There’s nothing worse than being a friend or family member of someone who is battling substance abuse. It feels like you are climbing (alone) up a steep mountain (in freezing cold weather) wearing only a tank top, shorts, and flip flops. Your goal is worthy, you are determined, and you believe you can make it, but the reality is, you are completely unprepared and definitely ill-prepared.

It’s not easy to help an addict. Addicts are people, with brains that no longer think like you and I do. This makes it hard to understand them or their addiction.

Remember that 80s ad with the fried egg about your brain on drugs? Drugs steal your ability to think clearly and make healthy decisions. Drugs fry your brain and steal your life, because without the clear-headed ability to make choices, who’s really in charge? Not the addict, that’s for certain.

So how can we help someone who is frying their brain and unable to make rational decisions? We have to start with us. Before you can help someone struggling with addiction, you have to help yourself. Then you can help them.

Here are 5 ways we can support a loved one struggling with addiction:

  1. EDUCATE YOURSELF. Find a support group, you can attend Al-Anon Meetings or similar type of support group, you might want to see a therapist, read current articles so you understand signs of use, treatment options, cravings, triggers and the reality of relapse. Participate in the family program offered by the treatment program your loved one enters. This is one of the most critical pieces in recovery, because it’s not just the addict whose behavior has been affected by their addiction. You can’t help someone if you aren’t on solid ground yourself. You’re not an addict, but you should take time to learn enough to help yourself and effectively help them.
  2. BE KIND TO YOURSELF. Stop blaming yourself for your loved one’s addiction. Stop wearing yourself out by taking on the addict’s responsibilities to “help out”. Stop straining your finances by providing financial support to them. Remember that helping is often enabling. Make healthy choices for you. Do you really want to support your loved one’s way of life, their drug use? Of course not, so stop acting like you do. Remember: natural consequences apply with addiction, just as they apply every where else. Give yourself a break, you didn’t cause the addiction and you can’t fix it.
  3. BE OPEN TO CONVERSATION. Everyone reacts differently when a loved one is struggling with addiction. It’s a tough topic, between family members, and between you and the addicted person. Remember, manipulation is 90% of an active addict’s conversation, and then allow yourself to be available to “talk about it” when they are. No judgement, no accusations. Just listen, and offer appropriate support. This will allow them to continue trusting you, and to continue communicating with you.
  4. IGNORE THE NEIGHBORS. Who cares what they think? Be open and honest about this devastating disease that’s ravaging your family. If they choose to be judgmental, step away. You don’t need that and they don’t deserve to hear your confidences. If they are willing to listen and learn, continue talking, but if their minds are made up it’s just not worth your time. You have other things to focus on, specifically your addicted loved one.
  5. SET BOUNDARIES. In the wake of so many “tough love” seminars, it’s hard to figure out whether you should toss their shivering body back outside or provide lodging, whether you should pick their sobbing arse up from “that part of town” again, or leave them there. Every situation will be different and unique, but there is a fine line between helping and enabling. You must clearly set boundaries, and when they are violated, you must also stick with the agreed upon consequence. If you don’t, you lose all credibility. Come from a place of love, never stop loving, and ask yourself, am I saving this person again, or allowing them to learn from their poor choices? You’ll know the answer.
  6. And a bonus #6 – YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Everyone you talk to has a story. They are in recovery or they know someone who is in recovery, or they lost a loved one or they know someone who lost a loved one to this terrible disease. The world has been affected by addiction, your country, your state, your church, and your community. This disease is insidious, only it’s not. It’s not a gradual progression any longer. It’s a full-fledged raging epidemic. And together we will help change that. You are not alone. Never forget that.

There are steps you can take to help yourself and your addicted loved one, and once you’ve taken those steps you can take solace in knowing you did all that you could in the face of a devastating disease.

Jean Krisle is the CEO/Founder of 10,000 Beds, Inc. a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Our mission is recovery. We are currently #OnTheRoad4Recovery for at least a year to elevate awareness, change perceptions around addiction and recovery, and connect with partners new and old. You can connect Jean at the upcoming 2017 ETHOS conferences in Denver, Philadelphia and New Orleans. You can support 10,000 Beds by making a contribution.

Shout a hello or give us a thumb’s up when you see us on the road. We are hard to miss!