Helping Someone With Addiction

How To Help Someone with Addiction 

Knowing what to say or how to help when a friend or loved one is struggling with addiction is difficult. You may feel uncertain about offering help, but addiction is a disease that doesn’t just affect the person. It affects everyone around them. Massachusetts Center for Addiction wants you to know there are options for how to help someone with addiction. You don’t have to go through this alone.  

Helping Someone With Addiction Starts with Learning About the Disease 

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a chronic disease. It’s considered a chronic brain disorder. Addiction isn’t just the result of weakness or poor decision-making. While each of us has personal accountability for our actions and choices, addiction affects a person in ways that many people don’t understand.  

Addiction is complex and is more often the outcome of multiple factors, which may include genetics, environment, and underlying psychological and behavioral factors. It’s important to understand that the substance use that leads to addiction isn’t always a conscious choice

It’s estimated that genetics may be responsible for approximately fifty percent of a person’s risk of developing addiction. When this is combined with other factors, such as trauma, mental health disorders, and environmental factors, addiction becomes a battle that’s difficult to overcome. 

Helping an addict begins with understanding that they don’t have control over how their brain responds to substance use. Quitting isn’t as simple as making the decision to do so. Addiction recovery requires a great deal of physical and mental work and can be one of the most challenging things a person will ever go through. 

Bringing Up the Subject of Addiction

It’s normal to feel apprehensive about bringing up the subject of addiction, but opening the dialog is an important step. Some people aren’t initially responsive to talking about their substance use and addictive behaviors. 

They may deny that there’s a problem or become angry or defensive. When this happens, shame and guilt are usually lingering below the surface, contributing to their reaction. Approach the person calmly and with compassion.

Don’t let yourself do all the talking. Express your concerns, listing specific examples, and then give them plenty of time to speak while you listen. Approach the conversation from a perspective of compassion and ask open-ended questions. 

If the person isn’t responsive to discussing their addiction at first, don’t force it. Give them time to think about the conversation. Just because they don’t want to talk about it now, doesn’t mean they won’t be receptive later. 

Setting Boundaries 

Throughout the process of helping someone with addiction, remember to take care of yourself. This involves setting healthy boundaries and letting them know what those are. Step away from the feeling that you are responsible for getting them help and that you need to sacrifice your own well-being to support them.

Also, consider how you may unintentionally be enabling or supporting their addiction. Actions like helping them hide their substance use from others, covering for them when mistakes are made, offering financial assistance or a place to stay are all well-meaning but can backfire and make addictive behaviors worse. 

Staging an Intervention 

If you don’t know how to help with addiction on your own, there is support available and options where the weight isn’t entirely on your shoulders. 

One option is to stage an intervention. An intervention is when a small group of individuals who care about the person or are most affected by their substance use come together to share their concerns and encourage their friend or loved one to get help. Interventions can be very effective in helping a person understand that their substance use is beyond their control and that they need addiction treatment. 

Helping an Addict Get Help 

Your loved one might be receptive to getting help with their addiction but are unsure of how or where to get the treatment they need. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers an online directory and 24-hour national helpline that can be reached at 1-800-662-4357.
Massachusetts Center for Addiction is also available to answer your questions any time of the day or night. We can help you understand your addiction treatment options, how insurance can help pay for the cost of alcohol and drug rehab, and what your next step should be. When you’re helping someone with addiction, we’re only a phone call away at 844-486-0671.

MCA Staff
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