Helping Someone With A Substance Abuse: Empathetic Guide

Helping Someone With A Substance Abuse Problem: Empathetic GuideOne of the most frustrating aspects of helping someone with a substance abuse problem is that you can’t force them to change. We can only help people who intend to help themselves, and if someone isn’t ready or willing to change, they likely won’t.

That doesn’t mean you can’t actively encourage and gently nudge them in the right direction, and it doesn’t mean you won’t have a thoroughly positive impact. It’s always important to remember that people in worse condition than your loved one, relative or friend have found the strength to kick the habit and recover. This can give us the inspiration to keep going, even when times are hard.

However, it’s also important to remember that you’re both victims of the substance itself. This can help you avoid othering the person engaged in its use, seeing them as someone suffering harm, as opposed to hurting you specifically. It’s worth making this distinction because it will help you remain more empathetic, essential at a time like this.

I’m writing about this topic because I’m a bestselling author on behavioral change and founder of the therapist recommended self-paced online course called The Anxiety Cure.

I love to help people to live calmer, happier lives. So I put together this empathic guide for helping someone with a substance abuse problem.

An Guide to Helping Someone With Substance Abuse

With that focus in mind, let’s consider a few methods worth considering when helping someone with a substance abuse problem. It’s our intent to help you feel a little more empowered and understood as you go through this process.

Be Prepared For Non-Linear Recovery

One consideration to keep in mind is that recovery is rarely linear. Even when recovering from an injury you’ll have better days and worse days, and addiction could be seen as an injury of the spirit. For this reason, non-linear recovery may proceed in fits and starts, and sometimes, even relapses can be expected.

That’s not to say you should expect, accept, or encourage these backslides, but knowing they’re realistic and never a barrier to ultimate success can help you feel a little less worryingly about them. You’ll no doubt worry of course, and this is natural, but you’ll know that the process isn’t unheard of, and even addiction counselors would accept it.

Find Professional Help

It’s highly important to understand where your personal limits lie. While you might feel an overwhelming sense of duty to the person you’re caring for (and if this is a child, relative, or close friend it’s no wonder why), that doesn’t mean you’re the most qualified person to lead every decision of their life.

For example, having an alcoholic stop drinking cold turkey might seem like a good idea, but a body’s dependence on that substance can actually lead to harsh withdrawals which could even be fatal if not properly managed. Finding professional help isn’t about hearing platitudes, it’s about having the right environment, incremental plan, tools for coping, and capable medical guidance where it’s needed. If you’re not specifically trained in that form of healthcare, then it’s good to yield to those who are. Finding a great detox center can be your first step.

Seek Support In Your Wider Friend Group Or Family

It’s hard to undergo recovery alone, in the same way that it’s hard to help someone alone. Using all the help you can rely on is key, especially if they know how to be discrete and respectful. However, it’s not just favors like taking a ride to the clinic that will help, but also warning your friendly gathering in advance not to have alcohol present if you’re bringing along your struggling connection.

These small allowances and provisions allow you to maintain a helpful environment and ensure no weak links tempt the person away from the recovery journey. Now, you don’t have to treat your friend like a child of course, but methods like this are not only wise, they can have an important, long-term effect worth considering.

Establish Healthy Boundaries

It’s very important to be clear about what you will and won’t help with. For example, you might be more than happy to have your friend stay with you as they get back on your feet. But you might warn them that any breaking of that friendly trust. Such as stealing from you to fund their habit, is not something you will tolerate.

It’s often said that a person should be willing to go all the way to help others be free from their difficulties. And while that’s a noble mindset to have even in the toughest times, you don’t have to abuse yourself or let yourself be abused to provide that worth. Keeping this in mind can help you avoid feeling like a doormat, and instead show your acquaintance the behavior you expect from them as you help.

Cultivate Empathy & Understanding

No one who helps others overcome addiction is lacking in empathy. To simply even attempt this process, you have to have a sense of optimism and willingness to wade through the difficulty for a helpful outcome.

That means being empathetic even when you’re not interested in feeling that graceful around such a person. For example, many people struggling with addiction can have two sides to them – their usual, lovely self you came to appreciate and connect with, and the person they might be when the addiction and their addictive behaviors have a strong hold over them. For some, it can be like flipping a light switch, such as if a relative becomes belligerent after a few drinks.

So, cultivating empathy and understanding is not just about connecting with your friend or relative during their weakest moments, but also being kind to yourself and knowing how much of yourself you can give. Sometimes, you might have priorities that will always come first (such as looking after your children), and that might come at the expense of following the person you’re trying to help night and day. Understanding this is key.

Offer Non-Judgmental Support

Those who help connections with substance abuse issues will learn more about suspending judgment than ever before. This is because substance abuse can bring us to our knees, and prevent us from acting in a way that we might otherwise.

Understanding this ahead of time is not only advisable, it’s essential. You might see someone you love in a bad way, with difficult health issues, with a short temper, and sometimes, even in a somewhat pitiable state. The more you realize this is a symptom of the substance and the illness, not them, the more you can suspend judgment, just as you wouldn’t judge someone for being weak as they go through chemotherapy treatment.

When you can remain that impartial but still loving shoulder to lean on, then the person can feel they don’t need to hide anything from you. Addiction can cause people to isolate themselves and break off connections, so having that bond can be one of the major pillars of helping such a person recover.

Help With Routine, Within The Recovery Regimen

When you seek professional help and if your acquaintance has had time to recover in a specific facility or as part of an outreach program, this will likely come with some stipulations. Dates such as when they’re given therapeutic medication, a job they can work to get them back into society, AA meetings, or similar appointments, all of can fill a busy week.

That’s where it’s important to help your friend fill their time when they have it free. That might involve welcoming them into your property during the evenings, providing them a place to stay, or simply driving them to their job. You might invite them on walks, for a coffee, or to the cinema from time to time.

This isn’t to say you have to treat them like a dog you hold the leash for, but helping them feel welcomed, and as if they have much better uses of their time than degenerating with a substance can be the adjustment they need to fully recover. Sometimes, the best replacement for a bad habit is a good habit, not just “no habit.” Even little things, like teaching them how to garden and plant seeds, or showing them how to cook meals, all add up over time.

Substance Abuse Recovery Is Always The Goal

It’s important to consider what will or won’t aid with recovery. So for example, if you have a big adventurous vacation booked and you’d like to bring your friend, but they need to undergo their therapeutic course and are quite nervous to travel, well, it might be best that they stay with your other friend for a week or two and you don’t force them to come along.

Perhaps they’ve been testing as of late, and while you’ve put your boundaries in place and clearly communicated the issues you’re having, yelling and getting something off your chest in an unhelpful manner might not be the best course of action. This isn’t to say you have to walk on eggshells, nor are you responsible for being the perfect person in the world to help your friend recover. Moreover, remember that it is only them, never you, responsible for their final recovery. However, always having that as a priority can help you make easier life decisions, especially when you’re two in two minds about a given option you have.

With this advice, you’re certain to help someone you know and love with their substance abuse issue.

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