How to Help a Drug Addict
If you are the family member or friend of an active addict or alcoholic, it may feel as though there is nothing you can do to help someone with addiction. It may feel like you have already tried everything: you have cried, yelled, pleaded, begged, screamed, stayed silent, left them alone. No matter what you do, they continue to drink or use. If you are unfamiliar with drug addiction or alcoholism, you may also wonder, "Why do people get addicted to drugs?"
If you just found out someone you love is addicted to drugs or alcohol the feelings can be overwhelming. There is fear, uncertainty, and even isolation. You might feel that no one will understand what you are going through or know what to do in the situation. It is likely you have no idea how to help someone with an addiction.
Additionally, depression and addiction run hand-in-hand together. If you have never dealt with either before, you are likely extremely at a loss for what to do. However, there are options for both you and your drug-addicted loved one. There are hundreds of addiction resources available for both the addict and you, their loved one.
Surely you have many questions. What programs are there to help drug addicts? Can drug addicts love still? How do you leave a drug addict? Why do people get addicted to drugs?
First of all, know that you are not alone. There are millions of parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents, cousins, and friends who are in the same place as you.
If you reach out for help you will be shocked to realize how readily available it is. Not only are there programs to help drug addicts but there are also programs to help the loved ones of drug addicts.
You will get through the initial shock of finding out your loved one is a drug addict and then you can find out how to help them. Reading through this guide can be the first step to finding out how to help someone with a drug addiction.
Educate yourself on why people get addicted to drugs
Educate yourself as much as possible on addiction and why people get addicted to drugs. You can be available when your loved one is ready to seek help. Learn from the various resources available, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Both have incredible amounts of resources regarding how to help someone with drug addiction, as well as further information regarding addiction.
Why do people get addicted to drugs? Some say addicts have a predisposition that makes them react differently to drugs than "regular" people. Others explain that addiction starts as soon as the first drug is taken. Regardless of why people get addicted to drugs, it makes it no easier to understand, especially if you are not a drug addict yourself.
Nothing you say or do can change a drug addict's behavior. This may make it seem impossible to help a drug addict but there are other ways to do so. You cannot buy them out of their addiction or say the right combination of words that will get them to quit. The harder you try to change their behavior, the more exhausted you will become.
By educating yourself you can develop a better understanding of what your loved one is going through and how you can make yourself available. You will learn that addiction is a disease rather than a lack of self control or complete carelessness for anyone but themselves. That is why people get addicted to drugs. Drug addicts use because they are unable to stop without wanting to do it for themselves. If they get sober for anyone else without wanting to do it for themselves, they have a very little chance of staying sober in the long-term.
Learn also about dual diagnosis. Oftentimes depression and addiction accompany one another, usually due to the comedown of drugs. However, some addicts truly struggle with mental illnesses that need to be addressed in addition to their addiction. Without first sobering up, though, there is no real way to determine what is a mental health issue and what is just the addiction.
Familiarize yourself with treatment programs to help drug addicts
Find out more about various addiction treatment options. There are five basic levels of care for
treatment programs to help drug addicts:
- Detox: Drug and alcohol detox is the medically-supervised process of separating an addict from their drug of choice. When a drug addict uses heavily for a long period of time, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop suddenly. During detox, a team of certified doctors, nurses, and/or counselors will monitor your loved one and ensure they are safe during the detox process. Detox last anywhere from 1 to 10 days depending on how long your loved one used for.
- Inpatient rehab: Inpatient rehab is a residential facility where addicts receive 24/7 treatment. From medication management to individual therapy, group therapy to educational sessions, inpatient rehab is an intensive treatment program aimed to both get your loved one sober and teach them how to function as a productive member of society. They will coexist with a group of other newly-sober addicts in recovery. Group size depends upon the facility.
- Partial hospitalization program (PHP): A partial hospitalization program provides the same intensive day treatment offered in inpatient rehab but on an outpatient basis. PHP usually takes place for 6 hours a day, 5 days per week. The same topics of trigger management and relapse prevention learned in inpatient rehab are covered in PHP. Many addicts who attend PHP also stay in a sober living in the evenings but there is no requirement to do so. If your loved one attends PHP they will also have the option to simply return home at the end of the night.
- Intensive outpatient program (IOP): Intensive outpatient programs are oftentimes confused with PHP because both provide day treatment on an outpatient basis. The main difference between the two is the amount of treatment time received. While PHPs are highly intensive, IOP is still intensive but on a limited weekly timeframe. IOP usually meets for 3 hours per day, 3 days per week, for a total of 9 weekly hours of treatment. Individual and group therapy are both used in IOP, with an emphasis on group therapy.
- Drug and alcohol counseling: Drug and alcohol counseling takes place either with a certified drug and alcohol counselor or with a therapist who specializes in addiction. Drug and alcohol counseling is the least intensive of all the options, usually taking place in hour-long sessions once per week. It is better used as an aftercare approach for continued professional support rather than as an initial form of treatment when first getting sober. Drug and alcohol counselors can be found either online or through the help of the staff at your loved one's rehab facility.
Familiarizing yourself with treatment programs to help drug addicts will assist you in finding a facility for your loved one when they are ready to get sober. Knowing the differences between drug rehab levels of care will help you make an informed decision when the time comes. You can show your support by making yourself available when they are ready to go to treatment.
As mentioned earlier, depression and addiction often come hand in hand. If this is the case for your loved one, finding a facility that specializes in dual diagnosis (addiction and mental illness together) can be incredibly beneficial.
Facilities that specialize in dual diagnosis can treat both the depression and addiction. Oftentimes, though, once a drug addict is separated from their drugs and their head begins to clear, you find that the depression was merely caused by the substances. However, if your loved one doesn't first get sober, they may never have the opportunity to find out what their true mental diagnosis is.
Do not enable them or how to leave a drug addict
While it is important to help someone with a drug addiction, it is especially important not to enable them. When actively addicted to drugs, addicts can be incredibly manipulative in order to get what they want. For many addicts their drugs are the most important thing in their life. They will step on the toes of anyone in between them and their next fix. If they need something, their loved ones are usually the first they go to.
Though it is important to educate yourself and make yourself available to them, do not enable them. Oftentimes, when addicts are enabled, this is why they get addicted to drugs. If they continue to get sober and relapse while taking advantage of your help and generosity every time, it may be time to cut them off for a while. Knowing how to leave a drug addict is difficult but sometimes necessary. When they realize they no longer have anyone to bail them out, your loved one might see that something needs to be done about their addiction. Perhaps then you can help them seek programs to help drug addicts.
Although it may be one of the most painful things you have to do in your life, protecting yourself is the most important thing. If you don't set boundaries, the addict will undoubtedly walk all over you. You must learn how to leave a drug addict and not worry incessantly about them. There is only so much you can do to help someone with a drug addiction who does not want to stop; there is a fine line between helping and enabling. You need to determine where that line is for you, set a boundary, and stick to it.
Remain calm in conversations
Oftentimes addicts behave wildly and irrationally with little care for those around them. Especially in conversations that are not going their way, the addict may lash out and say things they do not mean. In order to keep yourself from also saying things you do not mean, you must remain calm in conversations with your alcoholic loved one. It may seem impossible at times but it is an absolute necessity. Knowing how to leave a drug addict or how to step away from the situation is imperative.
When you begin to engage and yell back, the addict will only become more enraged. Oftentimes they place themselves into a victim role and will perceive your frustration as an attack. When they feel threatened they will react angrily and irrationally, and your conversation will go nowhere. At this point you might wonder, "Can drug addicts love?"
Drug addicts are incapable of feeling true love for anything when their sights are set on their fix. Their priorities are getting money for drugs, buying drugs, and using drugs. "Can drug addicts love?" is a painful question to consider but one that is important when remembering to remain calm in conversations. They often do not mean the things they say; it is usually the drugs or the addiction talking.
Remember, too, that depression and addiction may be acting together and causing them to behave a certain way. If you feel it is depression or addiction talking, it may be best to save the conversation for a later point in time.
If you feel the conversation cannot be carried on in a calm or rational manner, you may have to make the decision to continue it at another time. There is nothing wrong with stopping mid-conversation when things become escalated; in fact, it may save the both of you from saying or doing things you might regret. You will know how to leave a drug addict when the opportunity presents itself. You do not want to have to do damage repair in the future; instead, simply avoid doing things by walking away. You will never win an argument with a drug addict.
Take care of yourself
This is the most important thing on the list. Helping someone with addiction can be incredibly draining. If you do not take care of yourself how can you expect to take care of someone else? You cannot help someone with addiction if you do not first help yourself. Although your drug addict loved one may not be capable of love for you right now (remember that "Can drug addicts love?" is not the question to ask right now; they are far beyond that), you can love yourself.
Figure out the things you enjoy doing and do them. Whether it's taking a long, quiet walk, going to the beach, reading a book, spending time with other loved ones, or taking a nap, find something that can help take your mind off of your loved one even momentarily. You need to take moments to yourself to relax and gather your own thoughts.
Additionally, Al-Anon Family Groups may be a helpful resource for you. In Al-Anon you learn to detach from the addict's behavior and set healthy boundaries so you may live a happy and healthy life, even if they are still active in their addiction.
Helping someone with a drug addiction is difficult but you can do it. Using programs to support a drug addict as well as programs to support yourself, both you and your loved one can learn how to recover from this seemingly hopeless place you have found yourself in. You are not alone and you will find a community of people in the same situation as you who will help you through it.