord, if they need money for travel, buy them a travel card.
Try not to enable an addict to keep using. This is a difficult one as there is a fine line between support and enabling. Purchasing drugs for an addict is one example. There may be rare occasions when this is necessary i.e someone will die if they don’t use- this is fairly rare but drugs such as alcohol are dangerous to stop immediately. However there is almost always another alternative to having to purchase drugs or alcohol yourself. Where withdrawal would be potenially life threatening, seek medical attention as there will be prescribed medications which can be use to manage withdrawal or an inpatient detox may be offered. Also be aware that addicts experiencing detox and withdrawal may become fixated on their symptoms and feel that they need to use “one last time”. Don’t go too far the other way though and lock them up to do cold turkey. It might get someone off drugs, but it could be dangerous for their health and could be very damaging to their mental state and your relationship
Offer love, reassurance and support
Be kind and caring
Give them a hug
Tell them you’re proud when they are sticking at it
Listen! Let them speak and be willing to listen to why they have used drugs in the first place- this isn’t always easy!
Expect them to change overnight, lapse and relapse are often part of the process- set a plan about how you will move forward if this happens.
Expect them to be bright and cheerful. Detoxing is hard and often in the early stages of recovery people can feel depressed and worthless. Many drugs dull emotions and are a coping mechanism, so when they are removed it can cause buried emotions to flare up to the surface which can be very traumatic for someone. It is often important during this period that a person has support to cope with taking the lid off. Guilt can be major factor in recovery, most addicts will have done things they are not proud of and will be carrying some form of guilt so again it can take some time for people to come to terms with this and find a way to move on. Drugs can also exacerbate mental health issues which can mean people will experience heightened or prolonged symptoms for a number of months after they have ceased drug use. Counselling and psychotherapy can be very effective as can medication so it is a good idea to get some support from GP or your local mental health service.
Try not to blame them, be very critical or get angry about the past. This is especially true in the earlier stages of recovery. Guilt is a huge trigger for relapse and challenging someone too much early on in the process may simply drive them deeper into addiction. As an addict naturally progresses through recovery, you will find it easier to approach these issues and once you give yourself time to calm down, you are more likely to approach it a balanced and fair way which will tend to result in a more positive discussion for all. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge people at all or sugar coat everything, be honest, choose your time wisely and don’t continually hit them over the head with it!
Set appropriate boundaries and stick to them. e.g.
Insist your home is drug free
Make it clear you will not give them cash
Do not tolerate stealing
When setting boundaries, it is important you make clear what will happen if they are broken. e.g. if found using drugs in your house you will ask them to leave. It’s very important you and anyone else involved in their care are consistent with these or it can un-do a lot of good work.
As much as the person you are supporting needs support, so do you. If you have your own place to get support and get the chance to offload, you will be much more able to help someone else. There are a variety of family support groups where you can meet like-minded people. Some support groups are better than others, and drugs-forum do not necessarily recommend any of the following examples:
There are many really good local initiatives, there is often details of such support groups in your local Doctors surgery.
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