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If the drug use of someone you care about has become a concern to you, it’s natural to feel fearful, worried, unsure and even angry or guilty.
Perhaps you are just beginning to become anxious about someone’s drug use or maybe they have accepted they have a problem and even tried to get clean but are slipping back into old habits.
All the emotions we mentioned are very common among the families and friends of people with a drug addiction, whatever stage things are at.
Firstly, you should know that just by wanting to help a drug addict, you are doing something powerful. They are going to benefit from knowing they have someone who cares about them, someone who believes in them and someone who wants to champion them to get well. Sometimes it may be tough to keep caring for the person, but if you can continue to express that you do, you’ll continue to give them something to hold on to.
When drug dependency has become entrenched, the path to getting well can be very difficult on those who care about the addicted person. It’s a testing time for you and them, but people do come out the other side and relationships can survive and be rebuilt.
A sensible first step in the quandary of how to help a drug addict is doing exactly what you are doing now – becoming well informed.
As with all things, the more knowledge and understanding you have of a situation, the more you can do to help and support.
It’s wise to know a little about drug addiction, about the types of help available and the journeys of other people.
Arming yourself with knowledge is likely to help you to feel more prepared and in control and to assist the person you are trying to help too. That isn’t to say you need to know everything there is to know before you act, but a little research can go a long way.
Not everyone who uses drugs will become addicted or dependent. Even those who do will not all act in the same way.
Many people continue to hold down jobs and responsibilities even when addiction has taken hold.
Signs of addiction may include experiencing withdrawal symptoms between uses, a compulsion to use even when it is causing negative effects, differing sleep patterns, glazed eyes or constricted or dilated pupils. Depression, anxiety, paranoia, irritability or aggression and beginning to withdraw from friends and family may also be signs.
Treatment is available and is life changing. Residential treatment is the best way to overcome entrenched addiction by allowing a break away from daily routines, responsibilities and 24-hour support. Support in the local community can also be effective.
In addition to online reading you’ll find advice lines where the people on the other end will be happy to speak with you in confidence, to hear about your situation and to offer signposting to other resources. Once you are ready, do take up that opportunity. We at Delamere are equally happy to take your call.
Remember professional support is vital to get clean from drugs. A medically managed detox is necessary when someone is drug dependent and trying to go cold turkey without support can lead to dangerous or even fatal consequences, such as seizures.
Raising the subject of someone’s drug use is rarely easy.
If they come to you saying they need help, you’ll already have overcome some of the hurdles of denial, but often it’s you that has to open the conversation. This can feel extremely daunting but remember, this conversation could be a catalyst to them getting the help they really need.
Try to pick a moment when you’re both calm and not under time constraints. It is useful to speak about you and your feelings in relation to their drug use and behaviour using language such as “I feel worried about…” or “I’m frightened that…” Rather than accusatory language such as “You are using too much or too often.” Accusatory language can cause someone to feel attacked and defensive.
If you want help to open this conversation, you may wish to stage a more formal intervention, which involves approaching the addicted person with the support and guidance of a professional counsellor. You may do this alone or in coordination with other people who care about them to underline the full impact their addiction is having.
It’s very easy and understandable to feel angry, exasperated and even betrayed by someone who is facing drug addiction.
Not only do addicts sometimes lie and become secretive to cover their tracks but they can be abusive, aggressive or undermine your trust in other ways, such as stealing or neglecting their responsibilities. You should never feel you have to put up with this behaviour or to make excuses for it. You can let someone know you still care for them but that their behaviour has become unacceptable.
If at any point you feel in danger, you must seek help for yourself immediately. You cannot help someone else if you are at risk.
It can be useful to continue to remind yourself of the person you care about who lurks behind their addiction and the actions their addiction leads to. Try not to let that person disappear from memory even if you need to create some space between you.
If you can try to stay calm and rational yourself, you’re more likely to get through to someone. Returning insults, rising to arguments or challenging someone when they are under the influence of a substance is unlikely to lead to a positive outcome.
If you can avoid blaming and shaming language, you’ll help the person you care about to feel supported rather than isolated. Too much shame and stigma can undermine a person’s self esteem and lead them to feel they are not worthy of getting help and getting well, which just compounds the issue.
It helps to understand that drug addiction may lead to selfish, destructive and terrible behaviour but it doesn’t mean the person is those behaviours.
Drug addiction, as with other addictions, often has its roots in other deep seated issues. It may be an escape, a coping mechanism, a way to numb pain and, of course, a physical compulsion.
It is likely to help someone to accept help, if you can show that whilst you cannot accept the associated behaviour, you do have empathy with the difficulties they may be having and there are other ways to find relief.
It will also help you and a person facing addiction if you accept early on that there is a process of getting clean that doesn’t happen overnight.
Even if your loved one is prepared to take one of the fastest routes to recovery – residential rehab – it takes time. Residential rehab provides a launch pad to the process, allowing intense support and intervention to get someone started on their journey.
Regardless, staying well takes ongoing courage, determination and hard work. Your loved one should leave treatment with a plan for aftercare and they may find it difficult at times to maintain their recovery. If you can remain compassionate, patient and supportive it will help greatly. Keep listening and let them know you’re there for them.
If you can remain involved during the entire rehab process you’ll increase your own knowledge and understanding and demonstrate that you’re there to help.
There will be times when helping a drug addict when your patience runs dry, your emotions are overwhelming or you don’t react as you’d ideally like – you’re human too.
Remember that you can’t do it all and no one is perfect. It is not your fault that someone else has become addicted to drugs and you cannot fix it alone.
You need to make time and space for yourself too and may even need professional support yourself to work through your own emotions. Looking after yourself is vital when you are trying to help someone else.
Delamere provides drug addiction rehab in a unique, purpose built environment that encourages recovery. Contact us to discuss how we can help.
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