You have watched, feeling helpless, as your loved one struggles with a substance use disorder. It can be a tough thing to witness. Now, there is a ray of hope. Your loved one is taking steps to get sober, and you want to know the best way to support their efforts.
If you consider that nearly 20 million Americans struggle with a substance use disorder, you realize that the number of those impacted is much larger. And many friends and family have the same question as you — how can I help my loved one?
As a specialist in addiction and recovery, board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Goldenberg is fully aware of the challenges and frustrations that many family members feel as they watch a loved one battle a substance use disorder.
You may finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief when your family member or friends starts treatment or gets sober through mutual help like AA. As you are likely learning, addiction is a chronic and life-long illness and getting treatment and into recovery is a marathon and not a spring.
So, now that your loved one is pointed in the right direction and getting help, what can you do to help?
Here are a few suggestions about the role you can play in your loved ones recovery.
1. Take care of yourself
Take care of your side of the street! We going to kick off this discussion with the most important point — you need to take care of yourself first. Being witness to someone’s addiction can wreak havoc on your relationships, home life, and your own mental health.
All too often, a person’s addiction behaviors are all-consuming, and that includes those around them who get sucked into the chaos.
Now that your loved one is getting help, you need to take a breath and focus on your needs. Take some time to regroup and get back to those activities you once enjoyed. Find ways to de-stress and treat yourself to some nice, relaxing outings like a hike, golf game or spa day with friends.
A de-stressed and happier you will be more helpful for your loved one moving forward. You will not be able to help someone else, until you can take care of yourself first.
2. Get guidance from your loved one
Now that your loved one is thinking more clearly, you can ask them how you can best help. Whether it is driving them to support meetings or spending time with them, let your loved one guide you on how you can best offer support.
As you have probably already learned, you can make yourself available in whatever capacity they might need, but you can not force your help on anyone and they cannot make you do anything you are not comfortable with.
3. Seek your own recovery help
Your loved one hopefully has a treatment team and might also be participating in support groups. They are now in safe hands and learning the tools they need to stay sober. But what about you?
There are groups that can support you and provide you with tools too. For example, Al-Anon is an adjunct support group to Alcoholics Anonymous that is designed for those whose lives are affected by someone with a substance use disorder. This is the perfect place for family and friends of those suffering from addiction to get support and guidance. You are not alone and getting support from others who are in and have been in your shoes can be a powerful and comforting experience.
To find a group, click here.
4. Create a safe space
Another great way to support your loved one is to create a safe space for them. For example, you may want to get rid of the alcohol and/or drugs in your home so there is no temptation lying around — at least during early recovery. The most common source of relapse is returning to the people, places and things that remind you of your past addiction behaviors. They say in AA, “you can only go to the barber so many times before you get your haircut”.
Ultimately, it is your loved one who needs to do the heavy lifting during recovery. They need to take care of their side of the street. YOu cannot do that for them. Trying to do so is enabling and you will find you are working harder than they are if you start trying to clean up their side of the street.
You can help them along the way, but the work is theirs alone. Hopefully they are getting the support they need from a psychiatrist, therapist and/or sponsor in AA. This way you can be their friend or family member and not their coach or policeman/woman.
If you have more questions about supporting your loved one through addiction recovery, Dr. Goldenberg offers consultations that provide education and referrals when needed. If you are located in California or Alaska, Dr. Goldenberg offers free, 10-minute phone consultations to see if a full 60 to 90 minute consultation would be helpful to you and your goals. To schedule, click here.